Lyme Disease in Pets
Q. Can domestic animals (dogs, cats) get Lyme disease?
A. The companion animals that we live in closest contact with (dogs, cats and horses) can all get Lyme disease. The majority of animals that get Lyme disease do not show symptoms and are diagnosed on routine blood tests.
Q. What are the symptoms of Lyme disease in pets?
A. Ninety percent of dogs with positive blood tests for Lyme disease show no symptoms. While Lyme disease is common in dogs, it is rarely seen in cats.
In dogs, the two most common symptoms of Lyme disease are:
- flu-like symptoms with fever, lethargy, and a decreased appetite; or
- the sudden onset of unexplained joint pain, causing considerable lameness and stiffness.
Less commonly, Lyme disease can also infect the kidneys (often fatally) and the heart (requiring a pacemaker), the brain, or settle in the joints to cause chronic arthritis.
Q. Is the treatment for Lyme disease the same for pets and humans?
A. Yes. The drug of choice in all species is doxycycline, taken for a month, with amoxicillin being the second choice. Some cases may require two courses of treatment.
Q. Can horses get Lyme disease?
A. Yes. The majority of horses, like dogs and cats, do not show symptoms and are diagnosed unexpectedly on blood screening tests. Check with your veterinarian for more information.
Q. Is there a blood test my veterinarian can do to diagnose Lyme disease in my pet?
A. For dogs, your veterinarian has a quick blood test that gives accurate results in 8 minutes. A confirming test, called the Western Blot test, is available through veterinary diagnostic laboratories. Your cat and horse's blood tests are sent to a diagnostic laboratory.
Q. If my pets are restricted to my yard, can they still get Lyme disease?
A. Yes. Ticks are frequently found in suburban yards, brought in by deer or mice. Ticks can also be found in yards that border wooded areas and where the lawn is not kept short, if there is bushy vegetation, leaf litter and/or tall grasses.
Q. If my dog or cat brings deer ticks into my home, do those ticks present a threat to the rest of my family?
A. You are not at risk of getting Lyme disease directly from your pet. But if a tick is brushed off your pet before it is firmly attached, and a member of your family has direct contact with the tick, it may then attach itself to a human host. (For example, a tick is brushed off a dog or cat on the family couch. A family member sits on the couch and the tick crawls onto that person's arm and searches for a warm moist spot to attach itself.) Ticks do not fly or jump from one host to another.
Ticks that are firmly attached to your pet will ingest blood until they become fully engorged and then will drop off and go into an inactive period as they molt into the next stage of their lifecycle.
Q. Should I examine my pets for ticks each time they come in from outside?
A. Yes! Remove ticks before they have a chance to attach and transmit bacteria to your pet. If ticks are removed within 24-36 hours of attachments, the risk of disease transmission is minimal.
Q. Is there a way to reduce the chances of my pet being bitten by potentially harmful ticks?
A. Yes. Use products such as Frontline that kill ticks within 24-48 hours of application. Mow your lawns frequently and don't let pets get into the underbrush. Perform tick checks on your pets every time they come inside during the tick season. Beware of tick repellents that may have chemicals too toxic for your pet or family members. Always read and follow label directions!
Contributed by Holly Cheever, DVM, The Animal Hospital, Guilderland, NY