Ticks & Lyme Disease

By: Dr Karen Thomas

What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, carried by the Ixodes sp. tick (called deer ticks.) Ticks become infected with the bacterium by feeding on infected animals such as mice, chipmunks and other wild rodents. Infection of dogs and humans occurs via the bite of an undetected, infected tick which stays attached at least 24 to 72 hours. The longer a tick is attached to its host, the greater the chance for disease. Dogs are 50 to 100 times more likely than humans to come into contact with infected ticks.

Where are Ticks Found in Canada?
Ticks thrive in damp, dense woods and established populations in Canada have been found in southeastern Quebec, southern and eastern Ontario (especially around Kingston), southeastern Manitoba and parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Health Canada estimates that about 10 percent of black legged ticks in any infected area carry the Borrelia bacterium.

Tick Protection
To help reduce exposure to ticks, walk your dogs on trails and away from vegetation. Mow your lawn regularly and remove leaf litter and brush piles. Most pets do not even feel the tick bite which is why the tick can remain undiscovered. Ticks are hard to find but checking your dog frequently can greatly reduce the chance of infection. Try to make a habit of performing a “tick check” within a couple of hours after walking or hiking in wildlife areas. The most common places to find hidden ticks are on the head, neck, ears or on the feet.

How to Remove a Tick Safely
If you should find a tick, it is important to remove it immediately wearing gloves to protect yourself. Using tweezers, grasp the exposed tick body close to your pet’s skin. Gently pull upwards with a steady even pressure without twisting or jerking until the parasite lets go. It is important to remove the entire tick including the mouthparts. If the mouthparts are left behind, it can lead to inflammation at the spot of attachment.

Signs of Lyme Disease
Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose. The most common clinical signs include:

  • Limping and/or lameness
  • One or more joints are painful and swollen
  • Fever and enlarged lymph nodes
  • No appetite
  • Lethargy-not active or playful

Testing for Lyme Disease in Dogs
Markham Veterinary Clinic has started routine Accuplex 4 testing for Lyme disease in dogs whose lifestyle puts them at risk. The test should also be conducted 4 weeks after removing a tick to check for possible infection. A positive test indicates exposure to the bacterium and does not mean your pet will develop Lyme disease. Each case is different and the decision to monitor, do further testing or treat will be made on a case by case basis. Treatment of Lyme disease usually involves a 28-39 day course of antibiotics.

As an additional benefit, the Accuplex 4 screening test also assesses for Erlichia sp and Anaplasma sp.(other tick borne diseases) and is also more sensitive for heartworm, able to detect infection of only 1-2 heartworms.

If you have any questions or concerns about ticks, Lyme disease and the screening test, please do not hesitate to telephone Markham Veterinary Clinic and discuss them with one of our veterinarians.