Over the past year there has been a dramatic rise in the incidence of Lyme disease in dogs in the Massachusetts area. This serious disease is not known to infect cats and is transmitted by the small deer tick. We are now offering an improved Lyme vaccine for your dog.
At Ashland Animal Hospital, we have observed at least a 4 to 5 fold increase in Lyme disease this past year. We have found that approximately 50% of dogs in our area are positive on an antibody test for Lyme disease. Although most symptomatic dogs respond well to a course of antibiotic therapy, a small number of dogs can develop a more serious form of the disease.
The disease is caused by the bacteria (Borrelia bugdorferei) that is spread by the bite of a small deer tick. Deer ticks can be very hard to see on a dog because of their small size and brown color that helps camouflage them. We currently use a variety of topical preventatives against ticks (e.g., Revolution, Preventic collar, Frontline) but unfortunately these are not 100% effective in preventing Lyme disease.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
While the initial symptoms of Lyme disease are somewhat variable, most dogs will display fever, lethargy, and joint pain. In some cases the joints of the carpus (wrist) or tarsus (ankle) may be warm and swollen. Many dogs are suddenly very stiff and unwilling to walk. At this stage, nearly all dogs show immediate improvement and subsequent resolution of their symptoms once started on antibiotics.
It is uncertain if the Lyme bacteria can ever be completely removed from the dog’s system, similar to the disease in humans. Future recurrences of joint pain or disease involving other organs such as the kidney are possible. It should be stressed that only about 5% of dogs who test positive will ever develop any clinical signs.
Most dogs will remain asymptomatic. Furthermore, although we are seeing a significant increase in the number of dogs suffering from glomerular nephritis, a serious kidney disease linked to Lyme disease, a direct link has not been demonstrated in these new cases we are seeing.
Revised Recommendations for Vaccination
We recommend vaccinating dogs that are exposed to ticks. We offer an improved Lyme vaccine for your dog. This vaccine uses a new technology to create what we believe to be a safer and more effective vaccine. While there is still no vaccine that offers 100% protection from Lyme disease, the vaccine we are using has an excellent safety record and appears to be very effective in stopping Lyme disease in the tick before it can be transmitted to your dog. Good tick prevention should be used in conjunction with the vaccine.
We have changed our recommendations regarding testing and vaccinating for Lyme disease due to the most recent research available. In the past, we did not recommend vaccinating dogs who tested positive for Lyme disease. Recent studies have demonstrated that vaccinating these dogs for Lyme disease is beneficial in preventing future infections. Natural infections do not offer any long term protection. The vaccine, however, does appear to protect dogs who have been naturally infected from future infections.
In addition, we now recommend a yearly blood test, the 4DX, to monitor for tick diseases in our area. About 5-10% of dogs in our area test positive for more than one disease. There has been a big increase in the number of dogs testing positive for both Lyme disease and Anaplasmosis. Dogs co-infected with both are being treated with doxycycline for 4 weeks regardless of whether or not they show clinical signs.
Additionally, dogs testing positive for Lyme disease should have their urine checked yearly to screen for early signs of Lyme-related kidney disease.
Please call Ashland Animal Hospital at 508-881-2400 if you have further questions.