“It’s late fall, and my dog is inside most of the time. Why should I continue him with tick medicine through the winter?”
According to veterinary parasitologists, Lyme disease — and tick-borne diseases in general — have reached epidemic status.
In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced there is likely at least 10 times the number of cases of Lyme disease as previously suggested—and that number now hovers around 300,000.
In places where dogs catch tick-borne diseases, it follows that people will be, too. In addition, several varieties of ticks are expanding their range and the diseases they carry are becoming far more common in more areas with each passing year. The warm winters we have seen here in the Gold Country for the last few years have not knocked back tick populations, and ticks remain active right through the winter months.
While you cannot become infected with Lyme or any other tick-borne disease directly from your pets, if they pick them up they will bring them into your environment too. Remember, ticks are indiscriminate, and just as happy to put the bite on you.
“Unlike the human medical community where Lyme disease remains unfortunately controversial, Lyme disease and tick-borne infections are not controversial in the veterinary world,” says Global Lyme Alliance board member Robert Kobre. “Veterinarians proactively screen pets, particularly dogs, for tick-borne diseases and as a result, the prevalence of Lyme disease in any area within the United States can be indicated by canine infection rates.”
If you find a tick on your dog, discuss testing and treatment options with your veterinarian.
Without knowing of a tick bite, diagnosing Lyme disease can be challenging because of the variety of clinical signs that infected dogs can have.
The most common clinical signs of Lyme disease in dogs include lameness, fever, lack of appetite and lethargy. The bacterial infection can also damage the kidneys, heart and nervous system.
Prevention is the best medicine.
Fortunately, there are monthly oral or topical medications that are quite effective.
Some dogs may also benefit from vaccination; your veterinarian will assess whether your dog should receive the vaccination based on his or her risk of exposure.
As you would expect, active owners and their dogs who are more often exposed to ticks are more at risk of contracting tick borne-diseases.
Before traveling, camping, or hiking, be sure to research your travel destination. “Tick maps”, created by the Companion Animal Parasite Council, show the prevalence of these parasites broken down by state and county.
Right now, we can do more to protect our dogs and cats against ticks than we can ourselves. But decreasing the tick load in your pets’ environment means less ticks around to bite you — and thus, less chance of you picking up some of these rather nasty (and potentially life-long) diseases.