Lyme disease has become an epidemic in recent years with the number of reported cases tripling in size since the early 2000s. Factors such as climate change and habitat change have created conditions for black-legged ticks to thrive. These ticks are responsible for transmitting Lyme disease and other vector-borne diseases. With the warmer months approaching, many people are taking necessary steps to protect their families. A study conducted by The Harris Poll for Merck Animal Health has exposed that many are lacking the knowledge to protect some of our most loved family members – our pets. The online study surveyed more than 1300 pet parents and 33% of pet owners say they don’t give their pets regular flea/tick medication. Almost one-half of pet owners don’t bring their pets in for routine exams. Only 38% of participants were able to identify one symptom of Lyme Disease, despite 61% claiming to be knowledgeable about fleas and ticks. This lack of knowledge could be fatal to our four-legged friends. We spoke with Chicago’s Dr. Dan Markwalder of Companion Animal Hospital and asked the questions you need to know to best protect your pets.
CN: What exactly is Lyme Disease?
DM: Lyme Disease is a bacterial disease carried by a specific tick called the black-legged tick, commonly referred to as the ‘deer tick’. What happens is those deer ticks will feed off of wild rodents and become a host for what we call the Borrelia organism. When our pets are outside they could come into contact with one of those infected ticks.
CN: What are the best preventative options for our pets?
DM: My recommendation is oral, chewable products. One, because they’re safe, and two, because they’re efficacious. What I like about them is that when we know that when our pets like to take something we, as the pet mom and dad, are more likely to give it. A specific product that I like is Bravecto. The reason being is that it’s a longer duration. We specifically recommend this product and every time the season changes give this product to your pet. Your pet needs to be on a year-round flea and tick prevention, not just the warmer months.
CN: Is the Lyme Disease vaccine necessary for our pets?
DM: It is always my recommendation that as a pet mom or dad you should consult, first and foremost, with your veterinarian. He or she knows the specific needs of your pet and the specific lifestyle of your pet. In our practice, we use the Lyme vaccination not as a replacement for a preventative, but in conjunction for our higher risk pets in areas where there are higher tick numbers – hiking, camping, those sorts of things.
CN: What are the symptoms of Lyme disease we should look for in our pets?
DM: Initially, what you may see we call the acute phase of Lyme Disease. You will see mild signs that could include, but not be limited to, lethargy, depression, change in mood, and lameness. Those symptoms may only last for a couple of days, so it is very important if you see those signs that you get your pet in sooner than later.
CN: What are the treatment options and long-term effects if your pet contacts Lyme Disease?
DM: If your pet has Lyme disease, we give them an antibiotic. The problem is if other organs are affected, like the kidneys, they may be on lifelong medication. If other organs are affected, even though we can cure your pet of Lyme Disease, there may be the lifelong illness like kidney disease and polyarthritis associated with Lyme Disease. This is why it is very important if signs develop to get your pet to the clinic sooner rather than later.