30 May 2016

HEALTH - Are Ticks and Lyme Disease on the Rise?

With the arrival of warmer spring temperatures, combined with migratory birds and the increased travel of people with their pets, there is a growing abundance of the western blacklegged ticks carrying the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria - which causes Lyme disease - across North America.

According to Dr. Merten Pearson of Noah's Ark Pet Hospital in Amarillo, TX, his clinic has already seen six cases of Lyme disease in dogs this year – and the Panhandle region does not typically see tick-related illnesses. The vet cites travel of people with their pets as the most likely cause of Lyme in areas not typically known to have Lyme disease-carrying ticks.

Dr. Libby Fulton of Arrowhead Veterinary Clinic in Cochrane, AB has also seen a spike in tick-ridden dogs over the last couple of years.

In January of 2015, Fulton observed a tick embedded in a dog’s foot that hadn’t left the province or even the town of Cochrane – the earliest find of a tick in the season to date.

Historically, it was believed that Lyme-carrying ticks could only be found in Alberta dogs that had travelled outside of the province. But ticks know no borders.

“There are several vaccines on the market,” said Fulton, adding that her clinic only administers vaccines upon request to higher risk animals (dogs that travel to higher risk areas such as the Eastern seaboard, hunting dogs), although if the recent trend of more ticks each season was to continue she could foresee Calgary and area clinics eventually offering a vaccine as part of protocol.

“It has become a more pertinent issue even compared to last year…ticks are active at 4 degrees Celsius and we did not have that winter kill this year,” she said, adding that tick season has extended this year from possibly January through fall, rather than just over the course of May through July.

Dr. Kirsten Aarbo of the Okotoks Animal Care Centre cautions animal owners to be mindful of other pets carrying ticks.

“We had a lady in Priddis, AB who had over 200 ticks on her horse,” said Aarbo, who can also attest to the discovery of more ticks in recent years, adding that people should be vigilant when looking for ticks – which like to hide in skin folds and crevices.

While ticks carry other types of illnesses, including ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever – Lyme disease is of particular concern, as it is thought by Lyme communities on both sides of the border that there are actually far more human sufferers than formally diagnosed.

Dogs can bring the hard-to-find disease-carrying ticks in from outside, where it can easily fall off the dog and find its way onto the skin of a child or adult.

Lyme disease has been a controversial subject among human sufferers, many who feel as though they are falling through the cracks of a medical community that misdiagnoses Lyme due to archaic or inaccurate testing methods. While the medical community on both sides does not officially recognize the presence of Lyme disease in every province or state, Lyme sufferers beg to differ.

Much like with humans who contract the vector-borne illness, dogs may contract Lyme disease and nobody is the wiser – as dogs may not exhibit symptoms, or at least those easily identifiable; typical symptoms such as appetite loss, extreme lethargy, arthritis and swollen nodes and joints can easily be confused with other illnesses.

The website DogsandTicks reports over 691,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in dogs over the past five years. Their interactive map shows the incidence of Lyme and other diseases throughout Canada and the U.S.

The most important method of tick prevention is to check for ticks during the warmer months.

By Lindsay Seewalt
Lindsay is an experienced journalist and mother of three whose heart and home is always open to a four-legged friend. With her Corgi, Angie, as household editor-in-chief, Lindsay gives back to the animal planet through the written word on anything and all ado about pets. She is passionate about topics regarding animal welfare and responsible pet ownership, which she aims to instill in both her readers and children to be compassionate animal lovers who are conscious and considerate that furry friends around the globe deserve a voice.

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