When the calendar announced the first day of spring this year, the weather didn’t seem to hear the message. It does seem to be finally warming up a little, however, and while that brings green grass and early flowers, it also brings some unwanted creatures — ticks and fleas.
Ticks have actually been around even this bitter winter, although they were relatively dormant. With the lengthening days and climbing temperatures, they become more active and start looking for blood meals so they can lay their eggs. Once they attach to their host, they can transmit the organisms that cause lyme disease, anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis. We know that dogs, horses and people are particularly susceptible to these maladies. In people, diagnosis and treatment can be difficult, but veterinarians have an arsenal of diagnostics, preventatives and treatment options to help us manage these tick-borne diseases.
April is Lyme Disease Awareness Month and a good time to discuss some time-proven as well as new tools. Dogs with lyme disease often present for limping or difficulty walking that occurs suddenly. Luckily, the majority of dogs with active lyme disease will turn up positive on the quick in-house test and many will respond to antibiotics within days. Unfortunately, there is a form of lyme called lyme nephritis that causes kidney failure and for these dogs, antibiotics make little difference. This is one reason we advocate annual screening of dogs for the tick-borne diseases, so we can intervene early, before signs even start. This is also important because dogs infected with more than one tick disease at once are more likely to become sick. Our test, called a 4DX, screens for heartworm, lyme, anaplasma and ehrlichia in just ten minutes.
Prevention is also key. The lyme vaccine is safe and approximately 85% effective. It is vital to get the boosters annually because the immunity is not long-lasting and if the vaccine is overdue by even a few months, the pet may become susceptible to lyme. In addition to vaccination, keeping ticks from attaching long enough is very important in decreasing the chance of transmission. We use Frontline Plus, which kills ticks, fleas and flea eggs, and Vectra 3D which kills and repels, as topical preventatives. We are also excited about a brand new product called Nexgard which is the first-ever oral chewable tablet that kills fleas and ticks. It is given once a month and can be used along with the monthly heartworm preventative.
Cats are not being ignored. They do not seem to get lyme disease with the severity or frequency of dogs. How cats manifest lyme is unclear and there is no test or vaccine for them. Vectra 3D and Nexgard are not for use in cats, but Frontline Plus and Revolution (which also controls heartworm, roundworms, hookworms, ear mites and scabies) are quite effective for them.
If you have any questions about tick-borne diseases, please do not hesitate to contact us at Blairstown Animal Hospital and we can discuss how to best control these issues with your pets.