You may have noticed more frequent posts on Facebook and on our blog about ticks and tick prevention. There are a few reasons for this. First, there have been increasing cases of reported tick-borne diseases across the nation and in our area. This correlates to what we have been seeing at our clinic. We have seen a significant increase in the number of pets with attached ticks and pets testing positive for tick-borne illnesses. In addition, we want to keep our pet owners educated and up to date on important issues, especially if there are things they can do to help protect their pet. Sharing statistics and talking about different products available is great, but we wanted to put some names to the numbers and share some real-life stories of our patients.
First, we have Buck. Buck was a very happy, energetic Pit Bull mix, who never traveled or spent time in wooded areas. He was your typical suburban dog with a wonderful family who adored him. When Buck was 6 years old, mom noticed he wasn’t acting right, wasn’t eating well and was having some diarrhea. He came in to see Dr. Rooney who ordered some blood tests. The tests that we did in the hospital showed that Buck had some elevations in his kidney values and a little lower red blood cell count. Further tests were ordered, including one testing for tick-borne diseases. The next day, results came back positive for Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease. Usually, Lyme Disease presents in dogs with limping or lameness from inflammation and swelling of the joints. It can also cause swollen lymph nodes and fever. Less commonly, it can cause Lyme nephropathy, a condition that inevitably leads to the kidneys shutting down. Sadly, this is what Buck had. He continued to not eat and be very lethargic. His family tried many different treatments, but he failed to respond to any of them. His family faced the heartbreaking decision to say goodbye to Buck only a couple of weeks after his diagnosis.
Our next story hits even closer to home. Roscoe, a crazy, fun-loving Old English Sheep Dog, is the fur-baby of one of our former clinic employees, Nancy. Around Thanksgiving, she noticed that Roscoe wasn’t jumping up on the couch anymore and was having trouble going on walks. They even had to carry him home once from a walk, so he came in for an exam. Since Roscoe was on tick preventative during the warm months and his owners were very diligent about checking him for ticks, we thought he was just having issues from maybe tripping on the stairs or from arthritic issues. We tried some anti-inflammatories and pain medications, but things still weren’t getting much better. The doctors ordered a test for tick-borne diseases. Roscoe came up positive for 2 bacterial diseases spread by ticks, Borellia burgdorferi (Lyme Disease) and Anaplasma. This was surprising for all of us because Roscoe was receiving tick preventative, although mom would skip January and February, formerly thought to be “safe” months. Similar to Buck, Roscoe only spent time here in our Chicago suburbs, not one of the areas like Wisconsin or the East coast where Lyme disease is extremely prevalent. Roscoe was started on antibiotics and initially showed improvement, but the joy of seeing their boy finally feeling better was short lived. Roscoe started having trouble walking again. Even walking from the clinic front doors to the car was difficult and required him to stop and rest. After trying several different treatments including cold laser treatments and steroids help the inflammation in his joints, there wasn’t much of a change in his condition. Lyme disease can go into a chronic state where the antibiotics aren’t really effective and all you can do is try to manage the symptoms. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find anything to manage Roscoe’s pain. His owners were absolutely devastated and said the hardest thing was seeing him struggle to get around day to day and continue to deteriorate. Recently, they made the difficult decision to say farewell and end his suffering.
Both of these owners have suffered tremendously by having to watch their beloved pets fight and suffer from these illnesses. They graciously allowed us to share their stories so we can inform other owners about the risks of tick-borne diseases and how things are changing. Ticks are everywhere now, and every pet that goes outside is at risk. Even if you just let your pet in your backyard and or walk around the neighborhood, they can pick up ticks. Each year we are finding more pets coming up positive for exposure to these tick-borne organisms or developing the full-blown illness. Ticks will come out of hibernation to feed whenever the temperatures go above freezing. We have had patients in January and February come in with ticks attached. Furthermore, we know many people travel with their pets. Once you cross into Wisconsin, the prevalence of contracting Lyme Disease quadruples. We are now recommending that all dogs go on a tick preventative year round. We are currently recommending Parastar Plus (topical), Bravecto (oral chewable) or Seresto (a collar lasting 8 months). Parastar Plus starts killing ticks within 5 minutes of them getting on your dog and a quick kill is essential when trying to prevent disease transmission. Bravecto kills ticks within 12 hours and before ticks are able to take a blood meal. One chewable lasts 12 weeks, so it is a nice alternative for those pets who do not do well with topicals or for owners who would like an alternative to applying something every month. Seresto is the last product we recommend and we tend to recommend it for pets outside of the weight range of typical preventatives, such as very small dogs or very large dogs. It has excellent safety data and is very effective in killings ticks within 6 hours. We know there are many options available for pet owners over the counter, but we strongly feel these are the safest and most effective products. Many people still use Frontline for their pets, which has been a wonderful product and is very safe but can take 24 hours to kill ticks. Several new studies show evidence of tick-borne diseases being transmitted between 2 and 12 hours of attachment, which is why we have updated out recommendations.