TOUCHED BY LYME: Lymelife for Dogs
There’s a scene in the Lyme documentary Under Our Skin, where somebody demonstrates how to “flag” for ticks. With his trusty long-haired dog trotting through the woods beside him, the man drags a big white cloth alongside the trail, and shows the camera how quickly and easily he picks up ticks. I’ve seen the movie several times, and whenever I get to that part, I silently scream at the guy, “What about the dog? Take care of the dog!”
It’s not hard to extrapolate that if a piece of fabric dragged through the grass can accumulate ticks in moments, then a fluffy-haired dog cruising the same terrain will similarly accrue quite a collection. And dogs can suffer mightily from Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections, along with their humans.
According to an educational website sponsored by IDEXX Laboratories (which produces veterinary Lyme test kits, among other things) signs of Lyme in dogs can be difficult to detect. Like in humans, symptoms can come and go as well as mimic other conditions.
The website lists the following as the most common signs of Lyme in a dog:
- Recurrent arthritis/lameness that lasts 3–4 days, sometimes accompanied by loss of appetite and depression
- Reluctance to move or a stiff, painful gait
- Swollen joints that are warm to the touch
- Pain in the legs or throughout the body
- Fever, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes
IDEXX also notes that severe cases can result in kidney failure.
Yet, even though Lyme can be very bad news for dogs, the animals have some advantages over humans. For starters, the folks at IDEXX make what appears to be a decent test for canine Lyme. Though not infallible, there’s a good chance it will tell you if your dog does indeed have Lyme. (Unlike Lyme tests for humans, which are often no better than flipping a coin.)
If your dog has Lyme, antibiotic therapy has a pretty good track record of restoring it to health in a relatively short time. (How we wish that were the case in humans!)
There are some effective canine anti-tick measures that can help prevent tick bites in the first place.
And there’s a canine Lyme vaccine available. (Though the jury is still out on this one. Vet websites I checked offered mixed opinions about it.)
IDEXX has an intriguing map at its website. (www.dogsandticks.com) It’s interactive. You choose whether you want to see the statistics for Lyme, erlichia, anaplasma or heartworm. Let’s choose Lyme.
You start with a map of the US, showing states in different shades of green, depending on how many cases of Lyme were reported there between 2001 and 2007. (The statistics were gathered from more than 10,000 veterinary clinics.) About two dozen states—including California, Texas, Florida, and most of the eastern seaboard—are colored the deepest green, meaning they each had more than 500 cases of canine Lyme reported.
Then, here’s where the fun begins. Roll your cursor over your state of choice–in my case, California. Up pops this statistic: 3801 cases of confirmed canine Lyme in the state. According to the CDC, California had 581 human cases of Lyme in the same time period. (We don’t believe that, of course. But, let’s continue.)
Now, more fun: click on your individual state. In my case, this brings up a map showing California’s 58 counties in different shades of green depending on reported canine Lyme cases. Three counties are deepest green: Sonoma (460), Nevada (429) and Placer (292). Compare this to the number of human cases the state health department reports for those counties in the same six-year period: Sonoma (46), Nevada (22), and Placer (14.)
Doesn’t this discrepancy seem squirrely to you?
Here’s what I see as the take-home message from all this:
As an industry, veterinarians and the companies that support them do a better job of acknowledging, diagnosing, treating, and preventing Lyme disease in dogs than the medical establishment does for human beings.
Isn’t there a way to adapt the progress that’s been made on behalf of dogs and apply it to people?
Do you and/or a family member have Lyme and do you also have a dog with Lyme? If so, I’d be interested to hear from you for a future column on the subject. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “dogs and Lyme” in the subject line.