Lyme disease in pets is spreading through Ontario. Confirmed cases of Lyme may exceed cases of heartworm in some areas this summer.Lyme disease originated in Connecticut in the 1970s. The disease is transmitted when an infected deer tick becomes embedded in the skin of pets and people. Previously Lyme was restricted to a handful of select areas in Ontario such as Rondeau Park and Point Pelee.Veterinarians are noticing a sharp spike in verified cases as the disease spreads throughout the province, said Dr. Alexandra Soltan, a veterinarian and owner of the Lambeth Animal Hospital in London, Ont.“There appears to be a definite spread into other areas now. There are a number of species of ticks that were previously not found in Ontario. Migratory birds are a known mode of transportation for bringing ticks into our areas. Ticks have learned to adapt to our climate here. It is very likely that Lyme disease incidence will surpass heartworm in the London area this year.”Prevention and early detection are the two best ways of preventing the disease from affecting our pets. “With Lyme we want to catch the infection way before there are any symptoms,” said Soltan. Once the disease progresses, symptoms can include stiff, painful, swollen joints. Owners typically report a limp that comes and goes. The affected limb may appear to switch sides. Other dogs have a stiff walk and an arched back. Kidney failure is another sign of Lyme disease, as are fever and difficulty breathing. Heart and neurological problems are rarer symptoms.Don French is one pet owner who was surprised when his dog, Rocky, tested positive. Like many other affected pets, Rocky had not been in any high-risk areas. When French mentioned to Rocky’s vet that he had found a tick, further testing was suggested. The results came back positive for Lyme disease.“I was always one who was more proactive to not using a lot of chemicals. Now, with this scare, I will do heartworm medication every year and keep up with the Lyme disease testing. I always thought it happened to those other guys, or to dogs that were not healthy,” said French.
Soltan warns that heartworm testing alone is no longer sufficient. Many labs offer reasonable pricing on more extensive tests that include Lyme disease screening. When pets are in for wellness testing, the same blood sample can be used to screen for Lyme disease at a small additional cost. A positive test result allows owners to start treatment early before the onset of symptoms. As an additional level of protection, many preventatives combat the problem. They work by preventing the tick from becoming embedded, stopping disease transmission. These practices are especially important for high-risk animals such as hunting dogs, cottage dogs and dogs that hike in fields. It’s good to remember that any dog can pick up a tick, even pets that live in urban areas.What should owners do if they happen to face the ick of a tick embedded in their dog? Start by removing the tick correctly. Done incorrectly, infections can set in. Tick removal devices are available. Squeamish owners can have a tick removed by a veterinarian.After it is removed, kill the tick by placing it in a zip-lock bag and pouring rubbing alcohol on it. Common ticks are generally easy to identify. Veterinary clinics will often send unusual species to labs for further testing,Emerging treatments such as vaccines still have the veterinary community divided, according to Soltan. “There is no one answer fits all. As the disease gains momentum, we may need to look at other strategies.”