2016-05-05 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Time to revisit Lyme. Veterinarians are now aware Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases, such as Ehrlichia and Anaplasma, may be more common and prevalent than had previously been realized in Nassau and western Suffolk. In fact, my “Edgar Afghan Poe” is presently being treated with antibiotics because he tested positive for Lyme disease.

Tick disease trio: Lyme disease is transmitted by the deer tick or black-legged tick, and is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Clinical signs such as fever, anorexia, lameness or, worse, kidney or neurological issues may not appear until several months after infection. Lyme disease has been found throughout North America with cases ranging from mild to severe.

There are two types of canine Ehrlichia, one caused by the brown dog tick; the other by the lone star tick. If untreated, this disease can lead to severe anemia, other bleeding ailments, lameness, bone marrow dysfunction or renal failure.


Three ticks causing disease in dogs. Three ticks causing disease in dogs. Similarly, two types of canine Anaplasma exist. One comes from specific bacteria from the deer tick or black-legged tick, whereas the other is transmitted by the brown dog tick which infects the platelets and other blood components.

Tick diseases on the move: Your dog does not need to travel to eastern Long Island, upstate or out of state to be exposed. Although the deer tick is responsible for transmission of Lyme disease, it is not necessary for deer to be present locally. Birds have been implicated as carriers of ticks. Some birds, such as seagulls, can actually be infected with dozens of ticks. These birds can easily carry infected ticks across Great South Bay from the barrier beaches and Fire Island to our backyards. In addition, a dog can be exposed to the common brown dog tick in any open lot, schoolyard, park or yard.

Testing for and treating tick diseases: In light of such, it may be prudent to consider testing your dog for the prevalent tick diseases on an annual basis. It is a simple blood test that can be done by your veterinarian. If the test is positive for any of these tick diseases, your veterinarian can advise you what further tests may be necessary before deciding upon what treatment, if any, will be advised.

Many vets begin with an in-house SNAP® test using the pup patient’s blood which gives results in the form of colored dots after about eight minutes for several parasitic diseases including heartworm (caused by mosquitoes), and the first two or all three tick-borne illnesses (Lyme, Erlichia and Anaplasma) depending on which SNAP® test is used. (Note: there can be false negative or false positive results for heartworm with SNAP® Tests so some vets rely on other tests to determine a dog’s heartworm status. However, they do find the SNAP® tests useful for early detection of tick diseases.)

If a dog tests positive on the SNAP® test for Lyme, the doctor’s next step is to administer the C6 test on the dog’s blood to determine the antibody level. Usually dogs are just watched and rechecked months later if there level is 30 or under, and treated with a month of doxyclycine, if the level is over 30. Many dogs are positive without having clinical signs (a subclinical phase) and some dogs are infected with more than one tick disease at the same time.

My Edgar falls in the subclinical category even though his level was over 100. I was surprised he tested positive for Lyme because he wasn’t showing any early symptoms. Actually, I shouldn’t have been shocked because I delay putting Frontline on him as long as possible since it is a pesticide and it messes up his long coat. After a walk at Gardiner Park in Bay Shore last year, my groomer and I removed at least seven engorged ticks from his skin. I was wrong assuming these were dog ticks, not deer ticks, because we never see deer there, and couldn’t possibly be carrying Lyme or other tick infections. From now on it will be precaution before aesthetics, even if Frontline is sticky.

Next, a urine test is done to detect if there is an abnormally high level of protein in the urine. A positive test for urine protein may signal the presence of the serious underlying kidney disease. Dogs that develop kidney failure and/or urinary protein loss will require additional supportive treatment for the kidney problem, in addition to the antibiotic treatment. Treatment may include hospitalization with intravenous fluid therapy and medications to reduce protein loss and high blood pressure.

Is tick treatment working? After the month of doxy, the C6 test is repeated in six months. If the level of antibody has dropped by 50% from the starting value, then treatment is considered effective. If not, then treatment is incomplete and may need to be continued; it may also mean the dog has become re-infected by a second tick bite.

New Lyme vaccine: There is also a new, vastly improved vaccine for Lyme disease made by Zoetis Animal Health. It is a recombinant vaccine (it is safe and cannot cause disease) and gives broader coverage against Lyme disease than we were previously able to do. To protect against Lyme disease, the first year two vaccinations, three weeks apart, are necessary, followed by annual booster shots.

Preventing tick diseases: In addition to testing for tick borne diseases and vaccinating against Lyme disease, it is important to minimize the exposure your dog has to ticks by avoiding high grass areas, open fields and wooded areas. Your veterinarian can also supply you with products that will kill ticks that may find their way onto your dog. These range from the topical applications that have been sold for a number of years to newer oral tablets given on a monthly basis that will potentially protect better and offer more rapid tick kill, before the tick can transmit the diseaseproducing bacteria.

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