As cases of Lyme disease in humans continue to rise across the country, a corresponding increase has been seen among dogs. Maryland, one of the states with the highest incidence of Lyme in the nation, is reminding pet owners to be vigilant during April, which is Prevent Lyme Disease in Dogs Month.
While Lyme is perhaps the most well-known tick-borne pathogen, there are a number of other threats to animals including Anaplasma and Ehrlichia. Dr. Elizabeth Hepner, president of the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association, noted that some pets can be infected and not show any signs of disease. “Some pets can have kind of nondescript clinical signs including lethargy or a fever, maybe a little bit of a decreased appetite, in other pets we can see shifting leg lameness and pain in their joints,” she said.
According to Hepner, only 5% to 10% of dogs show symptoms of Lyme, making it important to have dogs tested for tick-borne pathogens yearly. The 4Dx test used to screen for heartworm includes testing for Lyme along with Anaplasma and Ehrlichia.
While not available in humans at this point, dogs can be vaccinated against Lyme. Hepner noted the Lyme vaccine is administered by a vet then boosted after a few weeks and is good for one year, though she emphasized it is not a substitute for prevention.
“When I talk to my clients about the Lyme vaccine, I stress that prevention with your ideally oral flea and tick prevention is the best way to prevent Lyme disease,” Hepner said. “But the vaccine does add another layer of protection.”
Hepner added prevention is key, and while it is important to do annual testing, year-round vigilance is now required. “Very important to keep all pets on year-round flea tick and also heartworm prevention,” Hepner advised. “Also, if you live in a high tick area, definitely recommend doing tick checks on your pet after you guys go outside just another layer of protection to prevent parasitism.”
Pet owners should also be aware of the symptoms of tick-borne diseases, which can be similar to those of other illnesses. Lyme disease symptoms in dogs can include lethargy, fever, decreased appetite, and joint pain. It can cause kidney damage, heart disease, and even death in severe cases.
In addition to preventing tick bites, pet owners should also be aware of the signs of tick infestations in their homes. Ticks can hide in carpets, furniture, and bedding, so it’s important to vacuum regularly and wash pet bedding and other fabrics in hot water.
Overall, experts stress that preventing tick bites is the best way to protect pets from tick-borne diseases. “The more you can do to prevent a tick bite, the better,” Hepner said. “That’s really the key to preventing Lyme and other tick-borne diseases in dogs.”