2.01.2010

On Lyme Disease

Why Are You Limping?
Let me preface this post by stating that when a client has an otherwise healthy dog that shows lameness in the hind legs, and may/may not be displaying lethargic symptoms, I usually recommend that they go to the vet, get a check up, and it wouldn't hurt to get a Lyme Test. Somehow, I forgot to take my own advice.

I have a very active Border Collie. To be fair, "Very Active" and "Border Collie" are synonymous terms, so I apologize for the repetition. After a run in Upstate New York over the Thanksgiving weekend, Sadie came back to Boston lame as could be. She frequently sprains her ankles from doing back flips, or demonstrates mild soreness for the days following a strenuous workout of 4 days in the woods. We gave her the usual treatment: Rest for 10 days, leash walks, no running or jumping (welcome to my hell - try to keep a high drive dog "calm") and a few left over anti-inflammatory pills from her last bout of soreness. She seemed to do better, and suddenly plummeted.

After a few weeks of her getting better, then not, we took her to the vet- where arthritis was diagnosed. This was rather disheartening to me as my dog loves to run, jump, play - and nearing 7 years of age, her mind still wanted to go, but her body wouldn't. It was crushing, but we'd make the best of it. That's just part of having an older dog.

After a few more weeks of strict leash walking, Sadie slipped, and hurt her other rear leg. This time, we suspected soft tissue damage in addition to the on-going arthritis in her hips.

Now, it's February 1st, and we went in for xrays since her condition wasn't improving, and she was behaviorally changing. She seemed more distant, much more "blah", tired extremely easily, and the shortest of walks would produce a tripod dog. Something was wrong. I feared cancer or a pinched nerve. The vet, however, suspected something different.....

"We're not going to do xrays just yet...let's just try a blood test first. I have a suspicion." And sure enough, instead of $400 of xrays, a simple blood test told us all we needed to know, which accounted for everything that's happened since November:

Lyme Disease.

Ticks and New England

Now I've been a hearty, proud New Englander my entire life, and had always gone by the simple rule of thumb: if the first solid frost has happened, you can stop your flea/tick preventative until spring. When you find yourself not needing a winter coat, but a vest or light jacket, restart the preventative topicals. That is what I was told when I was a kid, and that's what I was told to tell people when I worked at an animal hospital. This is what I've sent along to my students in classes. This is exactly what I had done before our trip to New York - I did not dose her for Tick meds because it was cold outside.

Turns out, the information is false. In Massachusetts, we've had a pretty bizarre year so far. We had a 3 day stretch of 40+ degrees last week, and guess what? The ticks were out in force. The animal hospital has been pulling ticks off of dogs all winter long. The ticks are hiding out in basements and surviving winters like they haven't in years past. The dogs coming up from the South are also bringing new diseases, such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and other tick born illnesses that just weren't prevalent in New England.

It was marginally warmer in Upstate New York, and apparently, the ticks were still active. Additionally, she is vaccinated against Lyme, but it's not a fail-safe vaccination. It helps, but isn't perfect.

It's better to be safe than sorry, and keep your dog armed with Frontline or Advantix year round in this climate. Yes, it's bitterly cold out tonight - but the ticks are still hiding and looking for warm bodies for sustenance. Humans are more protected as we're bundled up in parkas, hats, gloves, boots, snow pants, etc. But our dogs feet are still exposed.

Early Symptoms for Lyme Disease:
-Lameness, especially in the back legs
-Loss of appetite
-Fever (in dogs, this is a temperature OVER 102 is considered a fever in dogs)
-Lethargy
-Enlarged lymph nodes

One or more symptoms are enough to warrant a simple, inexpensive blood test to check your dog for Lyme.


And Now?
Sadie is perking up, and will be on a run of Doxycycline for 28 days. We'll have to check her Kidneys to make sure everything is in the clear after the antibiotics, but I'm happy to know that my Frisbee partner has more time to run & play arthritis free, and that Lyme is easily treated - even after 3 months of symptoms. It's better to be safe than sorry, so keep your dog on flea/tick prevention year round in MA, even if it seems cold out; vaccinate if you take long hikes and spend a lot of time outdoors in grassy areas; and finally, if things don't improve, keep checking with your vet. Many illnesses and diseases have similar symptoms so keep your vet in the loop and keep working on behalf of your pet. Remember, they can't really tell you how, where, and why something hurts - we just see the symptoms of pain. It's up to us to figure it out and help them along.