Ticks and Lyme Disease in Pets | Author: Dr. Cliff Redford, Veterinarian
Ticks in Ontario
Over the last decade, the tick population has increased in North America due to the urbanization of landscapes and changing habitats. This is a problem because of the diseases they spread. Some cause bleeding disorders and others cause vegetarianism (!) by making their hosts allergic to red meat. In Ontario, the primary threat comes from the Backlegged Tick, also known as Deer Tick. It ingests a bacteria, Borrelia Burgdorferi, from feeding on deer blood, and this bacteria causes Lyme Disease.
Ticks live in tall grasses, marshes and thick vegetation commonly found along hiking trails in conservation parks and ravines. They cannot fly and instead, sit at the edge of vegetation waiting to crawl onto you or your pet as you brush by. Once on a fresh host, they look for a good spot to latch on and suck blood. Within a couple of days, they transmit the bacteria into the host’s bloodstream.
In Ontario, ticks are most active in the spring and summer. However, they easily come out of hibernation and form swarms when temperatures hover above freezing even for a few days. Consequently, pet owners must remain vigilant about ticks and Lyme Disease year-round.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
Borrelia Burgdorferi hides in microscopic places throughout the body, especially in the kidneys and deep inside joints. It can stealthily remain dormant and undetectable by the host’s immune system for years. Signs and symptoms of Lyme Disease only show up well after the disease has progressed. In both dogs and cats, this includes weight loss, shifting lameness caused by joint pain that transfers from one limb to another, swelling of joints, blood in the urine, poor appetite and general malaise.
Pets cannot transmit Lyme Disease to humans. But infected ticks can easily crawl onto humans directly when you physically touch your pet, or indirectly after ticks creep onto furniture and bedding.
Preventing Lyme Disease
The best protection from Lyme Disease is prevention. After each hike or visit to fields with long grasses, check your pet thoroughly for ticks and remove them right away. Some can be as tiny as poppy seeds. Ensure you know how to remove embedded ticks properly because crushing or leaving the head or mouthparts behind can lead to bacterial transmission.
During each wellness visit to your vet, ask them to conduct a tick exam to find those you might have missed. Also, your vet can recommend tick collars and sprays to repel parasites away. And finally, some dog breeds can also receive vaccinations to protect them from tick diseases.
Diagnosing Lyme Disease & Treatment
A Lyme Disease blood test looks for antibodies against a protein name C6, which are detectable 5 – 6 weeks after a tick bite. If the test comes back positive, then your vet will review the health history, conduct a urine test along with a second blood test for indicators of active infection. This will allow them to determine whether your pet requires antibiotics. The most common antibiotic prescribed for Lyme Disease is Doxycycline. Your vet will recommend another blood test 4 – 6 weeks later to ensure the treatment worked. Virtually all pets recover quickly with antibiotic treatment.
If you were with your pet when it caught ticks, you too should examine yourself carefully. A bite from an infected tick will result in a bullseye rash. This requires urgent medical attention. Humans are much more susceptible to serious health consequences from tick bites than animals.
ABOUT DR. CLIFF
Dr. Cliff Redford, DVM, is an experienced veterinarian and owner/operator of the Wellington Veterinary Hospital in Markham Ontario. Fondly known as Dr. Cliff to his clients, he has tended to the wellness of pets and animals for over two decades. Hands-on experience in his clinic, combined with animal advocacy and rescue missions locally and across the globe, has allowed him to curate a vast body of knowledge on animal health and welfare, including preventative counselling, soft tissue surgery, advanced dental procedures, internal medicine and emergency care.