Imagine going on a nice hike, or other camping trip, with your beloved little four-legged friend! Don't you love these outdoor trips, immersed in nature with nothing but thick brush and woods as far as the eye can see?
After a great day, you come home with your puppy. A few days later he starts to act a bit, not as energetic or playful for some reason. Of course, you head to the local vet.
You just found out that your dog has Lyme disease during a regular vet check-up! He used to behave quite normally before, so you can hardly believe what your pet's doctor is saying. You've heard so many scary stories about these disgusting parasitic ticks that cause
What does this mean for your furry companion? How harmful is this and how sick will your puppy get? Is your precious baby in pain?
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a vector-borne disease, transmitted disease, or infection resulting from the bite of a blood-sucking parasite (in this case, ticks). It is very common, in fact, the most common disease of its kind in the United States.
In 1975, several human patients began to fall ill in the town of Lyme, Connecticut. Traditionally known as Lyme disease, it can lead to serious health complications if left untreated! Lyme disease can affect any organ in the body, but the symptoms mimic other disorders and can therefore be difficult to diagnose.
Lyme disease is a bacterial disease, caused by a tiny bacteria belonging to the class of spirochetes (a group of bacteria shaped like a spiral).
What are the causes of Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is bacterial, caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. An infected carrier parasite (blacklegged tick) will transmit the disease to its human or animal host several hours after the bite. The tick itself usually needs to be attached for about 36-48 hours for the human patient to contract it.
The tick carrier will attach itself to a high blade of grass, shrubs or leaves for example, its arms outstretched waiting for an animal to pass. As the animal rubs against whatever the tick rests on, it will cling to this new host.
Of course, not all ticks carry the bacteria that causes this disorder! The ticks you will need to be concerned about are called "blacklegged ticks or deer ticks." Adult females are most active in late summer and early fall, but mature adults can bite when temperatures exceed freezing.
Where is Lyme disease found?
Lyme disease is transmitted by ticks, and these ticks tend to be found most often in tall grasses, dense woods, thick brush, shrubs, swamps and wetlands, etc. Lyme disease can affect people or animals in all US states, but about 95% of all US cases occur in the Upper Midwest, Northeast, and Pacific Coast.
As human enterprises and residential areas develop, deforestation migrates the animals that inhabit these areas. As a result of this migration, the percentages of Lyme disease cases in a given region are constantly changing.
What are the common symptoms of Lyme disease?
In men, symptoms can include fever, fatigue, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic, target-shaped rash around the injection site called erythema migraine. These symptoms appear soon after infection.
- Neck stiffness
- Swollen lymph nodes
If Lyme disease is not treated early, an infection can start to affect the joints, nervous system, and even the patient's heart.
- Erythema migraine
- Articular pain
- Neurological problems
Lyme disease is unfortunately a common disorder in dogs. It is mostly found in hunting dogs, or dogs that spend more time outdoors in wooded areas.
The symptoms that you might see are quite similar to those of humans, with a few exceptions:
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of energy / lethargy
- Changing, recurring or intermittent lameness
- Joint stiffness and discomfort
- Swelling of the joints
Untreated Lyme disease – signs and symptoms:
Between 3 and 30 days after a first tick bite, you (human) may start to experience chills, fever, fatigue or lethargy, muscle and joint pain, and lymph nodes may swell up. no rash.
The rash will appear in approximately 70-80% of human patients. It will start at the bite site after an average of seven days. While it may seem hot, it's rarely painful or itchy.
Can Lyme disease be fatal?
The disease itself rarely (although possible) endangers the life of a human host. That being said, delays in treatment can eventually lead to some pretty serious disorders. Arthritis is more common in the legs, especially the knee joints. Nervous symptoms can include pain, numbness, or even nerve paralysis (often facial). Meningitis, followed by a high fever and headache, may even develop.
- Cardiac irregularities
- Memory / concentration problems
What is meningitis?
It is estimated that 10 to 15% of human patients infected with this disease will die, being the extreme cases where Lyme disease can actually lead to something fatal. Your maningies are supposed to offer protection to both the brain and the spinal cord, which are themselves filled with a stuffing fluid. The suffix "itis" simply refers to inflammation.
When these maningia begin to swell, they put pressure on one (or both) of the brain and spinal cord. In the event of death, death can occur within hours.
There is a vaccine against meningitis B and another against the meningococcal conjugate in general.
