Lyme Disease Is on the Rise in Dogs

By |2018-08-15T14:22:02+00:00Updated: August 1st, 2018|Pet Care, Pet Grooming, Pet Newsletter|0 Comments

As you know I am the staff veterinarian for ADW Diabetes, but I also own and run a small animal practice in South Florida. I enjoy treating diabetic pets and getting them on the right track, but I treat all sorts of diseases at my small animal clinic. Recently I’ve noticed a rise in Lyme Disease in dogs with the rising temperatures. I especially stress wellness care for my patients.

I opened my small animal clinic in 2013. In 2013 and 2014, I didn’t have a single case of Lyme disease diagnosed at my clinic. We are only halfway through 2018 and thus far we’ve had 5 dogs come up positive for Lyme disease at my clinic. None of these dogs were actually symptomatic. We caught all of these pets on their annual wellness exams when we were checking for heartworm disease. You see, down here in south Florida we are in the war zone for heartworm disease. When I test a pet for heartworm disease I usually also test for the tick-bourne diseases, Lyme disease, Ehrlichia and Anaplasma. So catching these Lyme positive critters was a bit of a surprise to me.

This got me looking at disease incidence maps. Lyme disease is absolutely on the rise in my state, likely because it is on the rise in the NE and Midwest. Lyme disease is currently the most commonly reported vector bourne illness in humans in the United States. Dog infection rates are rising similarly to the human infection rates. We have a lot of snowbirds (northerners) coming south to Florida during the winter. Can you blame them? They like to bring their beloved pets. There is a huge human and dog reservoir of Lyme disease in the NE and Midwest USA. They are changing the statistics here in Florida.

How Is Lyme Disease Spread?

If you a prone to getting queasy, skip to the next paragraph. The bacteria that causes Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) is a fragile germ that can’t live outside the host or an Ixodes tick. You can’t get it from your dog nor wildlife without a tick bite. Humans are more likely to notice a tick on themselves than on their pets. Let’s face it… These dogs we let in our homes and on our beds are usually little fuzz buckets. Until the tick has engorged with a blood meal it’s hard to see them through Fluffy’s fur!

Clinical signs vary between dogs and humans. Not much is known about cats and Lyme disease at this point, but we know it can happen. Humans get rashes, fevers, and arthritis amongst other maladies. It can last for years with occasional flare ups. Dogs primarily get fevers, lameness, kidney disease and muscle inflammation. Or, they may not show clinical signs at all. I think this may be the scary part. Dogs are reliant on their humans to notice that they aren’t feeling well and to take them to the veterinarian. The five pets diagnosed with Lyme disease at my practice this year via annual laboratory testing were all non-clinical per their humans. Are they really non-clinical or are folks just not noticing the clinical signs?

The Good News About Lyme Disease:

Tick prevention has gotten a whole lot better in the last 5 years. Ticks are sturdier and harder to kill than fleas. For many years, Frontline was the best we had for tick control. Then about 5 years ago Nexgard (afoxolaner) came out. It is given by mouth to dogs and lasts for a month. Then came Bravecto (fluralaner) followed a year later by Simparica (sarolaner). I’ve heard them referred to as the “Laner Sisters”. That makes me snicker. They often kill the tick before transmission can occur. Just this month Nexgard got FDA approval as a preventative for Lyme disease. These drugs are highly effective against fleas and ticks.

If you live in a Lyme endemic area, please consult your veterinarian about vaccinating your pet. Lyme disease is not considered a “core” vaccine by the American Animal Hospital Association at this point, but with the rapid rise in incidence, things may change. Certainly if you live in the Midwest or the northeastern United States, you should probably get your pooch vaccinated for Lyme disease and started on a good tick treatment.

Now, what to do if your pet does come up positive for Lyme disease? Do you have to treat if you don’t recognize any clinical signs? No. And yet, if I was diagnosed with Lyme disease I’d likely ask for treatment. If I had a dog test positive, I would likely treat the dog. The treatment for dogs is a 4 week course of doxycycline, amoxicillin or convenia. These are all antibiotics.

Your dog may test positive for months or years to come after diagnosis. Tests for Lyme identify antibodies to the organism. It may take time for the antibodies to subside. After treatment you will want to vaccinate your dog and use good tick control such as Nexgard to prevent re-infection. All vaccinations should be based on lifestyle and, of course, risk based on where you live. Chat with your home town veterinarian to see if you should act.

Have a question or comment? Then post below! I always enjoy hearing from my readers!


NOTE: Consult your veterinarian first to make sure my recommendations fit your pets special health needs.

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About the Author:

Dr. Joi Sutton is a 1993 graduate from Oregon State University. She has practiced both in emergency medicine and general practice. Dr. Sutton has done extensive international volunteer work though Veterinary Ventures, a nonprofit organization that takes teams of veterinarians to undeveloped countries for humane medical care. She also runs a small animal practice in South Florida.

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