My dog, Tatsu, rolled over for a belly rub and I was alarmed to see what looked like the "classic bull's eye" rash associated with many cases of Lyme disease in humans. I spotted a tiny, dark scab in the middle. Although I didn't think dogs got this sort of rash from an infected tick, I was still a bit suspicious after my own bout with Lyme disease. I grabbed a magnifying glass for a closer look. My stomach turned as I realized that I had, indeed, found a deer tick right in the middle of the bull's eye.
Several thoughts crashed through my mind at once.
- I've always used the monthly flea and tick preventative, Frontline, on Tatsu—how could there be a tick on him? (I then realized that reapplication was due in just a couple days. Perhaps the product's effectiveness decreases towards the end of the cycle?)
- Tatsu had gotten vaccinated against Lyme disease. Would that protect him from an infected tick?
- I wondered how long the tick had been attached. I knew that removing a tick within a certain time limit (some say 48 hours) could prevent transmission of that particular disease.
- I scrambled to remember where I'd left my tweezers, and how to remove a tick safely and effectively. I've since started carrying a little plastic scoop tool called "Ticked Off" around on our walks. It's so much easier to use than tweezers!
When I had pulled myself together and removed the tick, I acted on my motto, "when in doubt, check it out." I called Mill Brook Animal Clinic on Mass Ave in Arlington, ever patient with my barrage of worries. While in their waiting room, I collected a pile of pamphlets from which I gleaned some new realizations about the dangers of ticks to dogs (and humans, for that matter.)
I was reminded that even if a dog has had effective vaccination against Lyme disease, they might be susceptible to other tick-borne diseases including anaplasmosis (also spread by deer ticks) and ehrlichiosis (from the brown dog tick.)
I did a little more digging for information about the Lyme disease vaccination for dogs. I had always assumed that there was just one, but learned that there are actually a few different vaccines available:
- Fort Dodge's Vaccine
- Intervet-Schering-Plough's Vaccine
- Merial's Vaccine
The website, www.VetInfo.com, explains that, "The three vaccines work differently. Fort Dodge introduces dead Lyme bacteria into the system in hopes of building up antibodies. Merial's vaccine creates antibodies that prevent the protein used by a tick to transfer Lyme disease bacteria into the host's blood stream. Intervet-Schering-Plough's vaccine is similar to the Merial's vaccine but goes step farther by killing off the bacteria at the same time."
From one of the pamphlets I picked up at Mill Brook Animal Clinic, I learned of another Lyme vaccine called "Recombitek." On my list of questions for our next vet visit is what kind of vaccine Tatsu has gotten.
I was also reminded of the symptoms of tick-borne diseases to look for in dogs. According to a pamphlet from Idexx Laboratories, symptoms of Lyme disease include lameness, fever, swollen joints, kidney failure, loss of appetite and generally not being "himself/herself." Symptoms of anaplasmosis include (in addition to the symptoms above) lack of energy, vomiting and diarrhea. The pamphlet lists loss of appetite, depression, fever, painful joints, bloody nose and pale gums as symptoms of ehrlichiosis.
Almost every vet I've ever spoken with emphasizes that flea and tick preventative should be used year round, and the doctors at Mill Brook Animal Clinic are no exception. I can understand that advice, having once found a tick on a dog in January during a brief warm-up.
It's important to do a daily tick-check after any amount of time spent in wooded or grassy areas. This can be a tough job on a thick-coated dog. I find it easiest to use my sense of touch, feeling around methodically for any "bumps," especially the tiny ones.
Most resources I've come across say that tick-borne diseases can usually be easily treated with antibiotics if diagnosed early on. Doxycycline is commonly prescribed because it can treat a variety of tick-borne illnesses. I've discovered that there's a great deal of controversy over treatment of Lyme disease when the disease has had much time to progress before getting diagnosed.
There is so much more to learn about the dangers, diagnosis and treatment of tick-borne diseases to our dogs. I found the FAQ at www.dogsandticks.com to be very useful. In the meantime, Tatsu is still taking his doxycycline. His rash is gone. He seems happy and fit. And I am thankful that he asked for a belly rub that day.