Over the past few years ticks have become endemic throughout Ontario. As the tick population increases so does the incidence of tick-transmitted diseases such as Lyme disease. Deer ticks are known to be one of the primary transmitters of Lyme disease. According to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, the deer population has increased 10 fold in the past ten years, thus enabling the expansion of the tick population.
Ticks wait for host animals such as your pet from the tips of grasses and shrubs. As your pet brushes by, they quickly jump from the vegetation to their fur. Ticks are among the most efficient carriers of disease because they can go unnoticed for several days. The tick attaches firmly to your pet when sucking blood. That’s when the transmission of diseases such as Lyme disease occurs.
Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases in the world. Although people with Lyme disease develop a characteristic “bull’s-eye” rash, the symptoms are more difficult to detect in animals. Many dogs with Lyme disease are taken to their veterinarian because they seem to be experiencing generalized pain and have stopped eating. These pets often have a high fever and a lameness that shifts from one leg to another. Some pets will not show signs of the disease for over a year and by this time it is widespread throughout their body. Young pups appear to be more susceptible to Lyme disease than older dogs. However, the disease can occur in dogs of all ages.
Lyme disease can be diagnosed by testing a very small sample of your pet’s blood. Testing the actual tick that was attached to your pet as well as testing your pet’s joint fluid, are two other ways of diagnosing the disease. Once diagnosed, Lyme disease is treated with a lengthy course of antibiotics to completely eradicate the organism. Reduced activity is also required until clinical signs resolve, which can take weeks to months. If the disease is diagnosed early, the prognosis for cure is very good. Some infections cannot be cured completely, but early intervention provides the best prognosis. If left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to damaged joints and kidney disease.
Lyme disease can be prevented by either avoiding ticks or by vaccination. Ticks are found in grassy, wooded, and sandy areas. Keeping pets away from thick underbrush helps reduce their exposure. However, for those dogs that love to roam free, there is a product called K9 Advantix® which repels ticks. The product affects pests on contact, attacking parasite nerve cells at different sites leading to rapid paralysis and death of the parasite. Because the product is specific to parasites, it is very safe for your pet as well as humans, including children. For those dogs that are at higher risk of encountering ticks, there is a vaccine available to protect against Lyme disease. The vaccine is initially given twice, three weeks apart and then on an annual basis to maintain proper immunity.
Other Tick-Transmitted Diseases
Anaplasmosis: An emerging disease that causes lack of energy, fever, swollen joints, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite. Transmitted by Deer ticks. If caught and treated early, the prognosis is very good.
Ehrlichiosis: Signs range from mild to severe and include lack of energy, depression, fever, painful joints, bloody nose and pale gums. It can lead to permanent blindness and bleeding complications if left untreated. Prognosis very good if detected early.
Many pet owners are aware of the ongoing concern of Heartworm disease. Just as a refresher on the disease itself, Heartworm is transmitted when an infected mosquito bites your dog. Mosquitoes become infected by biting other infected dogs including coyotes, foxes and wolves. Although Heartworm disease is not as prevalent as in the United States, there are still hundreds of cases each year in Canada, most of which are in Ontario. With natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, pets from the U.S. that are being adopted by Canadians are bringing more disease north. Also, pets that travel to the U.S. that are not on Heartworm prevention during their visit are another source of infection to Ontario dogs.
Heartworm disease is similar to Lyme disease in that your dog may not show clinical signs until the disease has progressed. It can take months to years for signs such as coughing, reluctance to exercise, lethargy, weight loss and reduced appetite become evident. At an advanced stage treatment involves critical care, hospitalization, intravenous medications, strict rest and occasionally, surgery.
As with Lyme disease, a simple blood test is performed using a very small sample of blood from your dog. This year because there is such a concern for not only Heartworm disease but tick-transmitted diseases such as Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichia, our laboratory has combined all four tests into one simple test. Testing begins April 1st and Heartworm prevention is started on June 1st to November 1st.
Please call to schedule your Heartworm and tick-diseases test as early as possible. Appointment availabilities book up quickly. Routine early detection blood testing screens can be done at the same time to test your pet’s internal health.