Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Confusing Facts of Lyme Disease

I do not care for Lyme disease. Because the veterinary community does not yet fully understand how it affects dogs, diagnosis and treatment can be challenging. Plus, it’s a confusing disease, which can be tough for pet owners to understand. The best way to protect your dog from Lyme disease is through a combination of prevention and monitoring.

Prevention is your first essential step. Because Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria transmitted through deer tick bites (the tiny deer tick is pictured to the left), the best way to ward it off is with topical flea and tick preventatives like Frontline or Advantix. In a temperate climate like ours, these should be applied once a month, every month. (If you’re not already using one of these medications, come in and talk with us so you can get started). These also protect your dog against other tick borne infections such as Erlichia and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Although a Lyme disease vaccination is available, we do not recommend using it because there is no concrete evidence that it prevents the disease. Plus, some specialists believe that vaccinating an infected dog can make the disease worse.

Monitoring is equally important. Here at Friendship, we include a screening for Lyme disease in our canine patients’ yearly heartworm tests. This shows us whether or not a dog has been bitten by a tick carrying the bacteria. When a dog tests positive for Lyme disease, it does NOT indicate active infection only exposure. In Lyme endemic areas like DC, there are reports that up to 70%-90% of dogs will test positive. The good news is that the vast majority of the Lyme-positive dogs we see never develop clinical signs of the disease.

If the Lyme disease test is positive, your next step is to bring in a urine sample so we can test for Lyme nephritis, a serious and fatal complication involving the kidneys. This test, known as a urine protein creatinine ratio, looks for protein loss through the kidneys. If your dog’s urine has increased protein in it we will recommend treatment with oral antibiotics. In addition, we will also ask you to keep a sharp lookout for clinical signs such as lethargy, decreased appetite, fever and a lameness that shifts from leg to leg. If your dog displays any of these symptoms, we will ask you to schedule an appointment so we can discuss treatment. Based on the recommendations of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Friendship treats only those dogs that have abnormal urine tests and/or display one or more of the clinical signs of Lyme disease.

To sum up – when it comes to Lyme disease, the best medicine is a combination of prevention and monitoring. Keep on track with your dog’s monthly flea and tick preventative. Bring your dog in for a yearly heartworm screening, so we can test for Lyme disease. If your dog does test positive, don’t panic! Most dogs that test positive never display clinical signs of Lyme disease. Whatever happens, you can rest assured that we will work with you to keep your dog healthy and comfortable.

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