Ticks and Lyme disease on the rise

With summer around the corner, local tick populations have been building up again, so tuck in your pant legs and keep the dogs out of high grass. Ticks are a growing problem in the Quinte area.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), we live in a high risk region for tick-borne Lyme disease. Lots of places in Ontario get ticks, but only the black-legged or “deer” tick transmits Lyme. There are several deer tick hotspots in Prince Edward County, Brighton and in pockets along the waterfront past Kingston, to the Quebec border.

Lyme disease is a conundrum for veterinarians. Only 5 to 10 per cent of dogs infected become ill and most are easily treated with antibiotics. In some high risk areas in the United States, as many as 80 per cent of local dogs test positive for Lyme – the majority are totally healthy. Cats are considered immune.

So should we test all our canine patients for the disease or only those with the typical signs of lameness? Should we treat everyone that tests positive? Should we recommend vaccination for all local dogs?

A Lyme vaccine for people was pulled off the market in 2002 following a lot of unsupported claims that it caused immune disorders. We’ve been using Lyme vaccines in dogs for years with apparent success, but many vets are concerned about over-vaccinating. Do we want to give a vaccine for a disease that only rarely causes easily-treated symptoms? Still, there have been reports of dogs getting severe kidney disease from Lyme. It seems there are more questions than answers. It is a complicated disease.

Ticks are just the carriers of bacteria that cause Lyme. These bacteria – called Borrelia – live indefinitely in infected dogs and people even after treatment. Humans with Lyme sometimes report chronic, debilitating fatigue and other symptoms that may last for years.

One simple approach is preventing exposure. Ticks get onto people or animals by climbing up tall vegetation and grabbing a ride when we go by. At home, keep grass cut short, avoid using tall groundcovers and fence off fields or forested areas. When out walking, avoid high grass and brush, sticking to wide paths or roadways. DEET is an effective repellent to use on people, but is toxic to dogs. Contact your vet to discuss dog-safe alternatives.

In the last year we have had 2 new products enter the veterinary market for killing ticks. Bravecto is a 3-month chewable tablet and Nexgard is a monthly chewable. Nexgard is more consistently effective at killing ticks and is a very safe product. The older “standby” Advantix is of course still available as well. It takes about 24 hours after a tick bites and starts feeding for Lyme to be transmitted. Check your dogs every night, removing any hitchhikers with a pair of tweezers or a “tick twister”. Grasp the tick where it is attached to the skin and pull gently.

Please call your veterinarian to discuss tick prevention and products to select the correct product for your pet and lifestyle.

For an extensive and current discussion of Lyme and information on submitting ticks for analysis, check out the Public Health Agency’s website on Lyme Disease. For specific dog-related information, contact Hillcrest Animal Hospital or type Lyme Disease in the search box on www.veterinaryparter.com.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital
Trenton, Ontario — September 2012

updated May, 2015