As springtime and warmer temperatures come around once again, it's time to resume emphasis on Lyme disease awareness. This tick-borne disease is caused by borrelia burgdorferi, and this bacteria travels through the bloodstream to wreak havoc on the body's joints and organs, such as the kidneys. Your dog's first line of defense against Lyme disease comes from your preventative efforts. Find out what you need to know about Lyme disease transmission and what you can do to reduce your dog's risk of contracting the illness.
Lyme Disease Prevalence and Transmission
Lyme disease was first diagnosed in Lyme, Connecticut during 1975. Today, it is most prevalent in the New England, mid-Atlantic and northern Midwest states, and a number of cases have also been reported in California. Lyme disease affects dogs, humans and, rarely, cats. The nymph and adult stages of blacklegged ticks, which are also known as deer ticks, are the primary culprits that carry and transmit Lyme disease. The illness is transmitted when an infected tick attaches to its host for 24 to 48 hours. During that time, the tick takes a blood meal and transmits the borrelia burgdorferi bacteria into the host. If your dog revels in romping, playing and exploring outdoors, you cannot block his exposure to ticks altogether, but there are steps that you can take to dramatically thwart infectious attacks from these opportunistic arachnids.
Clear Your Property
Ticks thrive in wooded areas. They cling to tall grasses, dense brush and other vegetation to await their next meal. Such areas are also hospitable to deer and to small mammals, such as mice, which provide feeding opportunities for the ticks. Practice the following tips to make your yard less welcoming to these unwelcomed inhabitants:
- Clear away any piles of fallen branches, twigs and leaves to eliminate places where ticks and small mammals can hide or take up residence.
- Mow your lawn often to keep it short, and rake away fallen leaves regularly.
- If you need to keep a wood pile, locate it to an area that is dry and cleared from brush, weeds and tall grasses. Stack the logs neatly to provide minimal space in between them for rodents to crawl into.
- Consider applying a pet-safe tick pesticide to your property. Be sure to keep all of your pets indoors during application and until the product has dried completely.
In addition to taking preventative measures against Lyme disease on your property, you need to also focus on your dog.
Tick Control Products for Your Dog
There are several tick control products that are available to keep ticks from partaking in their blood meals on your dog. Most of them kill the ticks by targeting their nervous systems. These products are available as topical applications, preventative collars, sprays, powders and shampoos. Keep in mind that while the active ingredients in tick control products are not harmful to dogs, they are highly toxic to cats. Never make the fatal mistake of applying a product that is labeled for use in dogs to a cat. Your veterinary clinic can help you to determine which products will be the safest and most effective for each of your pets. No tick control product is 100 percent effective, however, so you will need to take some additional precautions to protect your dog from the threats of Lyme disease.
Inspect Your Pet
You should inspect your dog thoroughly from nose to tail for any hitchhiking ticks whenever he comes indoors. At the end of each day, after your dog has come indoors for the night after his last trip outside, take the time to feel his entire body over for any small bumps that could be ticks. Use this time as an opportunity to bond with your dog and to also feel him over for any new lumps or masses that your veterinarian needs to investigate. If you happen to find a stowaway, remove the tick at once or bring your dog to your veterinary clinic to have the tick extricated. In addition to preventing Lyme disease, all of your efforts will also help to prevent your dog from contracting other tick-borne diseases, including the following:
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
Fortunately, there is one more proactive step that you can take to prevent Lyme disease in your dog.
Ask Your Vet to Vaccinate
There is a vaccine available to protect dogs from contracting Lyme disease. This vaccine is considered a noncore vaccine, meaning that it is only recommended on an as needed basis. Your veterinarian will recommend this vaccine for your dog if he has frequent exposure to ticks. Frequent exposure means that your dog meets any of the following criteria:
- He lives in a wooded area.
- He lives in an area where Lyme disease cases are prevalent.
- He regularly tags along with his human family on hiking and camping adventures in wooded areas.
The Lyme vaccine is initially administered twice, two to four weeks apart. After the second injection, your dog needs to be revaccinated once annually for as long as your dog continues to be frequently exposed to ticks.
By following the aforementioned tips, you will be taking steps to protect yourself from Lyme disease contraction as well. Although Lyme disease affects humans, you cannot contract Lyme disease directly from your dog if he has the illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, you can contract the illness from an infected tick that comes along on your dog's coat and ends up on your skin as your dog brushes against you.
Protect your dog so that you can feel better about letting your canine companion enjoy his outdoor time until those nasty ticks go dormant with next winter's freeze.