What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria (Borellia burgdorferi) which is injected into the blood stream through the bite of a tick which has been attached and feeding for >24 hours. Early removal of attached ticks (either manually by pulling them off, or chemically by keeping your dog up-to-date on monthly tick prevention) reduces the risk of bacterial transmission. There are several species of tick which carry this particular bacteria, but the most common is the black-legged or deer tick.
Lyme disease is not contagious! Infected dogs cannot directly transmit disease to other dogs or to humans; transmission requires a direct tick bite. HOWEVER, dogs who are not kept up-to-date on tick prevention can carry ticks into the house, making it more likely that a human family member could be bitten.
Dogs do not develop a “bull’s eye” rash at the site of an infective tick bite the way that humans do. Most dogs who are exposed to Borellia burgdorferi develop a subclinical infection and never display symptoms of disease. The symptoms of an active clinical infection include fever, lethargy, poor appetite, swollen joints, and a shifting leg lameness which looks as if the dog is “walking on eggshells”. Dogs who develop clinical infection are treated with a month-long course of antibiotics and most improve within 48-72 hours.
A small subset of dogs who contract Lyme Disease can develop a more serious chronic (long course) infection resulting in progressive damage to the joints (polyarthritis) and/or the kidneys (protein-losing nephropathy). Some dogs develop an acute progressive kidney failure, which can be fatal.
Why Should I Vaccinate my Dog Against Lyme Disease?
Lyme Disease is endemic in our area and all dogs who live here are at a high risk of infection. While most cases of clinical Lyme Disease in dogs are treatable with antibiotics, a subset of infected dogs develop fatal complications. The cost of vaccination (generally about $30.00 per year for adult dogs) far outweighs the risks of not vaccinating.
Lyme Disease is a public health concern as it can be a very serious illness in humans. Ticks can attach/feed from multiple “hosts” throughout their life cycle. This means a tick could attach and feed from an infected dog (taking the Borellia burgdorferi bacteria up into the tick’s system) and later attach and feed on a human where they could inject the Borellia burgdorferi into the human’s blood stream causing a human case of Lyme disease. By vaccinating your dog you reduce the chance that his/her blood will become infected with Borellia burgdorferi bacteria, and thus reduce the chance that this bacteria could be carried on to infect humans. You are helping to halt the line of transmission.
Epidemiologists at the CDC report a positive correlation between the number of dogs who test positive for Lyme Disease and the number of human cases of Lyme Disease in any particular area. Counties with >5% canine seroprevalence (positive Lyme Disease results) are associated with emergence of human Lyme disease cases, while <1% canine seroprevalence (positive Lyme Disease results) are associated with little to no risk for emergence of human Lyme disease. Middlesex county has a canine seroprevalence level of 16%!
For more information about Lyme Disease in pets, refer to the Pet Owner’s Guide to Lyme Disease provided by the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association).
For more information about Lyme Disease in humans, refer to the Lyme Disease Information Site provided by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).