Wednesday, September 16, 2009 3:50 PM

Vaccinating Dogs Against Lyme Disease

If you live in a rural area, chances are you are familiar with Lyme disease, whether or not you own a dog.  Transmitted by deer ticks, this disease can become chronic and debilitating.  If diagnosed early enough, a long course of antibiotics can often be curative. If diagnosed only after a period of illness during which the bacteria, Borrelia bergdorferi, seems able to "dig in its heels", cure is often elusive.  The ticks generally ingest the bacteria from mice, upon whom they feast early in their life cycle.  By the time they bite humans or dogs, they have the ability to transmit the organism through their salivary glands.

The symptoms of Lyme disease are fever, lethargy, swollen lymph nodes, pain and joint swelling.  It is difficult to test for infection serologically (blood serum tests) due to false positives/negatives.  Usually, diagnosis is made using symptoms (which can mimic other diseases) and the fact that the dog lives in an area known to have ticks (dicey, again).

Chronic Lyme disease infection has been blamed for many cases of arthritis and auto-immune disorders.  We have friends whose old Labrador Retriever was diagnosed late in life, 10 years old or so.  She went through the treatment, to no avail.  Supportive treatment kept her comfortable for two more years.  Unfortunately, by the time a dog is that age, all health problems become magnified by the mere passage of time.

This is a disease that dogs should be vaccinated against, since it is such a health threat.  As you may have guessed, though, an organism so tricky that it cannot even be serologically identified as being present or not, does not lend itself to efficacious vaccine protocol.  Vaccines have been known to actually cause the disease, and, when these dogs were tested it was found that the inoculation was the source.  Not very helpful.  So far, no vaccine has shown promise.  The best way to avoid this problem is to check your dog daily for ticks, and remove promptly.  If they are removed within 24 hours, chances of disease transmission is extremely slim.

Just So You Know:  Check yourself daily, as well!
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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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