Lyme disease is considered endemic in Virginia, because the infection is prevalent in our area. Although dogs are susceptible to Lyme disease, you can easily help prevent your four-legged friend from contracting the infection. Our Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team explains why your pet should receive year-round protection from Lyme disease.

#1: Virginia is home to numerous dangerous tick species that infect pets

Ticks transmit Lyme disease, and Virginia has a serious tick problem. The state is home to four tick species that transmit disease, including:

  • Ixodes scapularis — Also known as the black-legged  (i.e., deer) tick, this species transmits Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis.
  • Amblyomma americannum — Also known as the lone star tick, this species transmits ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. 
  • Dermacentor variabilis — Also known as the American dog tick, this species transmits Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
  • Haemaphysalis longicornis — Also known as the Asian longhorned tick, this species transmits Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis in Asia, but research is still being conducted to determine if they have the potential to transmit these diseases in the United States.

#2: Lyme disease can debilitate pets

About only 10% of Lyme disease-positive dogs exhibit signs, but experts believe that subclinical issues, such as multi-joint arthritis and arterial inflammation, could affect some seemingly healthy dogs. When dogs exhibit Lyme disease signs, they are typically nonspecific, including lethargy, enlarged lymph nodes, mild fever, decreased appetite, and shifting-leg lameness. In some cases, the disease progresses to cause chronic lameness or severe kidney disease. One study involving 322,145 dogs found that a dog’s kidney disease risk increased by 43% when they were Lyme-disease positive. In rare cases, Lyme disease can lead to heart inflammation and neurologic issues. Cats who live in areas where Lyme disease is endemic often test positive for the infection, but rarely exhibit signs. In addition, cats who have been infected with the disease for research purposes have exhibited no signs. 

#3: Ticks are hardy creatures that can infect pets year-round

Ticks are able to withstand harsh environments. In addition, to enable them to feed easily off your vulnerable pet, these pests have special body mechanisms that include:

  • Sticking power — Ticks have barbed mouthparts that allow them to pierce skin deeply and remain embedded while feeding on their host. In addition, some tick species produce a cement-like substance that has adhesive properties, sealing the lesion while they feed. 
  • Going undetected — Ticks inject an anesthetic agent in their host to avoid detection.
  • Withstanding the elements — Ticks can easily survive in temperatures below freezing, and typically only about 20% of the population die during a severe winter. Ticks often hide under leaf litter or in brushy areas, and they can actively search for a blood meal when the temperature is as low as 35 degrees.
  • Longevity — Ticks can reach 3 years of age, and they can live up to 540 days without feeding.

#4: Ticks in any life stage can transmit disease to pets 

Ticks develop through four life stages—egg, larva, nymph, and adult. To survive, a tick must have a blood meal at every stage, and are able to transmit disease every time they feed.

#5: Lyme disease in pets can be difficult to diagnose

Pets’ Lyme disease signs are nonspecific, which makes diagnosis difficult. Many conditions cause signs similar to those of Lyme disease, and your veterinarian will need time to determine the underlying reason for your pet’s illness. In addition, test results can be confusing. In some cases, false-negatives occur, especially in the early infection stage, and not all pets who test Lyme positive are sick simply because they have Lyme disease. 

#6: Lyme disease treatment for pets can be prolonged

Lyme disease typically responds to a particular antibiotic class, but treatment takes at least 30 days, and recurrence is not uncommon once treatment is stopped. In addition, pets who develop more serious issues, such as kidney damage, will likely need prolonged supportive care and may sustain permanent health conditions. 

#7: Tick preventives can easily protect your pet from Lyme disease

To transmit Lyme disease, a tick must remain attached to its host for at least 24 to 48 hours. If your pet is current on their tick prevention product, the medicine will disrupt the tick’s nervous system, eventually causing them to die and preventing disease transmission. A Lyme vaccine is also available for dogs, and our Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team can help you determine whether your pet is a good candidate. Several tick-prevention options are available:

  • Chews — Tick-prevention chews are a great way to protect your pet while providing a tasty treat. You should give your pet a preventive chew once a month.
  • Topical treatment — Topical treatments are great for picky pets who don’t like to try new treats. These medications should be applied once a month.

#8: Providing your pet with tick preventives also protects you

In addition to your pet, infected ticks can also transmit Lyme disease to you and your family. A person infected with Lyme disease exhibits signs that include a rash, flu-like symptoms, intermittent muscle and joint pain, severe headaches, heart palpitations, and brain and spinal cord inflammation. By ensuring your pet avoids bringing ticks into your home, you help protect yourself and your family from this dangerous disease. 

By ensuring your pet receives a year-round tick preventive, you help protect them from Lyme disease and other dangerous tick-borne illnesses. If you would like your pet tested for Lyme disease, or you need help determining the right preventive for them, contact our Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team.