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Many people are familiar with Lyme borreliosis, a bacterial illness that is transmitted by a particular species of tick. Commonly referred to as Lyme disease, the illness can also infect household pets.
Lyme disease is caused by spiral-shaped bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted through a tick's secretions when it latches onto the skin of an unsuspecting host to feed. According to the American Kennel Club, once inside the bloodstream, the bacteria travel to different parts of the body and can cause problems like joint pain, organ complications or overall malaise.
The bacteria that transmit Lyme live predominantly in mice, deer and other small mammals. Ixodes scapularis, commonly known as the deer tick or the black-legged tick, is the most widely known culprit behind the spread of Lyme disease.
According to the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, the most common sign of Lyme disease in pets is arthritis, which can cause sudden lameness and pain and swelling in one or more joints. Other indicators can be fever, dehydration, inactivity, and swollen lymph nodes. However, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation says pets infected with Lyme disease may not show any signs for two to five months.
Preventing contraction is essential. Use of tick-repellent products can keep ticks from targeting pets. Avoiding high grasses and ensuring dogs remain on trails instead of dashing through woodlands can prevent contraction as well.
If a tick is found on an animal, remove it promptly. Researchers have learned that infected ticks must feed for about 24 hours to transmit the bacteria to an animal. While there is a Lyme disease vaccine approved for use in dogs, many in the veterinary profession recommend only vaccinating dogs that live in endemic areas.
Veterinarians can use a simple blood test to check for the presence of Lyme disease, but the animal may not have enough antibodies early on to show a positive test result. If Lyme is present, antibiotic treatment is common, states the AKC.
Lyme disease cannot be transmitted from dog or cat to human. But because people and their pets often spend time in the same environments where Lyme and other disease-transmitting ticks are found, the AVMA and the American Academy of Pediatrics are working together to offer advice to households with both children and pets. Routinely checking animals and family members for ticks is highly recommended.