Lymes Disease in Pets
What is Lymes Disease?
We live in a beautiful Virginia with beautiful forests, grasslands, marshes, river, and mountain terrain. Unfortunately we and our pets are also living amongst deer ticks that are able to transmit Lymes disease to us. Lymes disease is caused by a tiny spiral-shaped bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacteria lives in mice, deer, and other small mammals. Deer ticks serve as the vector that transmit Borrelia burgdorferi from wildlife to you or your pet. Both humans and pets can be bitten by the deer tick and contract Lymes disease.
What are the signs of Lyme disease?
Lyme disease can go unnoticed for several months (~2-5 months) post tick bite exposure. After this period of time, symptoms can include a fever (>102.5 F), loss of appetite, lameness, joint discomfort and/or swelling, and reduced interest in walking and exercising. In addition, your pet may have swollen lymph nodes, become dehydrated, and severe chronic cases can cause kidney damage. If there is concern that your pet may be suffering from kidney damage, then your veterinarian may choose to check your pets kidney function through bloodwork and urine testing.
How is Lymes Disease diagnosed?
Being in an endemic region (where Lymes disease is common) like Virginia, clinical signs such as arthritis raise our concern that we may be dealing with a Lymes infection. There are multiple tick-borne diseases that can sometimes look alike, including Anaplasma, Ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Therefore, a snap 4DX is a great test to rule in and out Lymes disease. This test just requires three drops of blood and is able to identify Heartworm disease in addition to the three major tick borne diseases we look for (Anaplasma, Ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
Sometimes your pet may come back with a positive response that shows he/she was exposed to Lymes disease at some point, but it may not be an active infection that requires treatment. Fortunately, the Lymes Disease vaccine will not cause a snap 4DX to be positive. We like to follow up a positive snap 4DX with what’s called a Lyme Quantitative C6 Antibody Test that looks for a special protein. This test helps to distinguish between just an exposure to Lymes versus an active infection.
Lymes disease is not transmissible between animals, between animal to human, or human to human. It is important to keep in mind, however, that if one member of your family (pet or human) is diagnosed with Lymes Disease, it is a likely indicator that all individuals were exposed to deer ticks. The best next step is to have each family member visit the veterinarian or human doctor to be tested and set up a plan to monitor everyone should signs arise later on.
How is Lymes Disease treated?
Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics that are able to kill Borrelia burgdorferi inside cells, in which it likes to hide. Your pet is often placed on a course of Doxycycline antibiotics for a month.
Following the antibiotic treatment course, we recommend vaccinating against Lyme disease.
How Can Lymes Disease be prevented?
Regular use of flea/tick prevention supplied by your veterinarian. We have a mild climate here in Virginia, so using flea/tick preventative every month of the year is best. Stay vigilant checking your pet and yourself for ticks. A deer tick has to be attached to and feed off the blood of your pet for 24 hours in order to transmit Lymes Disease. Therefore, your speedy removal of ticks from your pet will help to reduce the risk of your pet becoming infected. To safely remove a tick, grasp it with tweezers close to where it is attached to the skin. Talk to your veterinarian about also considering the Lyme vaccine for your pet. This vaccine is a two shot series initially (first vaccine then a booster vaccine about three weeks later) followed by annual boosters. If you’re able to, try to avoid tall grasses, marshes, and wooded areas.
What does Lyme Disease look like in humans?
The classic first sign seen in people that have been infected with Lymes disease is the “bullseye rash” (erythema migrans) that looks like a target symbol. Pets don’t typically show the target lesion like humans. Similar to pets, people also will show fever, headache, fatigue, muscle, and joint pain. Chronic Lymes Disease in people can also cause chronic joint pain, heart, and neurological problems. If you find a tick on yourself, or someone in your family, it is best that you see your doctor to be safe.
Lymes Disease in Horses
Similar to dogs and cats, horses infected with Lyme disease can have fever and lameness. In addition, equine cases of Lymes disease can cause neurologic problems, dermatitis, and uveitis (moon blindness). Spirochetes are attracted to cells of the collagen in the joints, the aqueous humor of the eye, the meninges of the brain, and the meninges of the heart. Frequently, fatigue, irritability, and reluctance to work and be ridden are seen.
With the presence of clinical signs including swollen joints and lameness, a snap 4DX can be performed stallside to find out whether your horse may have been exposed to Lyme disease. While sending a blood sample to the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine Diagnostic Lab to perform a Lyme Multiplex Assay is best to determine infection status, some owners may choose to do a course of Doxycline. Cornell’s Lyme Multiplex Assay test for Equine Lymes disease is able to distinguish between early and chronic infection. The test is able to measure for antibodies formed by the horse’s body in response to Borrelia burgdorferi outer surface proteins (osp proteins). For example, antibodies to ospF correlate to more chronic infections.
The best prevention of future Lyme disease cases is tick control and a Lymes vaccine. Currently, we have to use canine Lyme disease vaccines off label in horses. A study done by Cornell found that horses vaccinated with Novibac Lyme Vaccine had the best antibody response. Recombitek Lyme Vaccine had higher ospA antibody levels than Duramune Lyme vaccine. The researchers illustrate that it is critical for the efficacy of the vaccine to give a 2 mL, instead of a 1 mL dose. This boosts the amount of osp antibodies produced, as well as the duration.
Arthritis episodes tend to come and go.