Lyme disease is caused by a bacterial like organism called a spirochete. This organism is carried in a particular species of tick called Ixodes, also known as the “deer tick”. Humans and dogs become infected with Lyme disease by the attachment of a deer tick onto their body.
The number of Lyme disease cases in people in the United States has tripled in the last 20 years; and there has been a corresponding increase of the disease in dogs. There are 400,000 new Lyme disease cases each year in humans. In fact the geographic range for Lyme disease now covers more than half the counties in the United States.
The diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease in both dogs and people can be difficult; and is not always agreed upon by the various experts in the field. There are two factors that contribute to the difficulty and controversy around Lyme disease. The first factor is that the deer tick likely carries other pathogenic organisms in addition to the Lyme spirochete. This means that both dogs and people become infected with more than one “bug”. The second factor is the way in which Lyme organism moves in the body. This pathogen only stays in the blood stream for a short time and then dives into the deeper tissues; where it becomes difficult to test for, difficult to treat, and difficult for the immune system to locate.
Another quandary with Lyme disease is determining how often a dog that is exposed to the disease actually contracts the ailment. In the past it was believed the number of dogs that actually became ill with Lyme disease after exposure was relatively low, only around 5 percent. New studies show that in a group of 16 dogs exposed to the disease 13 developed inflammatory changes in their joints. This is a scary statistic, indicating that the prevalence of Lyme disease may be higher than previously thought.
With the disease on the increase and the outdated belief that Lyme is “hard to catch and easy to treat” there is a disconnect that exists. Lyme disease which is a Borrelia organism has a complex genome as well as a complicated interaction with the dog’s body. Hence there is a need for the development of new drugs to neutralize the Borrelia organism. Some experts believe that the current recommended therapy with the antibiotic doxycycline is not very effective.
A relatively new injectable antibiotic called cefovecin has shown to be effective against Lyme disease. This antibiotic is also known as Convenia, which has a duration of two weeks from a single injection. This antibiotic is readily available at your local veterinarian.
As we can see, Lyme disease is a tough problem to deal with. It is hard to diagnose, hard to treat, and can be not only painful with joint disease, but fatal with kidney damage. Hence we must turn to prevention, where fortunately there are great options.
For dogs, unlike in people, there is a highly effective vaccine available. The latest version of this vaccine is from Zoetis, and offers great protection. This vaccine should be readily available at your local vet. Initially your pet receives 2 injections 3 weeks apart and then the vaccine is given once per year.
In addition to the vaccine there are highly effective flea and tick prevention products. The latest and best of these products include a once per month chewable tablet that falls into a new class of insecticides called isoxazolines. Two of these products should be readily available at your local veterinarian; Nexgard and Simparica. For the past 2 years my 3 Maltese have been treated year round with Simparica and have done very well.
In closing it should be known that ticks are a threat to the health of both people and pets. Pets tend to be effected more often than humans. These tick borne diseases are on the upswing. Lastly, ticks become active when the outside temperature rises above 35 degrees; therefore there is a clear indication for year round flea and tick prevention.