Lyme disease rash
When nearly every adult dog owner thinks of Lyme disease, the dreaded target-shaped rash comes to mind. Just because we see it in dogs isn't because we don't normally see the charismatic rash in dogs at all. We've learned to associate this familiar brand with ticks, and for many of us ticks signify the potential for Lyme disease.
In order to get the disease itself, we will need to be bitten by a tick that carries the bacteria, and that tick will need to stay attached long enough to spread the bacteria. Although the target rash is often synonymous with Lyme disease, it doesn't always appear and will appear between 3 and 30 days when it does.
The rash itself will slowly spread over several days, sometimes thinning out in the center to form this "bull's eye". It can expand up to 12 inches or thirty centimeters in diameter. A human patient may experience many of these rashes as the bacteria move throughout that person's body, although this does not always happen.
Does it hurt?
The rash itself “usually” does not itch and will “normally” not be bothersome at all. It may be warm to the touch and the outer edge may appear crisp or scaly.
The long-term symptoms of Lyme disease, joint pain and neurological symptoms, can be uncomfortable to more severe (neurologically). Of course, the rare heart arrhythmias can cause extreme problems. Mental confusion, severe headaches, or fevers can be extreme.
How does Lyme disease affect the body?
The bacteria responsible for Lyme disease penetrates the skin of the victim by tick bite. Between three and thirty-two days later, the bacteria will migrate into the skin surrounding the bite, spreading via the lymphatic vessels. This is why it can take up to thirty days to feel the symptoms.
The initial reaction is a inflammation around the site of infection, caused by a body's antibody reaction. Humans will usually develop a rash (the "target"), while dogs and cats will not.
As the bacteria spread throughout the human body, patients may develop several other skin lesions and the flu-like symptoms you mentioned above.
If left untreated, patients may see extreme effects at an advanced stage in addition to joint swelling and pain. Cysts can form and rupture. A small number of patients may have mood disorders.
Effects of Lyme disease on dogs
Unfortunately, some animals can contract Lyme disease and show no signs at all. It can be almost impossible, or at least very difficult, to diagnose or treat a problem you don't know exists!
Most will get a fever along with swollen joints, lameness, and the other symptoms mentioned above. If left untreated, it can lead to kidney failure in your dog. Long-term illness can also lead to serious heart complications in addition to various neurological complications. Although Lyme disease is rarely fatal in humans, it can become fatal in dogs.
First stage: 1-4 weeks
Also called the localized early stage, it usually begins between three days and one month after the initial infection. The surrounding area around the tick bite is affected, usually causing swelling and, in many cases, a target “bull's eye” rash associated with Lyme disease.
At this point, the patient will usually experience the flu-like symptoms listed above (nausea, fever, lethargy, etc.). Most treatments, both for humans and pets, involve antibiotics and are generally quite effective.
Second stage: 1-4 months
This second stage is called the early disseminated infection stage because the infection has spread outside the infection site. In some cases, patients may not have any symptoms and / or may not seek any type of treatment first.
In humans (not dogs / cats) more rashes may appear. These patients may experience pain and / or weakness in their lameness. They could lose control of the facial muscles. Headaches become common and it may become more difficult to concentrate. The joints can be affected and in rare cases the patient can develop serious heart problems.
Stage three: late persistent Lyme disease
A patient can have arthritis that spreads to multiple joints in the body, as well as problems with the nervous system. The patient may experience several recurring episodes of redness, inflammation, and fluid buildup, as well as numbness or a tingling sensation in the hands, back, or feet.
When to consult a doctor ?
Say you are walking through the forest with your hunting buddy, or even alone. Everything is going well and you feel great once you finally get home. The next day, a friend of yours notices a tick on your back. Should you ask a doctor to remove it, or your friend?
When it comes to most tick-borne illnesses, a rule of thumb is to remove the tick as soon as possible. While this limits the number of bacteria allowed to spread from the insect and in some cases is vital for recovery (such as in the case of a tick-borne paralysis), removing your tick should be done correctly. You see, it's very easy to break these mouthpieces inside your flesh.
If you are not confident in yourself or your friend, it is obvious to seek advice from your doctor. Now what should you do once the tick is removed? You don't know how much damage was done during those hours.
The general advice is to contact a doctor immediately if the tick has burrowed into your skin or if part of the tick has not been removed. Unless you are very confident, don't wait for symptoms to appear. After all, there are tick-borne diseases worse than Lyme disease that can be found in many places around the world.
Lyme disease risk factors
Who is at risk for Lyme disease anyway and what exactly are the risk factors? You already know that dogs aren't the only sensitive animals. Humans can just as easily contract the disease.
