IS MY DOG AT RISK OF CANINE LYME DISEASE?
The short answer is a resounding ‘yes’. If you walk your dog in one of Toronto’s many wonderful series of wooded trail systems, you and your dog are susceptible. Canine Lyme Disease is the most common disease spread by ticks in the Toronto area, initiated by the bite of infected, Ixode scapularis, also known as Deer or Blacklegged ticks. While not all variations of ticks carry Lyme disease, populations of Blacklegged, Deer and American Dog ticks continue to expand in the GTA and other parts of Ontario.
Canine Lyme Disease Risk Assessment:
- Have you seen or heard of ticks on people or pets in your area?
- Is your dog likely to go into areas where ticks are found?
- Do you live in an area with ticks and/or where there are cases of Lyme disease in animals or humans?
- Are you likely to travel with your dog to areas where Lyme disease is present?
- Have you forgotten to give monthly tick medication on time?
If you answered YES to any of these questions, protection against disease-carrying ticks – a small, chewy and tasty treat – for your dog is recommended.
WHAT IS CANINE LYME DISEASE?
The risk for you and your pet – specifically dogs – of contracting Lyme disease is increasingly on the rise across areas of Ontario.
Incidence of Canine Lyme Disease easily keeps pace with the increased incidence of the disease in humans, and probably more. Although likely true that the incidence of Lyme disease is higher in dogs than humans, there is no national or provincial system for capturing the incidence of Canine Lyme Disease.
Lacking a national or provincial system for tracking, reviewing the human data for Lyme disease is important as an indication of the exposure and potential infection in dogs.
- It is estimated that 50% of dogs are infected with borrelia burgdorferi in endemic disease areas.
- Nearly 75% of unvaccinated dogs in endemic areas will eventually test positive, and each year some will develop Lyme disease.
- Dogs are 50 to 100 times more likely than humans to come in contact with infected ticks.
- More dogs are likely infected with borellia burgdorferi than reported, as dogs will often show no signs of disease.
- Dogs spend more time roaming in areas infested with ticks – even in their own backyards – thus making threat of Lyme disease undeniably greater in dogs than in humans
A Tick’s Life
Ticks don’t fly, jump or blow around with the wind. They are sluggish and lumbering and can be as small as a poppy seed. Bites are usually painless, so you or your pet may not know that there’s been a bite.
Three things make them so effective at what they do: Their small size, extreme patience and their amazing capacity to locate their host/prey.
Their purpose in life is to propagate their species and inadvertently pass diseases to those hosts they feed on. Ticks don’t feed often, but when they do, they can acquire disease agents from one host and pass it to another host at a later feeding.
WHERE ARE TICKS IN TORONTO LOCATED?
Blacklegged ticks are found most often in forests and overgrown areas between wooded areas and open spaces. This makes for perfect breeding grounds in many parts of Toronto. Specifically,
- The Rouge Valley, east of Toronto
- Don Valley trail system
The Public Health Agency of Canada works with provincial authorities to identify where populations of infected blacklegged ticks have been established or are spreading.
This is the latest Ontario Lyme Disease Map from Public Health Ontario:
More information can be found here: OAHN-Ticks-Lyme-Infographic-2020
In other parts of Ontario, known endemic (common) areas for Lyme disease are:
- Point Pelee National Park
- Rondeau and Turkey Point Provincial Parks
- Long Point Peninsula, including Long Point Provincial Park
- Wainfleet bog near Welland on the Niagara Peninsula
- Prince Edward County
- Thousand Islands National Park
“Expansion” areas of risk in Ontario include:
- Kingston and surrounding areas along Lake Ontario
- Along the St. Lawrence Valley to the border with Quebec and northeast towards Ottawa
- Northwestern Ontario in the Lake of the Woods region
- Pinery Provincial Park on the shores of Lake Huron
For the most up-to-date information, visit canada.ca/LymeDisease
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I FIND TICKS ON MY DOG?
