Lyme Disease in Dogs and People
Lyme disease is a major concern in some parts of the United States. It affects both dogs and people but does not appear to be a major threat for cats.
What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a disease caused by a bacteria known as Borrelia burgdorferi. The disease is transmitted from an infected animal to an uninfected animal through the bite of a tick. Lyme disease is considered a zoonotic disease because it can be spread from animals to people. .
How Is Canine Lyme Disease Spread?
Your dog can get Lyme disease if he is bitten by an infected tick. Canine Lyme disease is not directly contagious from one dog to another or from dogs to people, however.
What Are the Signs of Lyme Disease?
In dogs, the most common sign of Lyme disease is lameness which may shift from one leg to another. Other signs include fever, depression, swollen lymph nodes, lack of appetite and irritability. In more serious cases, the kidneys may become involved, causing what is referred to as Lyme disease nephritis.
How Is Lyme Disease Diagnosed?
Exposure to canine Lyme disease is readily diagnosed through the use of a patient-side blood test. In some parts of the United States, the number of dogs with positive tests for Lyme disease is quite high. In the Northeast, as many as 50% of the dogs tested are found to be positive. However, of those, a large percentage (as many as 85-95%) will never show signs of disease.
How Do People Get Lyme Disease?
As in dogs, people are infected through the bite of an infected tick. Though the disease is considered zoonotic, people are not typically infected directly from their dog. However, dogs and other pets can be responsible for carrying infected ticks into the home environment which may place you and your family at risk.
Dogs are considered to be a sentinel for human Lyme disease. Areas which see a large number of dogs infected with Lyme disease also tend to see larger numbers of people infected as well.
Protect Your Family and Your Dog from Lyme Disease
The most effective means of protecting both your family and your dog from infection with Lyme disease is to prevent tick infestations.
- Check your dog thoroughly and often for ticks. Remove them promptly when found. Never handle a tick with your bare hands. Always wear gloves when removing them. Be particularly wary of checking your dog for ticks when he has been outdoors. Unfortunately, the types of ticks that transmit Lyme disease are very small and can be easily missed.
- Check any cats in the household for ticks as well. Though cats are not at high risk for Lyme disease, they can become infested with ticks when outdoors.
- Because the ticks that carry Lyme disease are so small, using one of the many effective flea and tick preventive medications for your dog and/or cat is important in Lyme-endemic parts of the country.
- Take precautions to help keep your living area free of ticks, such as keeping your grass mowed and removing high grasses and brush from near your home.
- Check yourself thoroughly for ticks, particularly if you have been in a high risk area such as a wooded location or an area with high grasses. Do not forget to check your children as well.
- Thoroughly inspect any clothing, backpacks, or other gear that have you have used for hiking or camping. Look for crawling ticks on these items before you bring them inside your home.
- Do not assume that wooded or grassy areas are the only places where ticks can hide. It is possible for wildlife to bring ticks into your own backyard. So be vigilant in checking your pets as well as your family for ticks, particularly during the warmer months of the year.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.