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Posted on 10-07-2011
Living and working in Chester County, we are all familiar with Lyme Disease. In the past few years, there have been more than 20,000 cases of Lyme reported in dogs in Pennsylvania. This is twice as many as seen in Conneticut where Lyme Disease originated. Of these Pennsylvania cases, more than 2,000 of them (10%) were located in Chester County, making us one of the highest incidences of Lyme in the US.
Lyme Disease is caused by a bacterial organism called Borrelia burgdorferi. It is trasmitted to humans, dogs, cats, and horses through the bite of the Deer Tick (Ixodes Scapularis). These ticks are found in large numbers in areas heavily populated by wildlife, such as deer, raccoon, and fox. In order to transmit lyme, ticks must bite and get a blood meal from the host. This typically requires an attachment period of 24-48 hours. The incubation period (the time from infection to the host exhibiting signs of disease) can extend from 2 weeks to 5 months.
The signs of Lyme Disease can vary greatly in animals, making diagnosis and treatment very difficult at times. Dogs exhibiting signs of Lyme Disease will often present with fever, anorexia, lethargy, and joint pain. This can be very severe and painful. Many dogs, however, have no outwardly visible signs of disease, but have an active, sub clinical infection. These dogs can progress to having chronic, permanent joint damage and arthritis. Even more concerning, they may develop chronic kidney disease and failure leading to death. Although cats are susceptible to Lyme, they are very resistant to the organism and rarely have any disease associate with infection.
Because of the potential for chronic, sub clinical disease in dogs and the potential life threatening progression that can occur, we at Eagle Animal Hospital feel it is very important to regularly test your canine family member for Lyme. There are two very good tests available for veterinarians to aid in the diagnosis of Lyme in your dog: a Snap 4dx and a Lyme C6. A Snap 4dx test is a simple, accurate, in hospital test that can reveal if your pet has been exposed to Lyme. A Lyme C6 test can help determine if your dog has acitve infection verses a past exposure. This test results in a number which measures the dog's immune system response to an infection. A high number indicates an active infection warranting treatment.
The treatment of Lyme disease in dogs is often very rewarding if diagnosed early. Treatment typically includes an antibiotic called Doxycycline for a period of 21-28 days. However, the physical signs of infection will usually dissipate within 12-24 hours of initial treatment. In dogs that have high C6 titers, even with no outward signs of disease, we will treat with Doxycycline and recheck their C6 titers in 6months to be sure the infection is cleared. Unfortunately, dogs that have developed kidney failure associated with Lyme often do not respond to treatment and have a grave prognosis. Therefore, early detection and treatment are imperative.
There are two very good ways to aid in the prevention of Lyme. One is to use a good tick preventative. Eagle Animal Hospital recommends a topical flea and tick preventative, such as VECTRA3D, be applied to your dog once every 30 days. This should be done 12 months of the year as ticks will be active as long as temperatures are above freezing. The second is vaccination. Today's lyme vaccine is safe and effective. We recommend starting vaccination with two injections given 3-4 weeks apart, followed by annual boosting. When used with tick preventatives and good tick checks when coming in from outside, vaccination can go a long way to keeping your dog free from lyme.
Sharing our surroundings with the local wildlife is what makes living in Chester County so great. With the proper vigilance and precautions we can continue to enjoy all that our area has to offer without the risk associated with Lyme disease.
David Matunis, Veterinarian, EAH
Serving Exton, Downingtown, Glenmore and all of Chester County
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