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Lyme Disease: An Overview

Lyme disease is one of the most common and well-known tick-born diseases in the world. It is a bacteria that can live in the black-legged tick or “deer tick”, and can be transmitted to people and animals through a blood meal. The population of the black-legged tick has grown in alarming numbers and in recent years, has been spotted throughout Nova Scotia. Particular hot spots include but are not limited to Yarmouth and the South Shore, Kejimkujik National Park, Shubenacadie Park Trails in Dartmouth and areas along the Eastern Shore.

Any person or animal is potentially at risk for contracting lyme disease. Ticks are generally more prevalent in spring and fall when cooler, wetter conditions are expected. Unfortunately it seems ticks have now adapted to our environment and can be spotted throughout the spring, summer fall and even winter if the temperature is over 4 degrees. The black-legged tick can be found in wooded areas, tall grass, areas with high vegetation, walking paths and trails, and even campgrounds.

Lyme disease is the most common tick-born illness in Nova Scotia, however it only causes symptoms in 5-10% of affected dogs. Symptoms of the disease do not typically show for 2-6 months after infection. They range in severity and can often resemble other disease processes. Lameness and/or inflammation of the joints seems to be common, as well as vomiting, diarrhea, a decrease in appetite and energy levels, fever or an increase in thirst and urination. In more severe cases, kidney damage, heart disease or neurological signs can appear (although rare).

To help diagnose Lyme disease, a complete and thorough health history should be provided to your veterinarian. They may suggest a variety of tests including bloodwork, radiographs, urinalysis, fecal exams and possibly tests specific to diagnosing lyme disease.

If lyme disease has been determined as the cause of your dogs’ illness, depending on the severity of symptoms, a course of treatment is prescribed. Long-term antibiotics may be initiated, or hospitalization with treatments may be required.

Ideally, avoiding tick-infested areas is recommended to help prevent tick bites. However with the increase in the tick population, that may not be possible. A good tick remover is always nice to have on hand. A thorough ‘tick check’ of yourself and your dog is recommended and is a good habit to get in to.

There are excellent flea and tick control products available from your veterinarian.  They are easy to administer and are proven to kill ticks that transmit diseases. There is also a vaccine available for the prevention of lyme disease. Consult your veterinarian if you plan on visiting tick-infested areas.

Written by Dartmouth Veterinary Hospital 

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