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Lyme Disease
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M Duffy Jones, DVM posted:
As tick season approaches, I get a lot of questions about Lyme disease. Lyme disease is very frustrating because it can be hard for veterinarians to diagnose.

Transmission
The causative agent for Lyme disease is a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato. These bacteria can affect both dogs and humans (not seen in cats) and are passed along mainly through Ixodes ticks. Ixodes are generally small ticks that will feed on multiple hosts during their lifespan.

The good news about Lyme disease is that it takes 48 to 50 hours of tick attachment for transmission of the bacteria to occur. Yet, many flea products kill ticks much quicker than 48 hours. In fact most ticks are killed within 12 hours of attachment. So when you find a tick on your dog, as long as it is either dead or you remove it within 48 hours, the chance of your pet contracting Lyme disease is small. Also, ticks that are attached for 48 hours tend to be very large and easier to find.

Lyme disease bacteria multiply in the skin at the site of the tick attachment. Then, they will typically migrate through other bodily tissues. They are normally found in the skin, joints, connective tissues, and -- in the worst case -- the nervous system.

Symptoms
Clinical signs of Lyme disease only occur in 5% - 10% of infected dogs. Symptoms usually develop between 2 and 5 months following infection. So if your dog had a tick removed in March, for example, clinical signs of Lyme disease may not arise until August. These symptoms can be very subtle, such as fever, swollen lymph nodes, joint swelling, and a condition called "shifting leg lameness."

When a pet has shifting leg lameness she will limp, sometimes a lot, sometimes a little. But the source of the limp will shift from leg to leg. This lameness is a result of erosive arthritis that develops as the bacteria migrate into the joints and cause inflammatory reactions.

Lyme disease bacteria can also migrate to the kidneys and lead to kidney failure for the host.

Diagnosis
The best way to diagnose Lyme disease is through a C6 antibody blood test. This test measures antibodies to the C6 protein that is produced by these bacteria. A positive C6 test does not always indicate illness; just that your dog has produced antibodies to the bacteria. This is why veterinarians get frustrated with this disease. I usually perform C6 tests annually and run blood work to see if there is evidence of active bacterial infection.

The result of a C6 antibody blood test is not affected by whether or not your pet has been vaccinated for Lyme disease.

Treatment
If one of my patients gets a positive result on a C6 test, but everything else looks good, I will continue to monitor the animal for any change. I usually don't treat a pet immediately because the test only indicates exposure, not active infection. However, if there seems to be any evidence of active infection then my patients are treated with antibiotics and sometimes a steroid, depending on the how advanced the condition is. It is important to be treated for Lyme disease early in order to prevent permanent damage such as kidney disease.

Prevention
The vaccine for Lyme disease is routinely used in areas where there is a high incidence of the disease. In areas where it is not as common, many veterinarians will not vaccinate.

Whether you have your pet vaccinated or not, the best way to prevent an infection is to kill any ticks you find and to use long-lasting, topical tick control on your pet. As stated before, tick control products will kill any ticks that jump onto your pet long before the 48 hours it takes for an attached tick to transmit Lyme disease bacteria.

Has your pet ever been affected by Lyme disease? What was your experience with its symptoms and treatment?
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