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Ticks and Lyme Disease

After a long winter, it’s hard to find anything bad to say about the arrival of spring. But the Copper Country Humane Society (CCHS) would like to remind everyone that the warmer weather that lets them enjoy long walks with their four-legged friends also signals the emergence of a less welcome arrival: ticks. And, with them, the possibility of Lyme disease.

Shelter director Becki Clouthier estimates that about ten dogs a year arrive at the CCHS testing positive for the disease, a number, she says, that has grown each year.  Typically, she and other shelter workers only test those dogs at greatest risk: hunting dogs, outdoor dogs, animals that come in with ticks on them and young dogs displaying lameness in their hind quarters, a known symptom of Lyme’s.  Confirmation of the disease is followed by a 30-day course of antibiotics, a treatment Clouthier said cost $150 per dog.  

In response to an email, Dr. Ivy Barnhart, DVM, of Copper Country Veterinary Clinic responded that she, too, has seen an increase in the number of animals testing positive each year, partly due to increased testing. “However,” she added, “ people who have lived in the area for a long time have stated that ticks were never as abundant as they are now.” The veterinarian said she suspected environmental and ecological changes may be responsible for the surge in the local tick population.

Primarily, it is through annual testing that the presence of the disease is discovered.  “It is important to note,” Dr. Barnhart reminded, “that dogs do not get a ‘bull’s eye rash’ after being bitten by ticks like people do. When a dog comes in that has a history of limping on more than one leg and seems generally painful and lethargic, we will often test for Lyme disease. Sometimes these dogs are so painful that they can’t walk and have to be carried by their owners.”  

Another Lyme’s red flag may be the discovery of kidney disease, an illness that can develop as a secondary response to the infection. While not every animal’s illness will progress to that point, Dr. Barnhart warned that dogs who do “tend to respond poorly to treatment.”

On a more optimistic note, the vet added that “Thankfully, our canine friends do not typically seem to develop the same chronic illness symptoms associated with Lyme infection that some people do. However, the dogs that develop joint pain and kidney disease are seriously ill, and it is important to do everything we can to prevent dogs from suffering in this way; there is no way to predict which dogs will become severely affected by Lyme disease.”

In closing, Dr. Barnhart noted “ ticks that carry the bacteria are very common in this area,” and recommended, “that all dogs that are at risk of exposure to ticks (which is most of the dogs in our community) be protected with an effective tick prevention product and vaccinated annually.” An annual shot is necessary, she said, because the vaccine “is NOT associated with prolonged immunity.”

While CCHS does not offer Lyme disease inoculations, they provide a reduced cost dog and cat vaccination clinic. DHPP/FVRCP shots are available for $10; rabies shots are $10 for a 1-yr vaccine or $15 for a 3-yr vaccine.  In addition, microchipping is available on site for $20. Pet ear cleaning and nail trims can be provided for a donation. Keep your eyes open for the next vaccination clinic this fall!

Written by Susan Rasch


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