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Lyme disease in dogs on the rise in southwestern Nova Scotia

Dr. Neil Pothier, at Bayview Animal Hospital in Digby, says he’s noticed a big jump in Lyme disease cases in dogs.
Dr. Neil Pothier, at Bayview Animal Hospital in Digby, says he’s noticed a big jump in Lyme disease cases in dogs. - Amanda Doucette

Vaccinating your dog also helps to safeguard yourself against ticks hitching a ride

YARMOUTH, N.S. —

The number of dogs testing positive for Lyme disease has taken some big jumps in past years. What’s even more alarming is the incidence of those that are dying from it.
Dr. Tim O’Brien with Tri-County Veterinary Services Ltd. in Yarmouth says so far this year 31 per cent of the dogs tested for Lyme disease at their clinic were positive. 
“When we say positive for Lyme disease that doesn’t mean that they’re clinically ill,” he said. “They can have this in the system without any clinical signs. Of the ones that tested positive though, 72 per cent were clinical and required treatment.”
There are two forms of Lyme disease that veterinarians tend to see in dogs. One form, the most common, is lameness. The onset is sudden, often accompanied by high fever. The dog is very sore, very stiff and usually the smaller joints tend to be swollen, hot and painful. 
O’Brien says if the infection is just in the joints and not affecting the kidneys, dogs respond very well to treatment, which is a course of antibiotics: doxycycline, usually for the course of four to six weeks.  
“Really, within a matter of a couple of days, those that are just affected by lameness get over it quite quickly and get back to normal,” he said. 
What’s more alarming is the 25 per cent of dogs that end up with Lyme nephritis, which involves the kidneys and can cause kidney failure. 
“Those are not very treatable. You treat them hard with the antibiotics and anti-inflammatory to try to suppress the immune system but the vast majority of those do not survive. Almost 100 per cent of them will succumb in a matter of weeks to months of kidney failure.  We’re starting to see that (type of Lyme disease) climb over the years. Last year 15 per cent of them that we tested showed up with true Lyme nephritis. This year it’s probably closer to 25 per cent,” said O’Brien.
Symptoms include fever, being lethargic, depressed and dull, no appetite and not wanting to get up and move around. The symptoms come on very acutely within 12-24 hours. 
“You have a dog that hasn’t done anything the night before, no falls or spills and it just hits them very quickly,” said O’Brien.
Owners may also notice their dog drinking more, peeing more, losing weight, vomiting and generally going downhill. 
Dr. Neil Pothier, at Bayview Animal Hospital in Digby, says he’s noticed more Lyme disease diagnoses as well.
“We’re seeing it in various presentations, the most common being acute lameness and fever, but others are presenting with kidney failure,” he said.
There are also a few “hot spots” where Lyme disease is more prevalent: Digby Neck - Long Island and Westport.
Pothier says staff has been busy educating clients about the situation, starting with tick prevention and the products available. 
“We recommend everyone in a high-risk zone or with a high-risk lifestyle (hunting with their dog, camping, etc.) get their dog vaccinated."
He adds people must be aware and take precautions for themselves. 
“The vaccine is not available yet for people but it’s in the works.” 
Veterinarian Rebecca Steele at the Shelburne Veterinary Clinic says there has always been a lot of Lyme disease in her area. This year is their first for keeping track and she says they’ve probably diagnosed 20 cases.

As long as the Lyme disease infection is just in the joints and not affecting the kidneys, dogs respond very well to treatment.   Photo by Harland Quarrington
As long as the Lyme disease infection is just in the joints and not affecting the kidneys, dogs respond very well to treatment. Photo by Harland Quarrington

“Really, if you live in Shelburne and you have a dog, you should have it on tick prevention at the minimum,” she said. 
Their clinic has had cases showing up as early as January. Although ticks are not as prevalent in the colder months, any time it goes above 4 degrees Celsius they wake up and start trying to attach to animals.
“It can take two to five months for the symptoms to show up,” Steele said.
She says this year they had positive results for Lyme disease as early as Jan. 3, Feb. 19, Feb. 20 and March 11 and 28.  
She says that many people think treating for ticks is not necessary in the cooler months but that in the fall, it’s more important than ever. 
Recently, she received a bite from a tick after a client brought a dog in loaded with them. She didn’t notice until she found the site where the tick had been. 
“You’re putting your own health and the health of others at risk when you don’t treat your dog.”
She adds that she hasn’t been tested to date. “I’m not showing any symptoms yet.”  
 

How to lessen chances of Lyme disease in your dog

Prevention
1.    Pick through your dog's fur every day and look for ticks.
2.    Keep them out of the high grass and bushes.
3.    Put them on a preventive treatment that will kill ticks when they get on dogs.
4.    Vaccinate against ticks. Vets say these vaccinations are very effective now. 
 

“Really, if you live in Shelburne and you have a dog, you should have it on tick prevention at the minimum,” she said. 
Their clinic has had cases showing up as early as January. Although ticks are not as prevalent in the colder months, any time it goes above 4 degrees Celsius they wake up and start trying to attach to animals.
“It can take two to five months for the symptoms to show up,” Steele said.
She says this year they had positive results for Lyme disease as early as Jan. 3, Feb. 19, Feb. 20 and March 11 and 28.  
She says that many people think treating for ticks is not necessary in the cooler months but that in the fall, it’s more important than ever. 
Recently, she received a bite from a tick after a client brought a dog in loaded with them. She didn’t notice until she found the site where the tick had been. 
“You’re putting your own health and the health of others at risk when you don’t treat your dog.”
She adds that she hasn’t been tested to date. “I’m not showing any symptoms yet.”  
 

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