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Lyme Disease


Lets Talk about Lyme Disease

     By Dr. Pete Farrell



          Lyme Disease is caused by a very crafty bacteria named Borrelia burgdorferi.  In certain species, namely humans and dogs, infection can cause damage to many different organs and systems.  Some species of mammals seem to be able to carry the organism largely without becoming ill, such as deer, field mice and cats.  The infection is transmitted by the bite and attachment of a tick for greater than 24 hours, usually by the deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, but many other ticks can carry the disease.  All three stages of the deer tick, the larva, nymph, and adult are able to transmit the disease.  The larva and nymph stages of the tick are the ones which are very small, almost too small to see with the naked eye, making detection of a tick bite by these small stages of tick difficult.  Only 40% of people with Lyme Disease know they have been bitten by a tick.  However the adult deer tick is just as large as the brown dog tick and the wood tick, the other common ticks in this area.  You cannot tell the difference between ticks by their size! 

The only known preventative for Lyme disease is vaccination.   
          There has been controversy over the use of the vaccines, but thirteen years of use with none of the predicted calamitous effects makes it a safe vaccine for the protection of our dogs.  A recent investigation by researchers at both Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania examined the Lyme  vaccine and found it to be 100% effective and found few vaccine reactions.  Discussion of the disease at a recent conference called for vaccination even when the dog had prior exposure, to reduce the possible influx of new Borrelia bacteria from future tick bites.  However, vaccination does not appear to help the body remove organisms that invaded before the vaccine was administered.  This means vaccination is of greatest benefit if started as a puppy.  However, even dogs that have experienced previous tick bites that may carry some Lyme bacteria will benefit from vaccination because  if new bacteria are added into the body by later tick bites, clinical disease may then ensue.  Some people have been heard to say, "I don't believe in vaccination for Lyme."  This is not an issue of faith, folks.  Lyme disease is a killer and very difficult to treat if allowed to infect the body. 


Can't we just keep the ticks away and thereby prevent Lyme disease?
           The only known effective tick repellant is DEET, the active ingredient in Deep Woods Off.  The tick collar, PreVentTic, the spot on treatment, Bio Spot, the spot on treatment, Frontline Topspot, and the all-in-one parasiticide, Revolution, all have their weaknesses and drawbacks.  Toxicity to the active ingredient, Amitraz, is the problem for PreVentTic collars, as well as poor control on the rear of the dog.  Bio Spot does kill ticks, as does Frontline, but not soon enough to prevent the 24 hours of attachment that is needed to transmit Lyme bacteria.  They kill too slowly.  And Revolution may not kill the ticks very well at all.  Is it good to apply these chemicals to my dog then?  Yes definitely, because you will be killing the ticks that might come into your home, drop off and lay eggs there, or out in your yard.  I believe that reducing tick numbers on my dogs will reduce my children's chances of getting tick bitten.


Do antibiotics help if a dog is bitten by a tick and is not vaccinated? 

          We believe the answer is yes, and this is our standard of care, but if your dog has picked up a tick, then there are ticks in your environment, and it needs to be vaccinated for the best protection. 

Do antibiotics help when Lyme disease is causing a dog to be ill? 

          Yes, but the sooner treatment is begun, the greater the likelihood of remission of symptoms.  It has been shown that treatment of a Borrelia infected animal or human reduces the numbers of organisms alive in the body, but doesn't clear them all.  That is one reason vaccination of previously exposed animals is beneficial to them.  When the infected dog has gone into kidney failure as a long term result of Lyme disease, there is little that can be done.  Lyme disease can manifest itself as joint swelling and pain, kidney failure, heart muscle infection, neurologic disease, back pain, as well as other symptoms.

When should I protect my dog from ticks? 

          Deer ticks are able to be out on the tall grass and low brush waiting to grab onto your passing dog's fur anytime the temperature is above 35 degrees F and usually below 90 degrees.  So that may mean much of the year in our area.  You need to assess the prevalence of ticks in the areas you walk with your dog.  Talk with your neighbors about ticks on their pets even if yours haven't had any yet.  You may be forewarned and able to get your dog vaccinated prior to being bitten and infected.

How likely is Lyme disease in the Capital District?

           The Diagnostic Lab at Cornell Veterinary College surveyed the regions of the state in 2000 for prevalence of Borrelia bacteria in ticks in the area.  The Capital District at that time had 50% infection in the deer ticks found and tested.  The numbers of ticks has dramatically increased in the past five years, making us a prime area for new cases of Lyme disease.  Columbia County, just south of Albany, currently has the highest incidence of Lyme Disease in the nation.

Please consider the information presented and decide how best to protect your dogs.

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