A Tick-ing Time Bomb: Lyme Disease and Your Pet

A Tick-ing Time Bomb: Lyme Disease and Your Pet

Many pet owners enjoy traveling or spending time outdoors with their four-legged companion during the warmer months. Outdoor adventures and hikes are great for bonding with your pet, and providing their daily exercise. Ensuring your pet is protected from the elements and dangerous infections that may be lurking in the great outdoors is critical. Lyme disease is a common illness present throughout the United States. Our Animal Emergency Care team wants to ensure you are able to recognize the signs, and that you know how to protect your pet from this potentially debilitating and painful disease. 

What is Lyme disease in pets?

Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness named after the town of Lyme, Connecticut where it was first identified in the 1970s. The disease is caused by the worm-like spiral-shaped bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi which requires a mammalian host to mature and spread. The bacterium cannot survive outside a host so environmental spread is not a concern. Four tick species are known to carry the Lyme disease organism with the small deer tick the most common. Lyme disease can affect any mammal but is most commonly reported in dogs, horses, and humans who have spent time in wooded or grassy areas near rivers, lakes, or oceans. Infection occurs when a tick attaches for a blood meal, although the tick must remain on the host for more than 24 hours to allow time for the bacterium to migrate through the tick into the bloodstream. Your pet’s risk of contracting Lyme disease is higher in the Northeastern U.S. areas and Northern California. However, pets who have been exposed to ticks in any region including Bellingham are at risk. 

Lyme disease signs in pets

Clinical Lyme disease is not common in pets, unlike humans, and 90% of infected pets will not show any disease signs. The disease is rarely reported in cats. Lyme disease signs typically do not occur for weeks or months after infection. Signs may include:

  • Fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lameness
  • Joint swelling
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Decreased activity or lethargy

Some pets, although rarely, may experience a complicated case of Lyme disease infection caused by bacteria present in their kidneys. Signs may include:

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Blindness
  • Heart murmur
  • Low blood pressure 

Lyme Disease diagnosis and treatment in pets

Bring your pet for a veterinary examination if you notice any Lyme disease signs. Disease diagnosis in your pet is challenging because the signs are similar to other tick-borne illnesses. Ensure your veterinarian knows that you have noticed ticks on your pet, have traveled to an area where Lyme disease is prevalent, or have been hiking in a wooded area. Your veterinarian may recommend a specialized blood test to check for a Lyme disease infection if they suspect  the disease is affecting your pet. Additional diagnostic tests may include blood work to check for infection and overall organ health, and imaging such as X-rays to examine your pet’s joints for other causes. Lyme disease is rarely fatal to pets but early detection will ensure a more positive treatment outcome. Pets with uncomplicated Lyme disease will not require a hospital stay, and will be prescribed a one-month course of antibiotics. Other treatments may include:

  • Pain medication  
  • Immunosuppressive medications for complicated forms of the disease
  • Blood and urine tests to monitor kidney health
  • Blood pressure monitoring 

Payment options for Lyme disease treatment in pets 

Pets undergoing Lyme disease treatment will likely require several follow-up appointments, and severe cases may require an extended hospital stay. This long-term care can result in a large veterinary bill. Fortunately several payment options are available to cover treatment costs including pet health insurance like Trupanion. Trupanion will pay your veterinary clinic directly which eliminates the need to submit paperwork and wait for your reimbursement. Other payment options include pet health savings accounts, Care Credit, Scratch Pay, and short-term loans.

Lyme disease prevention in pets 

Veterinary-prescribed tick prevention products are the safest and most cost-effective way to prevent Lyme disease in your pet. Always check the Centers for Disease Control Lyme disease case map, if you are planning to travel with your pet. Other prevention measures include:

  • Checking yourself and your pet for ticks after time in the woods
  • Keeping lawn areas well maintained
  • Keeping shrubs away from your home
  • Discussing whether your pet needs the Lyme vaccine with your veterinarian

Early diagnosis and treatment are key to a positive outcome for Lyme disease treatment in your pet. Immediately contact your family veterinarian if your pet is showing Lyme disease signs, or bring them to our Animal Emergency Care office if they become ill after hours. #AEC prevents