Gary J. Stuer, D.V.M.
It seems as though as I get older, winter lasts a bit longer and spring
can’t arrive soon enough. I love to be outdoors skiing and
snowshoeing, but around the middle of February I’m ready to put on
my hiking boots . . . Of course, with spring comes some pesky
critters that can cause problems in our pets. When I first moved to
Bethel in 1994, I rarely saw any ticks, but each year they seem to get
more prevalent. In our region, the deer tick caries the Lyme
bacterium. Lyme disease cases are on the rise in both the human and
animal populations. Fortunately, we have an easy and accurate
screening test for dogs. About 10% of unvaccinated dogs in our area
now test positive.
Dogs are much more susceptible to Lyme than cats. Lyme disease can present in either an acute
form or a chronic one. In cases of acute disease, dogs have a fever, many times have severe joint
or neck pain, and frequently stop eating. Antibiotics are usually effective in treating acute
infections. In chronic Lyme, dogs can have varying symptoms including mild to moderate lameness
or arthritis, kidney disease, and neurological problems. By the time an animal has a chronic
infection, the bacterium is very well established and it may be impossible to completely eliminate,
even with an extended period of antibiotics.
The best way to approach Lyme disease of course is through prevention. The two main
preventative measures are vaccination and topical flea/tick products. Although the vaccine is not
100% effective, most animals that receive it are protected. Many clients wonder why vaccination is
necessary at all, if they are using a topical flea and tick product. Although products like Frontline
are very efficient at killing fleas (usually they are dead within 6 – 12 hours), they take longer to kill
ticks. On average, it takes 48 hours for ticks to be killed. Unfortunately, ticks begin to transmit the
Lyme bacterium as soon as thirty six hours after attaching to an animal. So there is a possibility
that dogs treated with tick products will acquire an infection. To maximize protection, we
recommend both vaccination and the use of Frontline.
Thankfully, we have a very accurate screening test for Lyme in animals. The blood test we use to
test for heartworm disease also detects exposure to the Lyme bacterium. We use this screening test
before administering the vaccination. Every year, before giving the Lyme vaccine, the test is
performed to ensure that dogs have not acquired the infection.
If you have any questions about Lyme disease, feel free to contact us. My hope is that you have an
enjoyable spring. Thank you for trusting us to care for the animal member(s) of your family.