Lyme Disease and Icky Ticks – Travel Diseases for Dogs
Something people rarely think about when they travel is the potential for getting sick. Very sick.
For we canines, the dreaded illness that immediately comes to mind is rabies – a horrid, lethal virus. Thankfully, this disease has been eradicated or all but eradicated in most countries. (Many countries have managed to eradicate rabies among domestic animals, but wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, and groundhogs still carry the virus.)
Those countries that have battled and won the war against rabies don’t want to risk it showing up in livestock, pets, or people again, so have laws requiring quarantine of traveling or immigrating pets. And, as we all know, there are vaccines to protect us four-legged pets against rabies. Most dogs get the vaccine as puppies, or if not vaccinated, can receive it 30 days before entering a new country. For those dogs who have been vaccinated as puppies, a titer test can tell you whether you need to be vaccinated again. If the blood test shows there’s enough vaccine in your system, your vet can issue a letter saying you’re protected. If your titer test shows that your protection is low, you can have your rabies vaccine topped up. This helps to keep all pets protected while preventing over-vaccination.
So (wiping paws), that’s that nasty fear put to rest. H o w e v e r, there is another nasty disease out there that’s been low on the “travel risk” radar. It’s called Lyme disease.
How does a canine get Lyme disease? Ticks. The Ixodes ticks to be precise. Ugly, blood thirsty, little pests. They are carried north from the USA by Canada Geese and, once here, survive on our abundant deer population. And it’s spring here, Dear Reader … at long, long last, but with spring comes that nasty tick vermin.
I have yet to have a tick on me. I think it’s because I tend to stay on the path my bipeds are on and I don’t really go into deep grassy and wooded areas. Even when hiking, I tend to prefer a cleared path. In addition, if I am going into the woods, the bipeds make me wear a tick and flea collar. That’s the rule at my house. Because of the nasty chemicals, I don’t wear a flea and tick collar all the time, but if we are going somewhere we know is more likely to harbor fleas and tick, I have to wear it.
When in Greece, I wore a flea and tick collar all the time because of the darned fleas. Last thing you want is a flea infestation on a sailboat! But here in Canada, I wear the collar more because of the ticks.
We are worried about Lyme disease. Why? Because if you ask one of our local vets, you will learn that cases of the disease are very much on the rise, especially in Ontario and Quebec. And as an active outdoors dog, I am at higher risk.
So what should you do about Lyme disease?
Well, prevention is the first order of business. That means keeping your pet out of grassy and wooded areas (really?!) or, when in grassy and wooded areas, as I mentioned, wear a flea and tick collar or other repellant. Also, check your pet daily for ticks. Make it part of your daily grooming routine. It takes about 24 hours for a tick to get Lyme disease going in your pet’s system, so checking every day means if you did get bitten, there’s still a window of prevention.
If you do see a tick on your canine companion, remove the tick, put the tick in a bag, and take it to your vet for testing. And that brings me to a little pause: do you know how to remove a tick? You have to get it out without breaking its head. (Yuck. Shiver.) WikiHow has a great set of instructions, complete with diagrams. Alternatively, if you don’t know how to remove a tick or can’t bring yourself to do it, take your dog to the vet and let your vet take care of it on location.
In either case, the tick can be tested to see if your dog has been exposed to Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent in Lyme disease. If the tick tests positive, your dog can be treated right away, hopefully before symptoms even start to show. In order to monitor the spread of Lyme disease, the results of the “tick test” go into a database at the disease control offices.
Dogs like me who spend a great deal of time outdoors should be tested yearly as a matter of precaution. But it is important to note that in order to detect Lyme disease by testing the pet, the blood sample should be collected six weeks or more after a suspected bite or after tick season is over. Otherwise, the test may report a false negative – a waste of money and a false sense of security that your pet is fine. The result is that you may not be alert enough to catch the clinical signs of Lyme disease at their early stages.
What are the signs of Lyme disease?
The most noticeable sign of Lyme disease is lameness due to swelling in the joints. The lameness may come and go and even shift into different legs. Your pet’s joints may feel warm and be swollen, and poking your pet’s joints is likely to result in signs of discomfort and pain. Other early signs of Lyme disease include:
- Stiff walk with an arched back
- Sensitive to touch
- Difficulty breathing
- Fever, lack of appetite, and depression
Thankfully, Lyme disease is treatable, and even preventable. And as with any disease, the earlier it’s caught the better. Even, better, we prefer prevention.
