There is an epidemic of Lyme disease in our country, and it continues to get worse. It is on the rise in humans, which means it is also on the rise in our pet patients.
Out of the tick borne diseases in humans, Lyme accounts for 85% of cases.
In the southwest where I live, Ehrlichia is still the most common rickettsial disease that I see in practice, but we are now keeping Lyme disease more on our radar. In addition, I have seen a case of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in our region.
How Can We Prevent Rickettsial Disease in Our Patients?
Client education regarding this topic is essential. Here are some things you can recommend:
1) Discuss fleas and ticks with the clients and inquire if they have seen any on their pet.
2) Recommend a monthly flea and tick prevention if their pet is not currently on one. A tick normally must attach for more than 24-48 hours before it can transmit the disease. Preventing it from attaching for an extended length of time can help prevent infection.
3) If they are having an issue with ticks, recommend that they contact their exterminator to treat the environment. This is especially essential.
4) Instead of a doing a regular heartworm test in our patients, we are now offering the 4DX test- which includes Heartworm, Anaplasma, Lyme, and Ehrlichia, which is a good screening test, as many pets will have no clinical symptoms of disease. Routine screening for these diseases is a good idea.
5) Remember the symptoms of disease and take a good history on all of the pets when they come in. Symptoms can include but are not limited to: Lethargy, decreased appetite, joint pain, coughing, fever, and weight loss.
6) Show the client how to check their pet for ticks, especially noting the most common places they like to hide- like the ears and in between the toes, under the legs, and around the tail.
7) Lyme vaccination in endemic areas (such as the East coast). We don't administer the vaccination in our practice, but in states where the disease is very common it may be warranted.
What are the causes of this epidemic?
Controversial opinion is that global warming and climate change could be contributing to it. As the temperature changes, ticks are able to spread and thrive in new environments.
"It’s a lack of biodiversity, it’s how we live, it’s where we live, and it’s the change in our climate — it’s all driving this. And it’s driving this disease in many, many countries."
- Mary Beth Pfeiffer, author of Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change
Another factor could be our living circumstances. As more housing developments are being created, digging and building into the places where the ticks normally live causes them to adapt to living in more suburban areas.
As more animals become carriers of Borrelia burgdorferi (the bacteria which causes Lyme disease), more and more ticks then become vectors of the disease.
The Ixodes tick is the main one responsible for transmission. The sad fact here in Arizona is that as building occurs further into the desert, the animals' habitats are disturbed, and there is a closer proximity to wildlife such as rabbits, rats, coytoes, etc.