Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. It is transmitted via ticks and therefore cannot be passed directly from pet to human.
Places such as Tatton Park are at greater risk
Ticks are found in a wide range of environments, including gardens. Their numbers tend to be greater in areas such as woodland, moorland and rough pasture. Parks with resident deer will also have a higher density so dogs walked in places such as Tatton Park are at greater risk of being bitten. Lyme disease is far more prevalent in the EU than the UK but climate change and increased numbers of animals travelling abroad under the Pet Travel Scheme means the likelihood of infected ticks coming to Britain is increasing.
Some dogs that are infected do not display outward signs of illness (subclinical disease) however others will show a variety of symptoms. These include lethargy, raised temperature, inappetance and a painful lameness resulting from inflammation of one or multiple joints.
Diagnosis is very challenging as similar clinical signs can present in many other pathological conditions. Additionally, the disease may only present clinically several months after the tick bite occurred, meaning that the two may not be associated in the history. Blood tests to detect antigens made by the body against Borrelia and tissues samples from joints used to try to isolate the bacteria can help but finding it can be difficult as it is only present in the blood stream for a short period of time.
Lyme disease commonly responds to a protracted course of antibiotics that should extend for 2 weeks beyond complete resolution of the clinical signs. During the initial period, hospitalisation is advisable to ensure that adequate pain relief, fluid therapy and nutritional requirements can be administered. The bacterial infection can be difficult to clear entirely and relapses are common.
Prevention, therefore, is far better than cure. It can take up to 48 hours for transmission of the disease to occur. If your pet has a tick attached, remove it carefully with a tick remover or visit your vets to have it removed for you. Leaving the mouthparts in is easy to do unless care is taken which may then cause a foreign body reaction that can be difficult to resolve.
There are a number of veterinary products available to prevent ticks attaching or quickly kill them if they do. If your dog is prone to picking them up, these are an excellent investment. Ticks are seen all year round but far more so between March and November. The Pet Travel Scheme has been recently changed in line with EU regulations and it is now not a requirement for pets to be treated for ticks before they travel back to the UK. Given the risks, however, this would still be advisable, as would treatment to prevent them picking up ticks whilst travelling.
Knutsford Veterinary Surgery are a proud partner of Bristol University who are currently running the Big Tick Project to assess what species of ticks we are seeing in the UK, what the prevalence is in different regions and whether they are carrying diseases. If you have any concerns (or if you see a tick) then please do contact us. We will happily help you remove any ticks from your pets for free as part of the Big Tick Project and contribute them to science!