Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases.Unfortunately, many dogs who are infected never develop any symptoms. Because it can take several months for symptoms to show up, if they do at all, many pet owners don’t immediately connect them with the possibility of Lyme disease. We talked to Dr. Leilani Alvarez, DVM, DACVSMR, Director of Integrative and Rehabilitative Medicine at the Animal Medical Center in NYC, to ask about the risks of Lyme disease and how to deal with it.
THE HONEST KITCHEN: How do dogs get Lyme disease?DR. ALVAREZ: Lyme disease is transmitted by tick bites. Typically, the tick must be attached for 36-48 hrs before it will transmit the disease which is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdoferi. The ticks that carry the Lyme bacteria are very small "soft" ticks, called Ixodes scapularis (also known as "deer ticks"). The immature "nymph" ticks are most likely to transmit Lyme. Their feeding season is Spring and Summer. The adult ticks can also transmit the disease and this is more likely to occur in cooler months, especially in the Fall. The adult ticks are only about the size of a sesame seed and the nymphs the size of a poppy seed, so you can imagine how easy it is for them to hide in the hair coat of dogs. We used to think of Lyme disease as specific to the North Eastern United States; however, the tick territory has spread and the disease is now also recognized in the mid-Atlantic and North-Central US.
THE HONEST KITCHEN: What is the best way to prevent Lyme disease?DR. ALVAREZ: The best way to prevent Lyme is to prevent the tick bite. Since the ticks are so tiny, tick repellent products will be most effective. I recommend applying these products once a month year-round. We used to think Lyme could not be transmitted in the winter months, but with global warming, we don't get the hard freeze we used to, which allows the ticks to survive. I recommend applying spot-on products during the peak seasons (every 2-3 weeks). Another option is to add a tick collar in addition to the spot-on product during peak seasons (especially in Spring).
THE HONEST KITCHEN: Is there a natural way to prevent Lyme disease?DR. ALVAREZ: I wish I could say yes; however, the reality is that all "natural" methods of preventing Lyme disease are not completely effective. Popular remedies include essential oil products (containing Rosemary, Lemongrass, Cedar, Peppermint, or other herbal/plant ingredients) and garlic oil. There is actually published evidence that some of these natural remedies can help in repelling ticks; however, they are not nearly as effective as the pharmaceutical spot-on or tick collars. Other effective methods of reducing the risk of Lyme transmission is to avoid hiking in heaving wooded areas (especially during Spring, Summer, and Fall) and using a flea comb immediately after being outdoors to remove any ticks. You will likely not see the ticks, so a flea comb is essential. Ticks love especially areas with higher blood flow, so be sure to check your dog's ears, around the eyes, neck, between their toes, the groin area, and the tail. Also, if your dog lives in an area that is known to have more Lyme disease (rural areas in the Northeast), I would also recommend vaccinating your dog against Lyme.