If a dog seems lethargic, appears lame or is not interested in eating, he could have Lyme disease.
Veterinarians say the best way to prevent this tick-borne disease is to make sure your pet is vaccinated against the tiny, black-legged tick, often known as the deer tick, as well as administering a monthly flea and tick medicine, such as Frontline, a topical treatment.
“More people are asking for the vaccination,” said Kathy, a veterinary technician at Countryside Animal Hospital is Rumford who declined to give her last name. “In years past, we’ve been testing for Lyme disease with other tests and we’re finding more. We always ask pet owners if they want the vaccination for their dog.”
She said even if the dog already has Lyme disease, the vaccination will prevent it from getting worse. And the dog, as well as people who are bitten by the tick, often don’t show signs for several months.
Dr. Stephen Sears, state epidemiologist, said the Maine Center for Disease Control doesn’t track Lyme disease in pets, but agreed that it has become a challenge for pet owners.
He added that Lyme disease in people has become a serious problem in Maine.
The number of new cases in people has stayed fairly consistent for the past few years, at between 750 and 1,000 a year. Because symptoms often don’t show up for months, the number of people afflicted with the disease is considered a rolling number, Sears said.
The black-legged tick has expanded its range from Lyme, Conn., in the early 1980s, he said.
He said the tiny tick gets the Lyme bacteria from mice, then deer become hosts.
Mammals that most often come down with Lyme disease are people, dogs and horses, said Dr. Michael Binette of Norway Veterinarian Hospital.
The number of dogs with the disease has stayed pretty consistent since the test for heartworm and Lyme disease began about eight years ago, he said.
Prior to that, he said he found that about 5 percent of tested dogs had the disease. Every year, two or three dogs die from it, most often from kidney failure, which is one of the symptoms of advanced Lyme.
Holly York, a veterinary technician at Turner Veterinary Services, said that practice sees quite a few cases of Lyme in dogs each year.
“People need to be more on top of flea and tick control,” she said.
Dogs and people who live in areas with tall grass and brush are most likely to encounter ticks. Just as people should check themselves for ticks, pet owners should check their dogs for ticks when they come inside.
Binette said the treatment for Lyme disease in dogs generally is antibiotics for a month. If the disease shows serious symptoms, such as kidney problems, then the dog would receive antibiotics at an animal hospital through intravenous tubes.