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The Reality of Lyme Disease Hits Home

Posted in Stories from Our Trainers

By Amy Wence

My Experience

A recent annual health analysis for my dog Comiskey, revealed some upsetting news. He tested positive for Lyme exposure. This means that an infected deer tick (Ixodes Scapularis) bit Comiskey and transferred the Lyme disease causing bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi . Last year, we visited wooded areas on several occasions. I was naïve about the dangers of ticks and had no prior experience with them. I had never even seen one before. I thought Lyme disease was uncommon and that I didn’t need to worry much about it. I did not want to use Frontline on my dogs because it is a pesticide, so I tried an herbal pest protection spray thinking that would be enough. Well, unfortunately the product I used failed and I did find attached ticks on my dogs. Early last summer we found an engorged deer tick on Ella after recent visits to Potawatomi State Park and Kettle Moraine State Park (Southern Unit). My vet at the time told me we’d have to wait a few weeks before testing her for Lyme, so we did and her test came back negative. Not long after, I found a dead tick that had been attached to Comiskey. It looked pretty old and we had just had him tested, so I thought we were ok since his test was also negative. Needless to say, I was a bit shocked by the recent news of his Lyme exposure. Apparently, Lyme disease may take several months to develop and present itself. Comiskey and Ella may not have formed an immune response yet, which would explain why the tests came back negative last year. Ella will be going in for her annual health analysis very soon and we are hoping that she does not test positive also.

Diagnosis & Treatment Is Complicated

The annual health analysis test includes a quick, in-house screening test (usually the SNAP 3Dx or 4Dx) for parasitic diseases. This test simply yields a positive or negative result for exposure, but does not distinguish between inactive or active infection. If a dog tests positive for exposure, then a second test is necessary to determine the level of
infection, or to tell if the dog has possibly fought off the infection on its own. This second test is performed by an outside laboratory and is called the Quant C6 test. The Quant C6 test is the major diagnostic tool used in the human field. This is a relatively new quantitative test that measures the level of C6 antibody produced by the immune system to fight infection against B. burgdorferi. If the test yields a response of >30 U/mL (units per milliliter), treatment is often recommended. However, if the dog is not showing any clinical signs of Lyme disease, then the treatment path is not so clear. It is very common for dogs to show no outward symptoms of the disease, which was the case with Comiskey. Even his blood work appeared normal. This is why annual testing for parasitic diseases is so important. They can easily go undetected and if left untreated, can become chronic. Comiskey’s C6 antibody level measured at 67 U/mL which revealed that he does have a subclinical infection, (meaning he is infected with the disease but showing no symptoms). My veterinarian recommended treatment and I agreed. Although it is possible for subclinical dogs to never show signs of disease, I did not want to risk him developing chronic Lyme disease later on. Comiskey was prescribed Doxycycline for 30 days, which is the typical After his antibiotic treatment is completed, we will repeat the Quant C6 test in  six months to determine if his antibody level has dropped at least 50%. If so, the treatment will be considered effective and his disease rendered inactive. Unfortunately it is difficult, maybe impossible, to completely eradicate the Lyme causing bacteria from the body. B. burgdorferi is a master of disguise because it has a way of avoiding the immune system. This often makes it difficult to diagnose and treat. B. burgdorferi is an infection of the tissue, not the blood. It often attacks connective tissue such as joints and synovial fluid. The immune system keeps the disease in check but this can sometimes be disrupted by coinfection of another parasitic disease, stress, or other disease processes. Therefore, it is possible that Lyme disease cannot be cured only managed. There is a possibility that Comiskey will have this disease for the rest of his life. My job now is to keep him as healthy as possible so that the disease remains dormant after treatment.

Prevention

In 2006, the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) conducted a national survey to over 1,000 dog and cat owners to find out their knowledge of parasitic diseases and treatment. They found that only 32% of dog owners use a monthly flea & tick preventative. They also found that pet owners are not as concerned about parasites as they should be and they are not using effective parasite prevention. With Lyme disease becoming more prevalent, it is important to take preventative measures for yourself and your dog. Also, no prevention is 100% effective, so be sure to test your dog every year!

Facts
  • Lyme disease has been detected in dogs in all 50 states. 
  • Lyme disease takes 24 to 48 hours for a feeding tick to transmit.
  • Currently in North America, only deer ticks, Ixodes scapularis and Ixodes pacificus, have been shown to transmit Lyme disease to dogs.
  • Lyme disease infections are most commo
  • n in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and West Coast states.
  • Most common signs of infection: Lameness, Fever, Swollen joints, Kidney failure (rare)
  • There are 3 phases of Lyme Disease:
    • Acute phase: fever or lameness
    • Subclinical Phase: no outward signs
    • Chronic Phase: re-exhibit clinical signs
  • There is a vaccine available for Lyme disease, but its use is controversial because it may not protect against all strains of B. burgdorferi and has some potential adverse side effects associated with it.

For information about tickborne diseases and prevention, please visit: http://www.capcvet.org/index.html & http://www.dogsandticks.com/index.html

UPDATE: Comiskey's Lyme Disease Update Comiskey completed his 30-day Lyme disease treatment back in March and we repeated his Quant C6 antibody test in September. I’m happy to report that his treatment was successful! He no longer has an active Lyme infection! His antibody level measured at 67 U/mL before treatment and six months after treatment was <10 U/mL.


Posted: 4/1/2010 | Updated: 4/14/2011

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