How can we dog lovers prevent Lyme disease in dogs?
It is well known that ticks transmit many diseases to humans. In the Northern Hemisphere, Lyme disease is the most common tick-transmitted disease. Less well-known is the fact that dogs can also be infected by Lyme disease. Symptoms can be serious and the disease can be difficult to diagnose and treat. What’s important is to keep dogs from becoming infected in the first place.
Lyme disease, which is found in parts of the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia, is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The corkscrew-shaped B. burgdorferi has a complex life cycle. It occurs in mice and moves to tiny larval deer ticks when they make a meal of mouse blood in summer and fall.
Infected larvae spend the winter in a non-feeding state and awake in spring looking for food. Deer are the normal host, but any human or dog visiting wooded areas where the ticks live might also become a host for the ticks, and potentially for the bacterium that carries Lyme disease.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
The most common symptom of Lyme disease in dogs is an arthritis-like inflammation of the joints. This causes lameness in one or more legs. The lameness can disappear and then reappear in other legs over a period of days or weeks. Joints are often noticeably swollen, warm, and painful to the touch. Many infected dogs walk stiffly with an arched back. These symptoms may be accompanied by loss of appetite, fever, and lethargy.
Less common, but more serious symptoms of Lyme disease include kidney and heart problems, which can be fatal if Lyme disease is not diagnosed and treated. There are many possible causes of arthritis in dogs, so blood samples must be tested for the presence of B. burgdorferi before a Lyme disease diagnosis can be confirmed. Diagnosis is complicated by the fact that symptoms may not appear until months after the initial infection, then suddenly disappear only to reappear later on.
Veterinarians prescribe a variety of antibiotics, including doxycycline and amoxicillin, to treat Lyme disease in dogs. As in humans, the response to treatment is slow. Antibiotics are often given for one to two months although some improvement usually takes place within a week. Dogs respond well to treatment and usually recover completely. Rarely, dogs may continue to experience chronic joint pain after Lyme disease has been eliminated.
Given the serious nature of the disease and potentially chronic symptoms, it’s important to prevent Lyme disease in dogs. Keep dogs away from tall grass and wooded areas, especially woods with a deer population. This is most important in spring, summer, and fall when tick larvae and nymphs are actively feeding.
Daily grooming and tick checks after dogs have been outdoors will reduce the chances of Lyme disease transmission. Ticks are slow feeders and often attach and engorge for many hours before a dog is infected. Conventional veterinarians can recommend tick-repellent products such as sprays or collars. Many of these products work well but, unfortunately, contain neurotoxins, carcinogens and assorted chemical insecticides.
Is there a natural way to prevent Lyme disease in dogs?
We, and our holistic veterinarian colleagues, believe that preventing Lyme disease in dogs should not require the use of chemical poisons. There are natural flea and tick sprays that use essential oils safely and effectively to kill and/or repel deer ticks and their unwelcome relatives. Some of these natural bug killers, however, go overboard by forcing as many as seven different oils (producing seven noxious odors) upon the dog, devastating the hyper-sensitive smelling apparatus. This drives the poor dog crazy and, worse, may or may not kill deer ticks.
Today’s scientific research into bio-pesticides takes a different and more natural approach. The two most effective essential oils – cedar oil and peppermint oil – are precisely blended to mimic the natural defense mechanism many plants use to keep from being eaten alive by insects.
Valuable essential oils from these two plants act as octopamine blockers on insects. Octopamine, to an insect, is what adrenaline is to a human. Among other things, it regulates the nervous system. When octopamine is blocked by these powerful yet dog-safe essential oils, the insect’s central nervous system is disabled and it quickly dies. And since humans, animals, birds and fish have no octopamine receptors and no way to utilize the substance, octopamine is perfectly harmless to these species.
The product name that keeps popping up among holistic veterinarians, true dog lovers, and tree huggers who actually hug trees is called TripleSure All-Natural Flea and Tick Spray for Dogs and Cats.
Lyme disease can cause serious health problems in dogs as well as humans. By knowing the method of transmission, the symptoms, and method of prevention that works best against deer ticks, we can now safely, effectively and naturally prevent Lyme disease in dogs.