Spend time in grassy or wooded areas
Ticks use a unique shape to find their prey. Unlike many other insects, they cannot jump, fly, or chase after victims (i.e. fleas). Ticks, deer ticks in this case (but all are similar), will instead cling to tall blades of grass, hanging shrubs, low hanging leaves, etc. with their hind legs and will simply wait with their forelimbs outstretched. That way, they can grab onto an animal or a passing human without much movement.
You are at risk for ticks or Lyme disease if you spend time in these areas where ticks are most common. In the United States, deer ticks are most commonly found in heavily forested areas of the Midwest or Northeast.
Children who spend a lot of time outdoors in these areas or adults who work outdoors in areas like this are at greater risk.
Have skin exposed in these areas
If you live in Australia (for example), you are probably familiar with the dangers lurking outside in the brush for those who don't bother to cover their exposed skin. In some cases, there are much worse things to worry about than Lyme disease, but the principle is the same. A tick's tiny mouthpieces cannot get into clothing.
Protect yourself and your children by wearing long pants and long sleeve shirts. Don't let your dogs roam in weeds or tall grass. If you have a hunting or tracking companion and it can't be helped, for example, be sure to pay close attention to any signs or symptoms in the days ahead.
Failure to remove ticks properly and quickly
Bacteria resulting from a tick bite can enter the bloodstream if the tick has been attached for around 36-48 hours and more, which is why prompt and correct removal is very important. The risk of Lyme disease is reduced if the tick has been removed before these first two days.
How to remove a tick?
The best option is to contact a doctor for those who are not fully confident. Keep in mind that the mouthpieces will easily break into the skin if not done correctly.
Step 1: Using fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the surface of the skin as possible. Be very careful not to crush or detach the head. Remember that about half of this head is probably buried under the surface of your skin, that of your child or your pets.
Step 2: Using even, consistent pressure, begin to pull upwards. Be sure not to twist or shake the tick, which could cause those mouthparts inside the child/pet to break off. If this happens and you cannot remove these mouthparts, contact a doctor or veterinarian.
Step 3: Once the tick is removed, clean the bite area thoroughly, as well as your hands, with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. You want to be sure and disinfect the exposed area of any harmful bacteria.
Step 4: Dispose of the tick by dipping it in alcohol, wrapping it tightly in tape, or enclosing it in a plastic bag. Be sure to never crush the tick with your bare hands and be careful of skin exposure.
Will there be a Lyme disease vaccine for humans soon?
The answer to this question will upset some people, unfortunately. While you can easily protect your pets from ticks that spread Lyme disease just by using a pest / preventative medication, you can't protect yourself or your children - in the United States, anyway. It is not because a vaccine does not exist, because it certainly is.
The vaccine for humans has been withdrawn due to widespread "anti-vaccine sentiment" (Poland, Gregory. Mayo Clinic). Although you may or may not agree with the term, "Anti-Vaxxer" is a word often used to describe people who attribute rare and exaggerated plots or symptoms to vaccines in general.
The popular “anti-vaccination” statement “vaccines cause autism” may come to mind, which was actually only based on two studies, one conducted in 1998 and the other in 2002, at the both critical and largely demystified. In any case, these two studies focused on measles and had nothing to do with Lyme disease.
For example, this lack of education can lead a parent to refuse to vaccinate their child against polio, a disease that once killed half a million children worldwide and had a death rate of 5 to 15%, but which has since been practically eradicated (not yet entirely) thanks to vaccines.
While we (in the United States anyway) could immunize our children against Lyme disease, we suffer from about 300 new cases each year because it is no longer administered. The company producing this vaccine has withdrawn its product due to, as they say, "lack of consumer demand".
However, a vaccine against Lyme disease is being developed in Europe (from 2020)!
Conclusion: now you know
Although not usually fatal, Lyme disease can become quite uncomfortable for you, your children, or even your pets! Fortunately, we have perfect protection for our pets in the form of monthly preventive treatments against ticks. Since the disease is transmitted by a certain type of tick, your dog will never catch it if the ticks themselves don't bite.
For humans, more generally children, prevention requires a little more effort on our part. Unfortunately, vaccines exist but are not yet available in most parts of the world, so we will have to use other means! Be sure to cover exposed skin when in areas of thick brush or woods. Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Put a anti-tick collar to your dog. Check your child's forehead or scalp after playing outside and always be alert for any unusual symptoms.