Removing the ticks within 24-36 hours will usually prevent infection. Using tweezers, grasp the head as close to your pets skin as possible and pull straight out. Wash the area with soap and water, disinfectant with alcohol or hand sanitizer.
If possible, save the tick in a Ziploc bag and record the approximate date of the bite. If symptoms develop, contact our team at the Cabbagetown Pet Clinic.
CAN I GET LYME DISEASE FROM MY DOG?
No. Although pets – particularly dogs – can contract Lyme disease, there is no evidence that they can spread the infection directly to people. However, pets can carry infected ticks into homes and yards increasing your chance of getting bitten.
Here are some ways to protect yourself when venturing into wooded hiking trails with your dog:
- Wear closed-toe shoes, long-sleeved shirts and pants
- Pull your socks over your pant legs to prevent ticks from crawling up your legs
- Wear light-coloured clothes to identify ticks easier
- Use insect repellent containing DEET
- Shower withi n two hours of being outdoors to wash away loose ticks
- Do daily full-body check for ticks on yourself, your children and your pets
CAN YOU TEST MY DOG FOR LYME DISEASE?
Absolutely. Diagnosis is made by a combination of history, physical signs, and diagnostics. For dogs, the test we incorporate at our animal hospital for diagnosing Lyme disease is called the 4DX test. It’s a simple blood test that we run at our AAHA Accredited Cabbagetown animal hospital. This helps you get the answers you need in a timely fashion.
As the name implies, 4DX tests for four things: Heartworm, Lyme disease, Ehrlichia, and Anaplasma. Biological vectors, such as mosquitoes and ticks, transmit all four of these diseases and may carry pathogens that can multiply within their bodies and be delivered to new hosts, usually by biting.
The test measures antibodies, meaning how your dog responds or reacts to an infection. A positive test result only indicates exposure to the bacteria. The infection could have occurred sometime in the past, and the immune system may have eliminated the bacteria without your dog ever showing symptoms.
If a positive test result is confirmed, our veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics and/or advise further, more specific testing.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LYME DISEASE IN DOGS?
Lyme disease is, unfortunately, a relatively common canine illness.
The most common symptom is arthritic pain, accompanied by fatigue and fever. If you’re unsure if your pet has been exposed, contact our Cabbagetown veterinary team to discuss appropriate measures to protect or treat your pet.
Left untreated, symptoms can last for years and include recurring arthritis and neurological problems, kidney failure, numbness and paralysis. We are often asked if Lyme disease can be fatal to a dog? Although uncommon, fatalities from Lyme disease have been reported.
Typical symptoms in dogs include:
- loss of appetite
- reduced energy
- lameness (can be shifting, intermittent, and recurring)
- generalized stiffness, discomfort, or pain
- swelling of joints
HOW IS CANINE LYME DISEASE TREATED AND PREVENTED?
Because Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, it can be treated with antibiotics, once an animal has been examined and tested positive. The antibiotic of choice for canines is doxycycline. Treatment lasts for up to 4 weeks.
The Cabbagetown Pet Clinic offers a comprehensive Cabbagetown Care Program, which includes a canine Lyme vaccination. This is the only way to assure dogs in endemic and expansion areas, such as Toronto, are protected.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO PREVENT CANINE LYME DISEASE?
- Prevent ticks from transmitting disease with one of our veterinary-approved flea and tick medications.
- Get your dog vaccinated.
- Inspect your dog (and yourself!) for ticks after walks through wooded trails. Check your dog under their collar, under their tail, between their toes, under their legs and elbows.
- Remove ticks immediately. The quicker you find them the less likely your dog will be infected. Invest in a pair of fine tweezers and learn the proper method of tick removal.
- At your next vet visit, ask our veterinarian to conduct a tick check during the exam. We’ll be able to find any you may have missed.
- Keep your grass mowed and refrain from walking into grassy patches in endemic tick areas.