What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-transmitted bacterial infections in the world. It’s spread by castor bean ticks in Europe and deer ticks in the United States. It can usually be cured by antibiotics, but the later it is diagnosed, the more difficult it is to treat. Early symptoms in humans include a rash at the site of the tick bite, fever, fatigue, headache and facial palsy. If untreated, more serious symptoms may develop months or years later, such as joint and muscle pain, heart palpitations, cognitive impairment and eye problems.
Can Pets Get Lyme Disease?
Ticks become infected when they feed on deer, rodents and birds carrying the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacterium can infect pets, too. However, the disease is much more common in dogs than cats. It’s important to note that the infection cannot be transmitted directly from animals to humans. Nonetheless, you should keep in mind that an infected tick can bite both you and your pet.
Lyme Disease in Dogs
The most easily recognised symptom of Lyme disease in dogs is lameness due to the inflammation of several joints. The lameness may only last for three or four days at a time but return days or weeks later, often in a different leg or legs. One or more joints may be swollen and warm to the touch. Lymph nodes near the site of the tick bite may also be swollen. As the disease progresses, dogs may also develop kidney problems, which can eventually lead to kidney failure. Signs of kidney failure are vomiting, diarrhoea, lack of appetite, weight loss, increased urination and thirst. Other symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs include fever, difficulty breathing, an arched back, stiff walk, increased sensitivity to touch and lack of appetite. Symptoms reported more rarely are heart abnormalities and nervous system complications.
Lyme Disease in Cats
Although it is possible for cats to be infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, they do not usually show any signs of the illness. They may test positive for Lyme disease, but this is only evidence of exposure, and the animal may never develop any symptoms. In the rare instance that a cat does exhibit symptoms, these are similar to the ones you’d find with Lyme disease in dogs, as described above. However, there are other tick-borne diseases that can affect cats very seriously, so it’s still important to take precautions to reduce their risk of tick bites.
How to Tell if Your Pet Has Been Bitten by a Tick
If your pet has been bitten by a tick, you’ll likely notice certain changes in its behaviour. Look out for excessive scratching and licking in one area. Ticks latch onto the animal until they have finished feeding, which often takes several hours and sometimes even days.
What to Do if Your Pet Is Bitten by a Tick
You need to remove the tick very carefully to make sure it comes off in one piece. This is very important, because contact with the tick’s blood transmits infection. Nevertheless, even if you believe you’ve managed to successfully remove it, you should still take your pet to the vet as soon as possible. This is because you can never be absolutely certain that the removal has been effective. Also, the tick may have already transmitted the disease. The vet can carry out some blood tests to diagnose or rule out any infection. Alternatively, you may take your pet to the vet immediately after locating the tick and have them remove it for you.
How to Remove the Tick
If you choose to remove the tick yourself, first gently rub the area around the tick with alcohol. Then spread your pet’s fur and use fine-point tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull straight and firmly but gently upward, and carefully pluck the tick from your pet’s body. Make sure you remove the tick’s entire body without breaking off its mouth parts, which are inserted into the skin. Another tool you may consider is a tick removal hook, which can be easier to use. Once you have successfully removed the tick, keep it safe for identification: put it in a tissue or napkin, and place it in the freezer inside a plastic bag. This will allow the vet to identify the type of tick, aiding the diagnosis of any disease your pet may have contracted.
Preventing Lyme Disease
Generally, the risk for contracting Lyme disease is the highest from April until September, because ticks tend to be more active in warm weather. However, it’s best to avoid wooded areas with high grass all year round. Always stay in the centre of the trail when hiking or walking in a forest. Use insect repellent that contains at least 20% of the active ingredient N, N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET). For maximum safety, treat your clothes with a product containing at least 0.5% permethrin – an anti-parasite medication and insect repellent. Once indoors, bathe or shower as soon as possible. After visiting a potentially tick-infested area, always carry out a full-body check for ticks in front of a mirror. Also carefully check any pets that were outdoors with you. If you find a tick on your body or someone else’s, or on a pet, it should be removed immediately. In any case, all the clothes you wore should be washed in hot water. Moreover, examine any items you had with you for ticks to ensure you and your pets won’t become victims of Lyme disease.