While the infection we know today as Lyme disease has been around for at least a century, public awareness and confusion didn’t really come until the late 1980s. Media exposure of this infection virtually exploded, leaving the public with some basic knowledge and concern about this infection as it pertains to themselves and their dogs.
The canine experience of Lyme disease is very different from the human infection, however, both species get the disease from the deer tick.
Deer ticks are the largest transmitter of Lyme disease in the Northeastern United States. A female tick lays a clump of approximately 2,000 eggs in spring. After hatching, the ticks must eat blood from animals nearby. The adult deer tick will seek a large host, such as a deer, however, with humans encroaching upon the range of the deer, there are often plenty of dogs or people for the tick to attack.
Adult ticks mate on their new host, and as they feed on the host’s blood, they transmit any bacteria they are carrying. The male tick remains attached through the winter but the female, once engorged with blood, drops off, hides under leaves and debris through the winter, and in spring lays her eggs for the two-year cycle to begin again.
The process of transmitting the bacteria that causes Lyme disease from tick to host requires a minimum of 48 hours, which means that if the tick is removed within 48 hours of attachment, the bacteria will not be transmitted and the host will not get the disease. Therefore, tick control on the host is an effective means of preventing infection.
Numerous effective tick control products are available. All of these products either kill the tick or cause it to drop off.
The characteristic bullseye skin rash shown by humans shortly after transmission is rarely exhibited in a dog with Lyme disease. When canine illness does occur, it does not begin to manifest for weeks to months after infection, at which point arthritis signs are apparent. Sometimes there is a fever.
In dogs, heart and neurologic issues are exceedingly rare. The most serious long-term potential issue is kidney damage. This type of kidney damage occurs when the dog’s immune system is stimulated over a long time by an infectious organism or other immune stimulus. This is a much larger problem, for which specific testing is needed.
When it comes to prevention, there is nothing controversial about tick control. It is crucial to use tick-controlling products in animals that go hunting, fishing, camping or live in a wooded area.