Lyme is Spreading Here’s What You Need to Know

Lyme disease is a concern, but it shouldn’t keep you home from summer adventures with your best buddy.

By Jennifer Grant

Image: Adriano Cz

Lyme Disease is caused by a spirochete bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. The vector for this dangerous, near-microscopic vermin is the black-legged tick, otherwise known as the deer tick.

Lyme is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can affect both people and pets. The hopeful news is that while many dogs may be bit by a tick, only about 15% will exhibit symptoms of disease onset. Science isn’t certain yet whether this represents the population of infected ticks or if some dogs have better immune systems and do not progress from infection to disease.

 Image: Vladislav Karpyuk

Unfortunately, time will tell on that one as populations of Borrelia infected ticks continue to grow throughout North America, putting many mammals at risk for Lyme Disease.

If your dog has been infected, the most prominent symptom is fever and “shifting lameness.” The lameness is caused by inflammation in the joints and is referred to as “shifting” because it moves around. For example, one day the right back leg will be affected, then two days later, only the front limbs.

Other symptoms include: loss of appetite and moping, difficulty breathing, and sensitivity to touch. Serious kidney, heart, and nervous complications are rare. Certain breeds, however, tend to be harder hit with these rare complications, including: Labs, Goldens, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Bernese Mountain Dogs.

Infection can come from an adult tick or even a nymph (baby tick). Nymphs are less than 2mm, so impossible to see in the pet’s fur. The adult will become engorged as it feeds on blood, making it more visible. It is 2 to 3 days after the tick lodges itself into your pet’s skin that the bacteria is transmitted, so it is very important to check your pet for ticks as soon as they come in from a hike in long grass or a wooded area.

Creepily, adult ticks actively go on a quest for blood. They will wait at the tips of tall grass, and even drop down from tree limbs to land on a warm blooded animal. The nymphs will be picked up from snuffling in decaying leaves and debris on the forest floor.

Dog walking with stick in his mouth through forest

Image: Olga Ovcharenko

Not every tick carries the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), only the black-legged tick can transmit Lyme Disease. This tick is endemic in northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central Unites States, as well as the Pacific Coast.

If you find a tick on your dog, you can use this tool from the University of Rhode Island to identify and report it. Tick populations are spreading and it’s important that all pet owners participate in reporting and keeping our loved ones safe. One danger we don’t often consider is that pets can bring ticks into the house and these can drop off and reattach to children or other pets, like the indoor cat.

Woman Checking for Ticks on Her Dog

Image: Zivica Kerkez

How will you know that your dog has a tick? It is so very important to do a quick examination when you get home from your walk in high-risk areas (grassy meadows and forest trails). Run your hands over every part of your dog’s body, feeling for bumps. If you find one, simply pull the hair back and remove the tick.

The technique is important here because you want to avoid tearing the tick’s body and possibly spreading infection into the bite wound. Use a pair of fine tipped tweezers and grasp the tick near the skin. Pull gently and the head should come straight out. You can also purchase a tick removal hook, which makes things easier, especially if your fluffer does not like to sit still for examinations.

Dog and Man Hiking in tall grass

Image: Aaron

There is no reason to let tick anxiety keep you from having some grand summer adventures with your dog. Just be aware of the issue, take precautions for acquiring Lyme by checking for ticks when you home or back to your camp site, and hike on!