Lyme disease has come to the forefront in public awareness because of its ability to cause human illness. The disease, caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, is spread to dogs and to humans primarily through the bite of an infected tick. The disease is fairly rare in cats. Many different species of ticks can be involved, including the deer tick, the black-legged tick, and the western black-legged tick.
Ticks, however, are not the only vehicles for spreading the disease; fleas and other biting insects are capable of spreading it as well. In addition, there have even been incidents in which Lyme disease has been transmitted via direct contact with infected body fluids. Because of this ease of transmission, Lyme disease is one of the most commonly reported tickborne diseases, and it has been diagnosed in many states across the country.
Clinical signs of Lyme disease in dogs include loss of appetite, lethargy, high fever, swollen lymph nodes and joints, and/or a sudden onset of lameness. This lameness often resolves on its own accord, only to recur weeks to months later. In untreated dogs, kidney disease and heart disease can be unfortunate sequelae.
Diagnosis of Lyme disease is based on a history of exposure to ticks and of recurring lameness. Veterinarians now have the ability to test for this disease in house.
Rapid treatment of a diagnosed case of Lyme disease is essential to prevent permanent damage to the joints or internal organs. Many different types of antibiotics can be used to treat this disease, and acute signs will usually disappear within 36 hours of instituting such therapy. Longstanding infections might not respond as well and require a more vigorous treatment approach.
A vaccine against Lyme disease is available for use in dogs living in endemic areas. Tick control is another important control measure to prevent Lyme disease. Since a tick must feed for about 24 hours before spread of the disease will take place, prompt removal of ticks will help break the transmission cycle.
The signs of this disease in humans are similar to those found in dogs. Vaccination of the family dog should help prevent it from becoming a source of human infection. In addition, prompt removal of ticks from the skin will help afford the same protection in people as in dogs.