by Dr Enid Stiles,
DVM, Sherwood Park Animal Hospital
So what is all this media buzz about Lyme disease? Are we really seeing more ticks carrying Lyme disease in the West Island? Can our dogs or cats give it to us? What can we do to keep our families and pets safe?
Ok, so truth be told, I kind of have a love-hate relationship with ticks. You know how some people like to pop pimples, well, I love removing ticks from dogs and cats. Weird, I know. There is a great satisfaction some of us receive by knowing we removed the entire tick (head and all) safely and that hopefully, if we were fast enough, the tick did not have time to transmit Lyme disease to your pet!
For most of the general public however, these little insects are really scary and people often find them quite repulsive. As medical professionals, we all agree there is something to fear from ticks and sadly, this fear is being seen more and more in our neighbourhood – LYME DISEASE.
When I first started working in the West Island 15years ago , I saw the rare tick and rare case of Lyme disease. Most of the dogs with the disease had recently been south of the border and picked up an infected tick there. It’s a different story now. We’ve seen cases of Lyme disease in dogs that have not left their well-groomed backyards of Beaconsfield. Last week alone, here at Sherwood Park, we had 4 dogs test positive for Lyme disease. And the numbers are growing every day.
Why are we seeing more ticks that carry Lyme disease in the West Island? They believe it is a combination of factors such as warming climate conditions, urban infiltration into wildlife habitat and increased “hitchhiking” of infected animals from the United States.
Ticks find their hosts by sensing body heat, vibrations, moisture and body odours. They tend to hang out in grasses and on shrubs waiting for the next host to walk by. Ticks can’t jump but they do what is called ‘Questing’. They position themselves with their front legs outstretched to grab onto the next host that walks by. Once they are on their host they attach themselves by cutting the skin and inserting a feeding tube. The dog or cat doesn’t even feel this because there is an anesthetic property in the saliva! Then the tick may stay feeding and attached for days.
Lyme disease is only one of many diseases ticks can transmit in North America. We also see a disease called Anaplasmosis and in the USA we will see the disease Ehrlichiosis. Interestingly cats do not seem to succumb to Lyme disease the way dogs and humans do, yet again a testament to cats having 9 lives! And rest assured, you cannot get Lyme disease from your dog if he has it. Lyme disease cannot be transmitted from people to dogs or from dogs to people. The ticks themselves tend to stay and feed on the host they jumped onto in the first place,. Unless we have serious infestation, they will be happy to stay on your dog and not jump onto you!
Dogs love to run in the bush and high grasses where we see the highest number of ticks. I am certainly not of the opinion that we should keep our dogs from having fun! But the earlier you find that tick and have it removed, the less the risk to your pet. At this time in the West Island, our Public Health Agency is continuing to test ticks for Lyme disease at no cost. – always a good idea to have it checked. But do remember, just because you found one tick and it tested negative for Lyme, does not preclude that another tick did not find its way onto your dog. Unfortunately this happened to one of my patients a few years ago. What makes it even more challenging for our dog patients with Lyme disease is that only 15-20% of dogs infected will display clinical signs of the disease (fever, joint pain, malaise). The other 80% will test positive on the blood test but will not demonstrate typical signs. Unfortunately, some of these non-clinical dogs go on to develop kidney and joint issues or even deadly neurological conditions later in life.
Ask your veterinarian about annual Lyme disease screening tests as well as vaccinations and new and safe medications that help reduce the incidence of ticks and Lyme disease. We really have come a long way in veterinary medicine and if we help keep this disease at bay in our pet population, we will be helping reduce the incidence in our very own backyard!
For more information on Lyme disease and your dog, with an interactive map displaying incidence in your specific area,click here for more information.