Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Critter Corner - “The Tick-ing Lyme Bomb”

The Critter Corner
By Dr. Steve Velling

“The Tick-ing Lyme Bomb”

I saw a patient several weeks ago, a beautiful Golden Retriever who was normally full of life, but that day he was extremely limp and weak. His vital signs were all good, but he was very stiff and sore in his knees, hips and elbows. I asked the owner about any previous episodes like this, and he said he didn’t know of any, and with further examination, we found a few small ticks on the dog. The owner did mention that they hadn’t been putting any tick preventives on “Buddy” as it was still cold outside, so I ordered a test, which confirmed Lyme disease.

There is an epidemic of Lyme going on in this area. Loudoun County has the highest incidence of Lyme in all of Virginia, and in fact, we estimated that about one in 4 dogs that we test are positive for Lyme. If you are unfamiliar with Lyme, as I was when I first moved to this area many years ago, then I’ll go over the basics. Lyme disease is a microscopic organism passed by deer ticks. Deer ticks are much smaller than common dog ticks. They are the size of a pinhead, which can make them difficult to detect. They are found, of course, where there are large populations of deer. So when you see those deer on the side of Route 7, you can understand why Lyme is such a problem in this area. It is important to note that they are also passed in large part by field mice which usually are not seen by most people.

The symptoms are variable, which can make it a challenging disease to diagnose, but the most common signs to look for are fatigue, fever, lameness and loss of appetite. Some dogs don’t show any of these signs, which catch people off guard when they test positive. Sometimes even indoor lapdogs test positive, apparently picking up a tick on their rare outside ventures. Interestingly, cats seem immune to Lyme.

The best defense against Lyme is to prevent the bite in the first place. Topical agents such as Vectra, Frontline Plus and Advantix are great and only need to be applied monthly, and there is a terrific “Preventick” collar available as well that lasts up to 3 months (as well as the Scalibor collar which last 6 months!). There is also an effective vaccine against Lyme as well. If by chance you see a tick on your dog, use fine-point tweezers to get as close to the skin as possible in order remove as much of the tick as you can. DON’T crush or squeeze the tick, cover it with Vaseline, or burn it off with a match or cigarette.

If caught early enough, Lyme may be cleared from a dog. But since it can lay dormant for a while, a dog may have had Lyme for months prior to diagnosis, making it difficult to eradicate. Fortunately, most dogs respond well enough to antibiotics (typically doxycycline) to at least control the symptoms. So be on tick alert, and have a safe, fun summer!

Till next time,

Dr. Steve

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