Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacteria is transferred from the tick to the host via the tick bite. The disease was first noticed in Lyme, Connecticut in 1975 when there were several people effected; hence, the name Lyme disease. It can affect several hosts, such as cats, dogs, horses, cattle, deer, rodents and people.
The most common tick to carry Lyme disease is the Ixodes Scapularis aka the black-legged tick. The Ixodes Pacificus (Western Black Legged Tick) and Ixodes Ricinus (Castor Bean Tick) can also carry Lyme disease. The latter is only in Europe while both black-legged ticks are in U.S.A and Canada. Due to changes in our weather, we are noticing ticks further north, and they have a longer season. Ontario and Southern Manitoba have the highest cases of Lyme disease in Canada, while South Quebec and the Maritime provinces have fewer cases. In BC there are very few cases which are due to the type of tick we have here. The Western Black Legged Tick is less able to carry the Lyme disease. The Black Legged Tick is more apparent in Central and Eastern Canada and are more likely to carry the Lyme disease bacteria.
The tick will quest for a host. It will travel to the tops of long grass, thick brush, marshes and the wood, looking for a host. It will extend its front legs ‘reaching’ for the host. Once it finds a host, it will travel to a spot where it will be able to feed (bite you or your pet).
Once a tick has bitten you or your pet, the tick needs to stay attached to its host for 24-48 hours in order to transfer the bacteria. Once the bacteria are in the bloodstream, it travels to different parts of the body. It can take up to five months for the host to show symptoms of the disease. The symptoms could be lameness, fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, stiffness, swelling in joints, and sometimes shifting lameness. In severe infections, you may see kidney failure, cardiac and neurological disorders.
In order to confirm Lyme disease in your pet, the veterinarian will need a history (including travel times and location), physical exam (to see the clinical signs) and blood work (to test for antibodies). Depending on how far the infection has gone, there may be x-rays and hospitalization involved. Treatment for minor infections is straight forward, antibiotics for about 30 days. Larger infections may need fluids, hospitalization, aggressive antibiotics and other medications.
Preventing Lyme disease on your pets is easy. A flea and tick preventative medication will prevent the tick from passing the bacteria, like Bravecto or Nexgard. If you are taking your pet into the woods, always check them for ticks after the exposure. For humans wearing long clothing and tucking pants into socks will prevent the tick from being able to find the skin to attach itself. Make sure to check yourself after being exposed.
Removing ticks can be tricky sometimes. Make sure to pull the whole tick out gently, a twisting motion is best. Once removed, make sure the head of the tick did not get left behind. If you are not comfortable removing the tick yourself, you can always bring them to the clinic, and we can lend a hand.
If you have any questions, give us a call at 604.463.7100 for more information.
Written by: Alouette Animal Hospital