The threat of Lyme Borreliosis is real, but with the appropriate preventative action, we can avoid it
Living in the Northeastern region of the country, I have seen many canine patients that have either tested positive incidentally on a Lyme screening test or show clinical signs of Lyme disease. In endemic areas, 70-90% of healthy dogs are seropositive and of these, less than 5% of seropositive dogs show arthritis.1 Preventing this infection should be part of every clinician and owner’s mindset alike. It is also very important to combat it early on, as owners themselves can fall prey to this condition. However, this is sometimes easier said than done, as there is often confusion about when and how a pet can become infected. Before we can talk about how it can be prevented, we must first investigate what causes the disease in the first place.
Lyme Borreliosis, or Lyme disease as it is commonly known, is a bacterial disease caused by Borrelia burgdorferi that infects humans, mammals, and birds. The deer tick, Ixodes scapularis in the Northeast, and the Western Black-legged tick, I. pacificus in the Upper Midwest and Western states, are the most common vectors. In endemic areas, regional seroprevalence in dogs ranges from 1.4% in the West to as high as 13.3% in the Northeast.2 Infection is more common in areas where tick infestation pressure is high and routine acaricide is not practiced.
Lyme disease primarily affects dogs and humans. Most dogs exposed to B. Burgdorferi are normal, or subclinical. Those with acute Lyme Borreliosis may present with fever, shifting leg lameness, swollen joints, enlarged lymph nodes, lethargy, depression, and anorexia. In general, clinical improvement is observed following initiation of antibiotic therapy. Chronic disease is also associated with shifting leg lameness caused by transient, persistent polyarthritis accompanied by progressive joint changes; polyarthritis may persist even with aggressive antibiotic therapy. Protein-losing glomerulopathy leading to acute progressive renal failure has also been described.
Prognosis is generally good for Lyme arthritis and most dogs respond immediately to doxycycline without recurrence. However, the prognosis is guarded as poor for Lyme nephropathy, with life expectancy ranging from days to weeks.
Attached ticks should be removed within 24 hours to prevent B. burgdorferi transmission or any other pathogens they may harbor, but concurrent infections can occur. Ticks should be retracted using forceps or a commercial tick-removal device, and gloves should be worn to avoid content with hemolymph.
Living in an endemic area may be scary, but prevention is attainable. A combination of vigilance, environmental protection, and an acaricide with residual tick activity is the best way to combat the spread of this disease.
Modifying the habitat can also go a long way for prevention. This includes such measures as keeping shrubbery and grass closely clipped, using acaricide-treated cotton that rodents may use to line their nest, or by bait stations constructed to allow self-application of acaricides to rodents.
For tick products, there are plenty of products designed to keep dogs safe. At my practice, we like the monthly oral Simparica Trio for its convenience of providing 3-in-1 (fleas, ticks, and parasitic worms) protection. Other oral preventatives are Bravecto, Credelio, and NexGard. As for topical therapy, I typically recommend Advantix, as it is proven to repel fleas and ticks, among other pests.
Lastly, for my patients that are more active outdoors or if they live in a heavily wooded area, I recommend Lyme vaccination in addition to regular acaricide protection. We have truCan Lyme through Elanco, which works to prevent transmission by targeting multiple outer surface proteins associated with B. burgdorferi.
Jared Pitt, DVM is a Partner Doctor at Heart + Paw. He obtained his DVM from Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. Pitt has experience in general practice, emergency medicine, and mobile medicine. He is passionate about the preservation of the human-animal bond, and aims to strengthen that bond through education. Pitt resides in South Jersey with his wife and 2 children.