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5 facts about Lyme disease and dogs

Springtime means more outdoor activities for you and your dog. And with the warmer temperatures comes the now familiar threat of Lyme’s disease.

Lyme’s is a bacterial illness carried by the deer tick, a common woodland parasite that is smaller and harder to detect than the typical dog tick. Lyme disease symptoms in dogs usually appear a few weeks after a bite by an infected tick and can include listlessness, loss of appetite, and joint soreness and stiffness. Because these symptoms wax and wane, they can often go unnoticed until they become severe or debilitating.

Here are five facts you need to know about Lyme and dogs:

Lyme’s is an all-season disease. While the incidence of Lyme disease increases with the spring growing season—when the ticks that carry the Borrelia burgorferi bacteria become more active—Lyme’s is an all-season threat. If your dog is accustomed to playing or hiking in areas where ticks are likely to thrive, it’s recommended that you check your pet for the presence of ticks after every outing, regardless of the season.

Most tick remedies won’t stop a tick from biting. Most tick collars, sprays, and chews kill ticks after they’ve bitten your pet. This means that a deer tick can transmit Lyme’s to your dog before succumbing to the insecticide—so checking your pet for ticks is still essential! Remember: Deer ticks are small and often hard to detect, especially on dogs with longer fur, so a thorough tick combing is recommended. Also, check your dog’s ears, paws, and muzzle where deer ticks can often escape detection.

Remove the whole tick. Ticks feed by burying their heads into your dog’s skin. While it might be tempting to pull a tick off your dog as soon as possible, doing so can break the tick in two, leaving the head embedded and greatly increasing the risk for Lyme disease transmission. Ask your vet or local pet supply store for a set of tick pullers. They allow you to push just below the top layer of skin and remove the tick by the head, rather than by the thorax.  

You can’t catch Lyme disease from your pet. Lyme’s is a vector-borne illness, which means that it is transmitted by a bite from an infected parasite, in this case the deer tick. The only way for you or your pet to get Lyme’s is by being bitten by an infected tick. The B. burgdorferi bacterium responsible for Lyme’s is not directly transmittable through the air, saliva, or contact with an infected animal.

Prevention and vigilance are your best protections. One way to reduce the likelihood of your pet being bitten by a Lyme-carrying tick is to avoid places where deer ticks are common. If you are accustomed to hiking with your pet, satay on the designated trails and avoid straying into the high weeds or underbrush where ticks thrive. Check your pet after every outing, and use tweezers to remove any ticks you find.

Be aware that the symptoms of Lyme’s are both subtle and intermittent. If your dog appears to show periods of listlessness, reluctance to exercise, loss of appetite, or joint pain when exercising or jumping, visit your vet. Lyme’s disease can be confirmed by a simple blood test and is treatable with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs, but as with most illnesses, outcomes are best when the disease is detected early.

Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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