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How to lick Lyme disease


Consider these seven common myths clients believe about Lyme disease. Then learn how to respond to pet owners and protect their pets' health.

Whether their source is old Uncle Moe and his 100-percent guaranteed homespun remedies or the shady all-the-stuff-your-veterinarian-doesn't-want-you-to-know-about-pets website clients consult before and after every diagnosis, pet owners can fall prey to some pretty crazy misinformation. Even the most informed clients can still suffer from misconceptions about the risks their pets face every day—especially when it comes to parasite infection. Many clients believe their pets aren't at risk from parasites, especially ticks.

This is where you, a steadfast member of your practice's parasite protection squad, come in. Whether you're the friendliest receptionist in the west or the all-time gentlest pet restrainer your practice has ever seen, you can benefit from adding one more skill to your list: able to lick Lyme disease with a single client conversation. Consider this list of common client myths about Lyme disease and learn how to debunk them:

Myth 1: I don't live in a wooded area, so my pet can't get ticks.

When clients assert their pets don't visit areas where ticks are commonly found, such as wooded areas and places with high grass or brush, it's helpful to explain that ticks are actually able to live out their entire life cycle within the pet owner's home. It helps to mention that woodpiles near or inside a home provide the perfect environment for ticks to survive. And if there are pets inside, this improves the environment for a tick's survival because they need readily available hosts.

You also might mention that when small rodents such as mice are infested with ticks, they can enter the house, assisting the tick's transportation indoors. Even if ticks don't make their way into the home, they can still live in low grass and trees—such as the back yards of most suburban homes. When pets play in these areas, they are at risk of tick infestation.

Myth 2: I haven't seen any ticks on my pets, so they aren't at risk.

Clients often find ticks on their pets once they're engorged and visible to the naked eye. However, the tick's life cycle includes two stages, larva and nymph, where they're not as easily noticed. While clients can remove adult ticks from their pets, they can't be sure that ticks haven't already laid eggs on the pets, continuing the tick infestation. Explain that ticks in the larva and nymph stage need blood meals to grow into adult ticks, and the pet's coat is the perfect place to grow.

Myth 3: I've only found a few ticks on my pet, so I'm sure he's fine.

The phrase "it only takes one" fits perfectly to describe the risk of Lyme disease. Clients can be diligent about checking for and removing ticks, but it still only takes one tick bite for a pet to contract Lyme disease. Explain that when clients find ticks on their pet, there's a good chance the pet has had other ticks they've missed. And even if they only find one tick, your practice wants to protect the pet's well-being by testing for tick-borne diseases in the months following the bite.

Myth 4: I apply a flea and tick preventive to my pet monthly, so I don't need to worry about Lyme disease.

While you want to praise clients for their compliance, it's important to avoid making guarantees about absolute protection. Depending on the pet's habits and environment, clients may need to take additional steps to prevent Lyme disease.

For example, because each product is different, the doctor may recommend different application schedules, depending on the product and the pet. Remind pet owners the veterinarian may also advise reapplying the product if the pet has been swimming or bathed, so it's a good idea to check with the veterinary team. And the doctor may also suggest routine testing for tick-borne diseases and vaccinations against Lyme disease.

Myth 5: During the colder seasons, I don't need to worry about applying flea and tick prevention.

Because most insect populations decrease once cold weather sets in, clients often assume ticks will follow suit. In reality, ticks are much hardier—and their population even peaks during the fall season. Explain that ticks can also survive through the entire winter even when frozen in the ground. And occasional thaws during winter may release these frozen ticks for another blood meal. For the best protection, teach pet owners to continuously apply preventives throughout the year, including the colder months.

Myth 6: My pet was treated for Lyme disease, so now she's cured.

Once a pet is diagnosed with Lyme disease, the doctor usually prescribes an antibiotic. Many clients assume that once the antibiotic course is finished, the Lyme disease is cured and their pet is no longer at risk of experiencing Lyme disease symptoms. However, the infection in many pets is widespread and may take multiple courses of the antibiotic to successfully treat the Lyme disease. When the doctor diagnoses Lyme disease, it's important to teach pet owners that their pet may require quantitative tests after treatment to ensure complete treatment. The pet should also continue to be routinely screened for tick-borne diseases every year.

Myth 7: My pet has already contracted Lyme disease, so he can't receive a Lyme disease vaccination.

Pets that have been treated for Lyme disease run the risk of reinfection. So it's important for clients continue applying preventives and check their pets for ticks.

Another way to prevent Lyme disease is to administer Lyme disease vaccination. Although there are more benefits to giving the vaccine before exposure occurs, such as with puppies, adult or seropositive dogs can receive the vaccination to help prevent the pet reinfection.

More than lip service

Whether we're serving up the facts about Lyme disease or taking a lick at busting fiction in its chops, it is our job to keep clients informed. Simple steps, such as offering brochures and preventive samples and taking extra time to discuss the vaccination protocol, can help bring awareness to Lyme disease and how we can prevent it. When you take the time to educate pet owners, they can spread the truth to others—and help take a bite out the myths that threaten pets' health.

Ciera Miller, CVT, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a technician at Metzger Animal Hospital in State College, Pa. Share your tips to educate pet owners about the risk of Lyme disease at dvm360.com/community.

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