Expert Author Peter Demmon

Borrelia burgdorferi is the name of the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease. These bacteria look like a pig's tail or a corkscrew when examined under a microscope. Lyme Disease is named after Lyme Connecticut where the disease was first diagnosed in 1975. Lyme Disease was later recognized in dogs in 1985. Borrelia burgdoferi (from now on BB) is a specific bacteria that will only allow itself to be transported through a few different types of tick. Those few tick carriers, tick seasons, processes for tick removal, Lyme Disease symptoms, treatments, and preventative measures are all things that a dog owner should know about when engaging in anti-tick warfare. There is no moral issue with a pet owner aggressively destroying every tick found on his dog, but the owner should realize that not every tick is going to be a Lyme Disease carrier.

The most common tick that carries BB is the Deer Tick or the Black-Legged Tick. A Deer Tick's actual size is 1.4 centimeters which is extremely small, essentially the size of a grain of black pepper. The only way that this pest is going to become clearly visible is if it has latched on and is slightly engorged from feeding. There are two other ticks that carry Lyme Disease and they are the Western Black-Legged Tick (which is very similar in size to the aforementioned Deer Tick) and the Lone-Star Tick. The Lone-Star Tick has a white dot on its back, but seriously, if you are in close proximity with such a thing, or find it on your dog, the best solution is to destroy it.

Lyme Disease infection happens after 48 hours of the tick being attached. A vigilant pet-owner is going to most likely notice an attached and engorged tick prior to the 48 hour mark. The best way to win this battle is to check for ticks daily during tick season which tends to be April through November. The cold winder months leave ticks dormant, but in warmer climates, Lyme Disease can be a year-round problem. Time and time again, I have read that there is no 100% solution in anti-tick warfare, one simply has to remain vigilant.

If your dog does indeed get bitten by a tick, there are many different methods for removal. One is to light a match behind the swollen tick and have the tick back out of the wound. I have personally done this method and watched the tick explode or pop due to the heat. Ticks burrow into the flesh head first so the best method by far is to get a pair of tweezers and gently extract the tick by grabbing it by its head, as close to the skin as possible. Pull slowly and surely, and don't yank it out like a splinter. You also don't want to molest the tick's body too hard or the body will break off leaving the tick's head attached. If your dog has been bitten and you aren't sure about the time frame of the bite, it is probably wise to schedule a visit to the vet. The symptoms of Lyme Disease are very tricky, a professional opinion and a blood test are probably necessary.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease in many dogs might show up two to five months after infection. Joint pain where the joints are possibly swollen and hot, a poor appetite, fever, and a possible limping are the typical symptoms. The limping might be progressive, initially seeming to be a mild discomfort followed by the leg becoming completely lame. One leg might then behave lame and then the symptoms could shift to a different leg. Over a period of two days, a dog can become completely immobilized as a result of joint pain. Nerve damage, and specifically an adverse affect on the heart can also be a problem. Depression, swollen lymph nodes, and general lethargy are other symptoms to watch out for. The symptoms may seem to disappear and then reappear making a home diagnosis difficult. Extreme cases of Lyme Disease can affect a dog's kidneys, causing renal failure which leads to death.

Treatment has to take place before permanent nerve damage can set in. Lyme Disease is referred to as "The Great Imitator." This is because Lyme Disease symptoms are very similar to several other medical conditions, so the presence of BB has to be determined. Blood testing is the only absolute way to determine the presence of BB.

Interestingly enough, dogs can be exposed to Lyme Disease and may actually fight it off on their own. This can also be determined with blood tests. Sometimes a dog's bloodwork will show positive for BB but the disease is actually under control. In the case of a dog shaking off BB on his own, he may never be completely clear of the BB reading in his bloodwork. However, just because BB shows up in the bloodwork, this doesn't mean that the dog is "infected" or has symptoms of the disease. Recently a specific blood test has been developed that shows the difference between an infection and an immunity to BB.

Treatment for Lyme Disease is with antibiotics for 14-30 days. There can be a relapse after 30 days, and if that's the case, the antibiotics would have to be re-cycled through the dog's system.

The best way to avoid ever having to deal with Lyme Disease is to make sure that your dog doesn't have extended access to areas where ticks may flourish. Fields, meadows, and unkempt grassy areas are notorious for ticks. Ticks like to hang out in high vegetation, and "off the beaten path" in wooded areas.

There are many different over the counter preventative treatments for ticks. Flea collars are good as are products like Spot On by Zodiac which are basically drops for the skin that spread out over the dog's body and prevent ticks from hitching a ride. These types of preventative maintenance are usually good for several weeks to a month before they need to be re-applied. There are also sprays that can be used outside and near where your dog likes to frolic. The key word with all of these methods of anti-tick warfare is "vigilance," especially during tick season.

If you live in an area that is heavily wooded or has a lot of untended grass and vegetation, the chances of ticks are relatively high. A dog owner whose dog frequents such areas should remain vigilant with all forms of anti-tick warfare. It is good to know that not all ticks carry BB, however, there are some serious steps that can be taken to minimize the chances of your dog being bitten. Those few ticks that do carry Lyme Disease, the yearly tick season, the processes of tick removal, specific Lyme Disease symptoms, prescribed treatments, and general tick preventative measures are all pieces of information that a dog owner needs when engaging in full-on anti-tick warfare.



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