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Ticks and Lyme Disease

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Tick season is here. As temperatures warm up above freezing, ticks begin to be active or to hatch. The first thing they need is a blood meal. Any warm-blooded animal will do and this is where you or your family pet may fall victim to a tick bite. Michigan, along with most of the United States, is home to the black-legged tick, commonly known here as a deer tick. This species of tick can carry the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease.

Ticks are members of the spider family. Their life cycle starts as an egg, then a larva, a nymph, and finally an adult tick. Young ticks need a blood meal in order to mature to the next stage in their lifecycle. Adult female ticks also require a blood meal in order to lay their eggs. Ticks can live for 2-3 years and do not die off in the winter. Every time the outdoor temperature is above freezing, ticks become active and are potentially placing your pet at risk.

Lyme disease can affect dogs, horses, and humans. Cats can be infected, but are much more resistant to Lyme disease and often do not develop clinical signs. Lyme disease is present in many areas of the United States. In Michigan, we see four times the number of dogs that test positive for Lyme disease than for heartworm disease. Lyme disease can cause joint damage, lameness, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes with or without swollen joints. Sometimes a serious, often fatal kidney disease occurs due to Lyme disease. Damage to the heart and nerves can occur as well. Some dogs will have no clinical signs or symptoms of Lyme disease, but are still infected. Treatment involves a long course of antibiotics.

Prevention is the best solution to protecting your pet against Lyme disease. We recommend year-round flea and tick prevention to prevent ticks from being able to infect your pet. In addition, your veterinarian can test your pet annually to rule out the possibility of infection or to alert you to the need for treatment. Dogs can also be vaccinated against Lyme disease. Check your pets and yourself for ticks- look around the eyes, ears, tail, groin, armpits, toes, and under their collar. It takes at least 24 hours of the tick being attached and feeding to transmit the infection. The sooner you find and remove a tick, the less likely your pet is to be infected. Ask your veterinarian to learn more about this potentially serious disease and what options are best for your pet.

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