We all know that pets are prone to getting fleas and ticks, but did you know that these pesky parasites could transmit dangerous diseases to your pet?
Maria Esteve-Gasent, assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained everything pet owners need to know about Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness.
“Lyme disease can affect both humans and companion animals,” Esteve-Gasent said. “Lyme disease is caused by the bacterial pathogen Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted by Ixodes ticks—also known as blacklegged or deer ticks. The ticks feed on infected animals—mostly wildlife—and, incidentally, feed on humans and companion animals, which spreads Lyme disease.”
One of the most common signs of Lyme disease in humans is a “bull’s eye” rash on the skin. People who are infected commonly experience flu-like symptoms, including fever and muscle and joint pain. Pets (mostly dogs) that are infected with Lyme disease experience transient fever, anorexia and in some instances arthritis, and can go asymptomatic for long periods of time.
“If left untreated, Lyme disease in people can progress into more chronic and serious disorders, such as carditis (inflammation of the heart that can affect the heart’s ability to function) and arthritis,” Esteve-Gasent said. “In dogs, we can observe kidney failure and heart and neurological complications. Thus, if left untreated in both humans and pets, Lyme disease can be fatal.”
How can we protect ourselves and our pets from Lyme disease? By preventing tick bites, Esteve-Gasent said.
Luckily, for our furry friends, there are a number of successful products that prevent ticks from biting pets. There are also vaccines available for dogs.
However, horses and humans are left with minimal alternatives for prevention.
“Consequently, we must use tick repellents to prevent tick bites,” Esteve-Gasent said. “People can also protect themselves by wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors. Taping socks to pants can help prevent ticks from accessing human skin.”
Antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease in both humans and animals. It may take several weeks of treatment to eliminate the bacteria from the infected person or animal.
You may be wondering, “With spring right around the corner, should we be extra cautious of Lyme disease?” Esteve-Gasent said the answer depends on where you are.
“In the Northeast and Midwest, the time of the year for Lyme disease is spring and summer, with fewer cases early in the fall,” Esteve-Gasent said. “In southern regions, or warmer regions, the risk of infection might be higher late in winter, spring, early summer and in the fall. However, if summers are too hot, ticks are not very active. Overall, if you go outdoors, keep the ticks off, regardless of whether it is summer, spring, or fall.”
A good thing to keep in mind is that if the weather is nice for you and your pets, it is also nice for ticks. If you spend the day outdoors, be sure to dress appropriately.