Sextiped Valley column: Tracking the troublesome ticks
Colorado is not supposed to be afflicted with tick-borne Lyme disease. But it is. And dogs are definitely among the victims.
The documented climate changes favoring the spread of many disease vectors, including the ticks that cause Lyme disease, have lead to the bugs expanding into previously inhospitable territory. There is a gap in awareness, due in part to public health agencies’ slowness in analyzing statistics, about the prevalence of both the disease-carrying species and the incidence of actual disease.
A national organization, the Companion Animal Parasite Council, fortunately has kept up with these changes and expansions, and their excellent and very user-friendly website, http://www.capvet.org, has the most current information. They also have an excellent map, so if traveling with your pet is part of your summer agenda, you can determine parasite risks in advance and be prepared.
Even if your dog never goes outside Colorado, he runs a small risk. In 2017, there were 194 cases of Lyme disease confirmed out of a total of 23,117 dogs tested. My dog Chumley was one of the positives. And he was repeatedly misdiagnosed, to the point that he could barely stand and was in constant pain. An astute neurologist recognized the very slight swelling in a couple of his joints and suggested a blood test for tick-borne diseases, even though I had never found a tick on him. When it came back positive for Lyme, his regular vet and I were shocked. This year, already, there are 52 confirmed cases out of 6,400 dogs tested.
The good news is that, in dogs, Lyme is very treatable. A round of antibiotics and he regained his health rapidly. The bad news is that his common symptoms, joint pain and loss of mobility, are far too often assumed to be caused by other common issues, like arthritis. The incidence of disease among dogs given the test may be low: under 0.1 percent. But how many dogs suffer without anyone ever thinking to test for it?
While there is a vaccine for Lyme for dogs, it is only 60-70 percent effective; and given the relative rarity of the disease, I would think giving it would encourage a false sense of security. Vaccinated dogs can get Lyme disease — but would you bother to test for it, believing them protected?
Veterinarians monitoring the increased incidence of parasite-transmitted illnesses, like heartworm and Lyme, do not recommend preventives for all dogs as a matter of course. Knowing the current status of the spread, the environmental conditions in which risk increases, and your dog’s lifestyle should be factored into decisions about preventives and treatments.
My personal advice is, if you have a healthy dog who develops lameness and joint pain, and X-rays don’t reveal sufficient joint deterioration to explain it, get the tick-borne disease blood test, especially if you ever walk with him in brushy or riparian areas. It isn’t expensive or invasive, and the treatment is a simple course of antibiotics.
According to Dr. Jean Dodds, DVM, the disease can be latent for, possibly, years — so if you have traveled to the east coast or upper mid-west with your dog — ever! — it’s possible he was infected long before symptoms showed up.
This year, CAPC’s map shows Garfield County to have a high risk of Lyme infection, as do Mesa and Eagle counties. That’s up from a mid-level of risk last year. Ticks are relatively easy to see, but on a heavy-coated dog, once they attach, they can be well-hidden. On light-colored, short-haired dogs, a tick-check should be easy enough after each outing.
We are seeing ticks early this year, and they will remain a problem until/unless we get a long, hot, dry spell this summer. There is usually a shorter season in the fall — the bugs need it to be relatively moist.
I don’t usually recommend insecticides on animals, but depending on risk factors, it may make sense. Talk it over with your vet. I increase the amount of garlic my dogs get in their food this time of year, and I like Neem oil spray as a repellent — but my dogs are white and short haired.
Awareness of ticks and their diseases is important, given the changes in climate and environment, whether you and your dog stay home, travel or entertain company with dogs from other states. I wish you all a bug-free and healthy summer.
Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.