Over the past several years, we have seen more ticks in Southern Ontario.  This past year we removed several deer ticks (the tick that spreads Lyme disease) on dog patients coming into the clinic.

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is transmitted by the deer tick.  Dogs and humans can aquire ticks when walking in wooded areas with long grass or even in backyards as ticks like areas with a lot of leaf litter.  Ticks can crawl around on the surface of the skin before finding a place to feed.  Once attached, they feed for 3-5 days before dropping off to lay their eggs.  A tick needs to feed for at least 48 hours in order to transmit Lyme disease so ticks removed promtly have less chance of spreading the disease.  Symptoms typically appear 2-5 months after a tick exposure and include fever, decreased appetite and joint pain.  The disease is treated with 1 month of antibiotics.

Although many dogs who develop symptoms of Lyme disease are treated and recover uneventfully, some can go on to develop a complication of Lyme disease called Lyme nephropathy.  This is a specific type of kidney disease caused by the bacteria and can be quite serious.  Since many dogs with Lyme disease may never show the classic symptom of lameness, the disease may go un-noticed but the risk of kidney disease remains.

If you find a tick on your dog it can either be sent for testing to see if it is carrying Lyme disease or we can test to see if your dog is positive for Lyme disease 4-6 weeks after exposure.  If your dog spends a lot of time in wooded areas where the risk of picking up a tick is high, it becomes impractacle to test every time your dog gets a deer tick.  There will also surely be times when a tick may go un-noticed because they can be hard to find, especially in dogs with a lot of fur!

Along with spot on and chewable tick products, the Lyme vaccination helps protect our pets against this disease.  Initially we give 2 doses of the vaccine, 3-4 weeks apart, and then yearly thereafter, so it can be given at any time of year.  Locations with established deer tick populations infected with Lyme disease include Long Point Provincial Park, Turkey Point Provincial Park, The Pinery Provincial Park and the Thousand Islands National Park area.  In fact, much of Southeastern Ontario has populations of deer ticks infected with Lyme disease.  If your pet spends time in these areas, or in areas where the risk of ticks in general are high, like long grassy or wooded areas, the Lyme vaccine may be an important part of his/her preventitive health care program.

We would be happy to discuss the risks and benefits of the vaccination at your pet’s next preventitive health care examination.

For more information on Lyme Disease from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care click HERE.