HOW IS LYME DISEASE SPREAD?
Deer ticks, which are prevalent in various parts of the United States, are the major carrier of Lyme disease. But some other species of ticks can also carry the disease. Deer ticks are tiny parasites that are difficult to see with the naked eye and can easily hide on people and pets.
For the bacteria to spread to the victim, ticks must remain attached for about 48 hours—which is why it’s so important to detect them early. It is unlikely that your pet will spread ticks to you—once attached, ticks enjoy only one meal!
Other ticks can also spread the bacteria, and ticks themselves are spread by many different animals, including birds that may transport them long distances. Ticks also spread such diseases as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and ehrlichiosis, a disease that affects the blood cells. When it comes to ticks don’t take any chances!
What to Watch for
If you find a tick on your pet, watch for these signs of Lyme disease over the next several weeks:
- Fever. Your pet’s abdomen may feel overly warm to the touch.
- Depression. Your pet may be lethargic.
- Lack of appetite.
- Lameness. This sign is one of the most common; your pet may be limping or have swollen and painful joints.
- “Bull’s eye” rash. This rash is a strong clue that the bacteria has been transmitted, but keep in mind that hair may disguise the rash or your pet.
If you see any signs, take your pet to a veterinarian immediately!
To reduce your pet’s chances of contracting Lyme disease take these precautions:
- Vaccinate your pet. Your veterinarian will administer the initial vaccine, then a second vaccine two to three weeks later. After that, one vaccination is administered annually.
- Avoid tall grassy areas whenever possible, especially wooded areas inhabited by deer or field mice.
- Keep weeds under control to limit the spread of rodents, ticks and other parasites.
- When outdoors, protect your pet with an insecticide that’s effective against ticks. Your pet’s doctor can recommend an appropriate product and help you select from a wide variety of sprays, solutions and protective collars.
- When you return from an outing, carefully check every inch of your pet’s skin and coat for ticks, including the groin, around the ears and tail and between the toes. Removing any ticks within 2 hours greatly decreases the chance of infection. A systematic tick check is the best preventive step you can take, next to vaccination.
If you find a tick, remove it immediately. Try using an alcohol swab, which may irritate the tick and cause it to loosen its grasp. Using tweezers, carefully pull the tick upward where its mouthparts contact the skin. Try not to squeeze the tick while removing it as this may enhance transmission of the bacteria. Occasionally a small tag of your pet’s outer skin will pull away with the tick.
If you have any doubts about tick removal, bring your pet to a veterinarian for help. They can also help you determine if testing or antibiotic treatment is needed.
Veterinarians usually rule out other diseases first by performing, for example, a compete blood count (CBC), blood and urine profiles to check organ function, X-rays, or test on fluid samples from swollen joints. Serologic tests can be used to detect specific proteins in the blood.
If possible, save the tick in a jar and bring it to your veterinarian immediately. Identifying the type of tick may help doctors diagnose the problem. If your pet exhibits signs of Lyme disease.
Several antibiotics are effective against Lyme disease, but individual responses differ. For example, some pets and people have relapses despite antibiotic treatment. Occasionally, hospitalization, fluid therapy and arthritis or fever medications may be necessary. The best way to control symptoms is with early diagnosis and treatment.
DID YOU KNOW?
The deer tick, which is the most common carrier of Lyme disease, lives about two years and is inactive during the winter. It feeds only once during each of its three life stages (larval, nymphal and adult). People and pets are at the highest risk for contracting Lyme disease from May through September.