Would you believe something as small as a pinhead can be so devastating, debilitating and even deadly? Sick? Could it be a tick? There’s a wealth of Lyme disease information to share. We’ll start with Lyme and pets. In the next blog, we’ll jump head first into the hot debate on Lyme disease diagnosis and treatment in people.
Lyme disease is reaching epidemic proportions around the globe. Where people are concerned, it’s a problem that’s largely ignored by the medical community. From my research, it appears veterinarians take it more seriously than mainstream doctors do. I’ll be sending you down some rabbit trails in these two blogs, but they’ll be worth the trip, especially now that even the media is making us aware of another very serious infection spread by ticks called babesiosis. You can learn more about babesiosis from watching this CBS newsclip.
First, a brief history….Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne diseases in the US. A vector-borne organism is one that transmits the pathogen from one host (tick) to another (your pet, or you!) Lyme disease got its name from the town of Lyme, Connecticut, where it was first discovered in 1975 by Dr. Allen Steere, after an excessive number of school children came down with what appeared to be rheumatoid arthritis. It wasn’t until 1982, when Willy Burgdorfer, Scientist Emeritus, National Institutes of Health, discovered the root cause of this illness, the highly elusive spirochaete, or spiral shaped bacteria. If you think a little tick bite is no big deal for Fido, guess again!
LYME DISEASE IS DANGEROUS FOR PETS!
When speaking of ticks, most people tend to think of the larger brown “dog tick,” and while many Lyme literate doctors believe all ticks carry vector-borne diseases, the largest carriers of Lyme disease in the Midwest and Northeast, are the tiny “deer ticks.” Check out the site tickinfo.com to see and learn about the various species of ticks and the diseases some of them can carry. They sell a little gadget for removing ticks and they encourage the use of toxic chemicals to repel them, but you’ll find other good information there.
Here in Wisconsin, the deer ticks are everywhere. They aren’t just carried by deer; mice and birds can carry them, too. It may also help you to know that ticks and Lyme disease have been noted in every one of the 50 states in the US – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Animals and people travel and they’ll bring the nasty little buggers with them wherever they go! My husband works as a civil engineer doing highway construction and he’s told me of men who come out from the fields with up to 50 ticks on them at a time!
Since we take a more holistic approach to everything in my house, I sought the counsel of Dr. Allen Schoen, DVM, MS, of Integrative Holistic Animal Health Care, for valuable information on Lyme in pets. I learned that even centuries ago, there was a syndrome described in ancient Chinese medical literature, that was very similar to Lyme disease….long before Lyme, Connecticut ever came to be! While cats can get Lyme, it is far more common in dogs, but horses, cows, and goats can get it, too!
Here’s what you should know and watch for regarding a possible Lyme infection in your animals:
- A sudden yet recurring lameness that might shift from let to leg.
- May also be associated with a fever and depression, and occasionally, swollen lymph nodes.
- Dogs and horses can have temperament changes.
- Their joints can feel warm to the touch and swollen, and they’re likely to walk stiffly and with a hunched back.
- Might cry out in pain with even the slightest touch.
- You won’t always see a bulls-eye rash on your pet.
- Don’t ignore the symptoms! Lyme can affect your pet’s heart, kidneys, nervous system, spinal cord and brain!
- Yes, it can be fatal!
IT’S IMPORTANT TO CHECK YOUR PET FOR TICKS!
Carnegie Mellon University has a good FAQ on Lyme disease. You should look for ticks on your pet around the head and neck, but they can also be found between the toes, on or in the ears, and in the armpit and groin areas. Remember, deer ticks are the size of a pinhead, so you must look carefully! Animals may not manifest symptoms of Lyme for several weeks or even months after a tick bite. Remember, too, if you don’t check your pet for ticks before you bring them in the house, you’ll put yourself at risk.
I was suprised to see that just as in humans, the testing for Lyme in animals is very inadequate. Your pet can have a negative test and still have Lyme. Dr. Schoen recommends the Western Blot titer test (this is also the preferred test for humans) and even though he is very holistic in his approach, he’ll use antibiotics aggressively to treat Lyme, and that’s what a good Lyme literate doctor will do. In addition to antibiotics for a month, Dr. Schoen, lists homeopathic remedies, probiotics, and nutritional and herbal support in the treatment of canine Lyme. There is a vaccine for Lyme that’s available for pets, but like most vaccines, it is under some controversy. Always do your homework before you vaccinate!!
Natural Healthy Concepts can help you keep your pet’s immune system strong. Remember a compromised immune system will make it more vulnerable to Lyme disease. Try Nordic Naturals Pet Cod Liver Oil to keep your dog (and your cat) healthy. And, to help you protect your pet from ticks, Wondercide has several products for natural flea and tick control.
And finally, here are some tips from the Carnegie FAQ on controlling ticks on your pets:
- Keep your animals out of tick habitat (hardly possible for hunters and nature hikers, and frankly, your pet can get bit by a tick in your own back yard!)
- Check your animals every day for ticks and promptly remove any you find.
- Brush your dog or cat as soon as they come in and brush them over a light colored sheet/surface so you can easily see and remove any ticks that come off.
- Use a good tick repellent – they recommend products with permethrin as it’s very good at repelling ticks, but it’s also very toxic.
- It’s important to talk to your vet about selecting a safe and effective tick control product.
It would probably be helpful if you knew the right way to remove a tick! Don’t do it the way I did when I found a tick burrowed in my husband’s back. Never use a hot match, rubbing alcohol, oil or Vaseline, or any other old fashioned way to remove a tick – you’ll just make them angry and risk more bacteria going into your body!
After reading all this, you might never want to take Fido outside again, but a few extra minutes of maintenance are worth the risk to your pet and to you. That unconditional love they give in return is worth every minute! Has your pet ever had a tick or Lyme disease? Please share your story! Inquiring minds want to know!
BTW, on our Facebook survey on Lyme disease, the majority of you said neither you nor your pet ever had Lyme. After reading our next blog on Lyme disease in people you may think differently!