What are your options?
I already mentioned the value of a flea and tick collar – used only when needed – and the importance of daily checks. Here’s a list of all of the means of prevention I know about.
Lyme Disease Vaccine – There is a Lyme vaccine. We are not fans of vaccination when other options exist. But if you feel that you simply can’t stay on top of things and you don’t have an aversion to vaccination, this might be a good solution for you. Do your homework and read up on the pros and cons of the vaccine.
Tick and Flea Collars – Sadly, flea and tick collars are very toxic. In fact, we probably shouldn’t use them at all. The chemical Tetrachlorvinphos is toxic to the nervous system, likely to cause cancer, and is a suspected hormone disruptor in both humans and animals. This is why I only wear a collar when I absolutely need to.
Tick and Flea Shampoos – These should be used sparingly. The main chemical in most of these shampoos is D-trans-allethrin, another nervous system disruptor and very toxic for cats. It’s also particularly dangerous for pregnant women and young children. The shampoo not only irritates skin and eyes, but is also made up of known carcinogens.
Tick and Flea Powder/Spray – Like the shampoos, the main chemicals in these products – Simithrin (a.k.a. Phenotrhin) are toxic for the nervous system and are suspected to be hormone disruptors.
Tick and Flea Topical Products – The best-known products would be Frontline and Revolution. There have been some stories of serious concerns around these products lately, including outbreak of horrible rashes and 3rd degree-like burns. The main ingredient, Friponil, is a known carcinogen, toxic to the nervous system, and a known endocrine disruptor.
Tick and Flea Pills – A lesser evil of sorts, these pills can be used when a chemical intervention is a must; for example, for dogs who work in the woods or on farms. Sentinel (I have been known to take this) is the most common brand for this approach. The main ingredient is Lufenuron. The pills are of lower risk for humans, since they are ingested by the dog rather than exposed on a surface (collar) or skin/fur. But like all chemicals, it should be used only when necessary.
For more information and to determine how dangerous your product is, visit Smarter Living and check out their Green Paws Flea and Tick Products Directory. It’s a real eye opener! We certainly were not pleased with what we read about my Hartz flea and tick collar. We are now looking for a better, less harmful collar option.
So what are the safer alternatives?
Overall, we prefer a non-chemical approach as much as possible. Start with a daily – and I do mean daily – comb and check. Use a fine-toothed flea comb and rinse the comb in hot soapy water in between strokes. Be sure to use your fingers to feel your dog’s skin, checking for little bumps. (Oh, oh, groans of great contentment.) Where was I? Oh yes, daily checks. It’s a great opportunity for some quality time. So enjoy it and soak up the Zen energy that comes with the routine!
Other steps include washing your bedding in hot, soapy water once a week. Also vacuum once a week and empty the vacuum bag and dispose of the contents outside of the home.
Look for repellents that use essential oils such as lemongrass, cedar-wood, peppermint, rosemary or thyme. One such product is Tick-Off. It works well, isn’t harmful, is made from 100% natural products, and … it is made in Canada! *tail wag* We now use this when going for walks in the park when the flea and tick collar is overkill (pun intended!). My buddy Jack uses a similar product – TerraShield – made by doTerra. His bipeds make a spray with the oils and use it for Jack and themselves. It’s even safe if licked!
Lastly, for severe problems that require chemical intervention, look for lower risk products with these active ingredient(s):
- S-Methoprene, or
If you think Lyme disease isn’t a serious thing, I invite you to watch the video of my poor friend Gibson. He is normally a crazy running machine, full of spunk and energy. He will go off the path and find all sorts of stuff to roll in. He’s also a very good frog hunter. But last year, he contracted Lyme disease. Luckily, it was caught in time and he is now fine, but it broke our hearts to see him partially paralyzed. Once he had the right meds in him, he was up and walking again just a day later. But I hate to think of what could have happened had his bipeds not been so vigilant. Shifting lameness, neurological damage … the disease is terrifyingly unpredictable.
Do you have Lyme disease in your area? What do you do to protect your canine companion? Based on this blog post, do you think you might change the product you use? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!