Pets And People: Lyme Disease This Season


Every fall, my clients ask me: “Is it necessary to get Tick Medicine now that the summer is Over?”  The answer is definitely yes!  They are still abundantly out there, and pets infected with Lyme disease may not show any signs for two to five months.   After that time, typical symptoms include: 

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lameness
  • Joint swelling
  • Decreased activity
  • Recurrent lameness also is possible, and the involved extremity may be tender. Inflammation of the joint can last from days to weeks, and may migrate from one extremity

One of the most frequent illnesses we diagnose in Manchester by the Sea is Lyme Disease.  There is concern that this year we will see an increase in the incidence. People are vulnerable as well as pets and it will be especially important to protect pets, and monitor our family when exposed to areas where ticks are prominent.

Lyme Disease is one of the most vexing public health issues in Massachusetts.  First discovered in a group of children in Lyme, Connecticut in the mid-1970s, it has spread throughout every community in Massachusetts and much of the Northeast.  Deer ticks—often no bigger than the size of a poppy seed—become more active as the weather heats up, latching onto pets and people as they pass through forested areas and tall grasses.  As the parasites feed on blood, they can pass pathogens to people that sicken them, the most common of which is Lyme.

Lyme disease is diagnosed through a blood test that shows whether an animal has been exposed to the bacterium.  This test also checks for two other tick-borne diseases as well as Heartworm infection.  Symptomatically, Lyme disease can be difficult to distinguish from Anaplasmosis, one of the other tick-born diseases because the signs of the diseases are very similar, and Anaplasmosis is also in Manchester.

Antibiotics usually provide effective treatment for Lyme disease.  However, it’s important to follow your veterinarian’s advice regarding follow-up care after your pet has been diagnosed with and treated for the disease. 

Lyme disease is not communicable from one animal to another, except through tick bites.  However, if you have more than one pet and one is diagnosed with Lyme disease, your veterinarian might recommend testing for any other pets who may have been exposed to ticks at the same time.

Because people and their pets often spend time in the same environments where Lyme and other disease-transmitting ticks are found, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are working together to offer advice to households with both children and pets.  People who have been diagnosed with Lyme disease should consult their veterinarian to determine their pet's risk based on the animal's lifestyle and possible environmental exposures.  Likewise, people whose animals have been diagnosed with Lyme disease may want to consult their physician about their own or their children’s risk if they have concerns that the animals and family members might have been exposed to similar environmental risks.

The best way to protect pets from Lyme disease is to take preventive measures to reduce the chance of contracting the disease.  Use reliable tick-preventive products.  There are three types of products available.  One is a tick collar, the other is applied topically on a monthly basis and a third is a chewable tablet.  For families with children, we prefer the tablet form because children will not be exposed to an insecticidal product.  In Manchester, we recommend vaccinating your dog against Lyme disease.

Dr. Lamb is the Veterinarian at the Manchester Animal Hospital.