Lyme Disease Alert

Lyme Disease Alert
By Dr. Duane Dust

In the last year we have been diagnosing Lyme disease in dogs that appear to have acquired the disease locally, in the Champaign, Piatt and Vermilion county area. In the past, we saw Lyme disease primarily in dogs that had spent some time in parts of the country north or east of Illinois. Lyme disease is now here and we feel that a number of precautions need to be taken to prevent this serious infection from affecting our canine patients.

Lyme disease is transmitted by the brown deer tick. This tick is very small, not much bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. For this reason, the tick is rarely seen on dogs because of their dense fur. This infection most commonly causes an acute, very painful and destructive arthritis. It can also affect other areas of the body including causing lethal kidney problems. It does not appear to affect cats. Symptoms can develop several months after exposure by an infected tick. Although antibiotics effectively treat most cases, prevention is key to managing this disease.

These are our recommendations:

1) If you dog has ever had a tick or goes to areas where ticks are found, consider your dog to be exposed to Lyme disease. Ticks are found in areas where wildlife lives, such as parks and nature preserves where there are woods, meadows and brushy areas.

2) Vaccinate your dog. The vaccine is safe and highly effective. Initial vaccination requires two injections, separated by three to four weeks, then is boosted annually.

3) Test your dog annually. This is done with a simple blood test, at the same time as routine heartworm testing. If your dog tests positive, antibiotics will be administered, even if your dog is symptom free.

4) Prevent tick infestation. We recommend a product designed specifically for tick control. The best product currently available is Frontline Certifect. It contains fipronil found in Frontline Plus with a second medication, Amtraz, added to it. The combination dramatically boosts its tick killing power. Frontline Certifect is also very effective for controlling fleas. Ticks are very tough and are found routinely in weather that is way too cold for fleas. I routinely see ticks in March and November, even on days on which frost occurred the night before. If you dog spends much time in the woods, consider treatment unless there is snow or the ground is frozen.

I have some sad personal experience with Lyme disease. About twenty five years ago, when I lived in Wisconsin, my own dog came down with a very severe case of arthritis involving multiple joints. This was prior to our knowledge that Lyme disease could infect dogs and consequently he went untreated. By the time that I was able to diagnose Lyme disease and he was treated, he had terrible joint destruction and could no longer run or jump without pain. He lived out the remainder of his life happily, but he could never again do what he once loved. I do not ever want to see this happen to another dog. If there is any possibility that your dog could be exposed to ticks, vaccinate for Lyme disease and treat for ticks!

If you have any questions, talk to your vet or call our office. We would be happy to answer any questions that you might have.