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Summer Wonders and Hidden Dangers

Clifford the red dog and a stuffed animal tick

Summer in the Midwest is not only the time for an iced cold lemonade, ice cream, and lazy days at the beach. It is also a time to be vigilant of all the creatures that are hanging out on tall blades of grass waiting for an innocent bystander to walk by and jump on. I am talking about ticks!

These insects are not only scary looking but carry real danger inside them. The only cool fact, if you can call it that about them is that they secrete a substance when they bite that numbs the area. This makes it so we cannot feel them when they bite us. This is an evolutionary change as ticks are slow feeders, it can take hours to days for them to finish their blood meal. If we felt them we surely wouldn’t give them that type of time! This, however, makes it imperative that we are checking ourselves, our family members, and OF COURSE our PETS for ticks every time they come in from outside.

Lyme Disease: A Midwest Menace

Images of Blacklegged Ticks(deer tick) and American dog ticks (wood tick)

I wanted to talk about one disease transmitted by ticks that is common in our area of the Midwest. Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium.  The name Lyme actually comes from where it was first detected in the small town of Lyme, Connecticut. Dogs, and other species like humans can contract the disease through the bite of an infected Ixodes Scapularis species of tick. Lyme disease can cause serious health problems in severe cases, it can even be fatal.

The symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs can be vague, but some of the most common signs include fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, joint pain or lameness, swollen lymph nodes, and difficulty breathing. These symptoms can appear between 2 and 5 months after a tick bite. Some dogs may not show any symptoms at all. It is because of this variation in clinical signs that it is of utmost importance to test, prevent and treat Lyme infections. Veterinarians can diagnose Lyme disease in dogs through a combination of clinical signs, blood tests, and a history of tick exposure. The most common test for Lyme disease is the SNAP 4Dx test, which can detect Lyme disease as well as three other tick-borne diseases, and heartworm disease. Early detection and treatment are important for the best outcome.

If your dog has been diagnosed with Lyme disease, your veterinarian will likely prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. Due to the aggressive nature of Lyme disease, other organs can be affected such as the joints or kidneys. Specific treatments will depend on the clinical signs and severity of the infection.

Combating Lyme Disease: Vaccination and Protection

The best way to protect your dog from Lyme disease is to prevent tick bites. This can be done using tick prevention products such as tick collars, sprays, and topical treatments. Always be sure to discuss prevention with your veterinarian. There are many products that are sold over the counter that can be very harmful to some pets.

There are currently two Lyme disease vaccines available for dogs in the United States: Vanguard crLyme and Nobivac Lyme. Both vaccines are given to dogs as an initial series of two doses, followed by annual booster shots. These vaccines work by stimulating the dog's immune system to produce antibodies against the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi. While no vaccine is 100% effective, studies have shown that these vaccines can significantly reduce the risk of Lyme disease in dogs.

Enjoying Midwest Summers Responsibly

In short, summer in the Midwest is the best. Let’s be real, this is what we wait for all year! It's what keeps us here as we drive over those potholes, it's what keeps us going during the polar vortex, or the blizzards that knock our power out. That being said, stay safe! Check yourself and check your friends, those with two legs, but also those with four. If you suspect or witnessed your pet bitten by a tick it is best to contact your veterinarian immediately.


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