The number of pets living in DuPage, Will and Cook Counties that tested positive for tick-borne diseases so far this year has increased 8% compared to the same time period last year. In this blog, we take a “deep dive” into Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne disease found in Illinois pets, and how to prevent it.
Ticks carry the bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) that can cause Lyme disease and are found everywhere outdoors – even your back yard! These pesky parasites are active when the outside temperature is 40 degrees or warmer where they wait in long grasses, garden beds or bushes for a host (you or your pet) to walk by so they can climb aboard. Once an infected tick attaches itself to a host through a bite, it can take as few as four hours for it to start spreading the bacteria causing Lyme disease. Lyme disease is zoonotic, which means both animals and humans can become infected, and can be spread when an infected tick detaches from your pet and attaches to you. Here are three things you should know about Lyme disease and how to prevent it.
- Lyme disease can be a year-round risk in northeastern Illinois. As noted above, ticks are active whenever the temperature reaches 40 degrees or above. Warmer weather with higher humidity and an increased number of infected ticks contribute to the heightened risk of Lyme disease transmission. When enjoying the outdoors, it’s best to keep to the center of trails and walk on sidewalks or cleared paths whenever possible.
Ticks will attach to exposed skin so long pants tucked into shoes or boots and long sleeve shirts are recommended when walking in or near grassy or wooded areas. Once indoors, check your body for ticks and your four-legged family member around the ears, eyelids and tail, under the collar and front legs, and between the back legs and all toes. If you find one or more ticks on your pet, use steady, even pressure to pull the tick upward and away from the skin.
- Signs of Lyme disease may take time to develop. If your pet spends any amount of time outdoors, particularly near grassy and/or wooded areas, it’s important to watch for symptoms of Lyme disease. These include limping, joint pain or swelling, decreased appetite, lethargy, and/or a fever. If left untreated, Lyme disease may also cause decreased kidney function so it’s important to recognize if your pet is drinking more water than usual. It can take weeks or months after an infected tick bite for a pet to show signs of Lyme disease – and many infected pets never exhibit symptoms.
Because signs of Lyme disease are similar to many other illnesses, it can be difficult to detect and diagnose. Fortunately, veterinary tests can detect if antibodies to Borrelia burgdorferi are present in your pet’s blood. If antibodies are found, additional tests will help determine if infection is present and determine if kidney function has been impaired. Once infection is diagnosed, a 30-day supply of antibiotics will be dispensed and our veterinarian will recommend rechecking infection levels with a blood test in six months.
- Prevention is the best protection. Our doctors and veterinary care professionals recommend administering year-round flea and tick preventatives. Bravecto Plus for cats is a topical medication that is effective for two months after application and safeguards against fleas, ticks, roundworms, hookworms and heartworm infection. Bravecto for dogs is now available in two different administration schedules. For many years we’ve recommended the Bravecto 12-week oral chew for dogs over six months of age and that weigh 4.4 pounds or more. We also now recommend a Bravecto one-month oral chew for puppies and dogs over eight weeks of age and that weigh 4.4 pounds or more. The Bravecto monthly chew is 100% effective against fleas for 30 days and, after 48 hours of administration, more than 97% effective against brown dog ticks for 30 days.
For more information about Lyme disease or Bravecto flea and tick preventatives, please call us at (630)598-0600.