Lyme Disease? A Pet Owner's Guide

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What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis) is an illness that affects both animals and humans (zoonotic disease) and is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Transmitted through tick bites, the disease can be difficult to detect and can cause serious and recurring health problems. Therefore, it is best to prevent infection by taking appropriate measures to prevent tick bites and, for dogs, possibly vaccinating against the disease.

The bacterium that causes Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) is carried and transmitted primarily by the tiny black-legged tick known as the deer tick. Deer ticks are found in forests or grassy, wooded, marshy areas near rivers, lakes or oceans. People or animals may be bitten by deer ticks during outdoor activities such as hiking or camping, or even while spending time in their back yards.

Named after numerous cases were identified in Lyme, Conn., in 1975, the disease has since been reported in humans and animals across the United States and around the world. Within the U.S., it appears primarily in specific areas including the southern New England states; eastern Mid-Atlantic states; the upper Midwest, particularly Wisconsin and Minnesota; and on the West Coast, particularly northern California. The CDC maintains a map detailing confirmed cases of Lyme disease throughout the years.

How to prevent Lyme disease

The best way to protect your pets from Lyme disease is to take preventive measures to reduce the chance of contracting the disease. Even during the last weeks of summer, it's important to remember that pets and people are at greater risk of being infected with Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases such as anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

People with pets should:

  • Use reliable tick-preventive products. Speak with your veterinarian about what tick preventive product is right for your pet.

  • Work with your veterinarian to decide whether to vaccinate your dog against Lyme disease. Your veterinarian’s advice may depend on where you live, your pet's lifestyle and overall health, and other factors.

  • When possible, avoid areas where ticks might be found. These include tall grasses, marshes, and wooded areas.

  • Check for ticks on both yourself and your animals once indoors.

  • Clear shrubbery/bushes next to homes.

  • Keep lawns well maintained.

As noted above, there are preventive Lyme disease vaccines available for dogs, but they aren't necessarily recommended for every dog. Consult your veterinarian to see if the vaccination makes sense for your pets. If your veterinarian does recommend that your dog be vaccinated against Lyme disease, the typical protocol will involve an initial vaccination followed by a booster 2-4 weeks later and annual boosters after that.

Symptoms and treatment of Lyme disease in pets

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Pets infected with Lyme disease may not show any signs for 2-5 months. After that time, typical symptoms include:FeverLoss of appetiteLamenessJoint swellingDecreased activity

Recurrent lameness also is possible, and the involved extremity may be tender. Inflammation of the joint can last from days to weeks and may migrate from one extremity to another.

Horses with Lyme disease can develop lameness, joint pain, neurologic disease, eye problems, and dermatitis.

Symptomatically, Lyme disease can be difficult to distinguish from anaplasmosis because the signs of the diseases are very similar, and they occur in essentially the same areas of the country. Lyme disease is diagnosed through a blood test that shows whether an animal has been exposed to the bacterium.

Antibiotics usually provide effective treatment for Lyme disease. However, it’s important to follow your veterinarian’s advice regarding follow-up care after your pet has been diagnosed with and treated for Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is not communicable from one animal to another, except through tick bites. However, if you have more than one pet and one is diagnosed with Lyme disease, your veterinarian might recommend testing for any other pets who may have been exposed to ticks at the same time. In fact, because people and their pets often can be found together outdoors as well as indoors, a Lyme disease diagnosis in any family member – whether human or non-human – should serve as a flag that all family members might consult their physicians and veterinarians, who can advise about further evaluation or testing.

For more information about Lyme disease in people, The American Academy of Pediatrics has more information.


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Planning for Your Pet's Preventive Care Exam

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Spring is a bustling time or veterinarians. In small animal medicine, kittens start arriving. Dogs, too, even though they don’t have a seasonal aspect to their reproductive cycles. Spring is a popular time for people to want to add a puppy to the family.

With the weather warming up, preventive medicine gets a boost in the spring, too. Pet owners begin thinking more about heartworms, fleas, ticks, and parasites— which, of course, are often year-round risks.

What is my veterinarian trying to assess during an appointment?

First things first of a wellness visit is a health evaluation. This typically includes a thorough history including your pet’s breed, age, lifestyle, behavior, and diet, then a comprehensive physical exam, including a measuring of thins such as weight, temperature, pulse, and respiration rates. All of the information gathered will be used to further assess whether your pet may be ill.

Assuming your pet receives a clean bill of health at their wellness exam, the appointment is focused more on preventive care: what can be done to prevent your pet from actually getting ill, divided into categories:

  • Diagnostics (Heartworm testing, FELV/FIV testing, fecal examinations, etc)

  • Parasite control (heartworms, external parasites, and intestinal parasites)

  • Vaccinations

  • Identification (microchipping, rabies tags)

  • Reproductive counseling (spay/neuter)

  • Dental Hygiene

  • A plan for a follow-up or next routine visit

Your veterinarian will determine the appropriate approach for your pet in each of these categories based on the information gathered in the initial wellness exam, and go over their recommendations with you. This is also a good time to bring up any questions or concerns you have.

How often should I take my pet to the vet?

Adult pets should see their veterinarian at least annually to go over preventive care needs. Puppies and kittens require more frequent visits, usually every few weeks until they are several months old. If your pet hasn’t seen their veterinarian in awhile, consider spring to be your launch into taking the step of scheduling an appointment with your veterinarian today.


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Why "Dry Pilling" Is Dangerous for Cats

If your cat coughs or vomits after taking a pill, there's probably a good reason. Coughing or vomiting after having swallowed pills dry could very well be a result of dry pilling (giving your cat a pill without any liquid). If you have ever tried to dry-swallow an aspirin, you'll recognize how uncomfortable the experience can be. Swallowing half a pill can even be worse, because of the sharp corners.

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Why "Dry Pilling" Is Dangerous for Cats

Dry pilling can lead to pills getting stuck in your cat's esophagus (the tube leading from the mouth to the stomach). While dry pills are likely to get stuck, capsules are even more dangerous for cats. The smooth, gelatinous surface tends to cause capsules to lodge in the esophagus.


A 2001 study presented in a veterinary journal stated that "After 5 minutes, 84% of capsules and 64% of tablets are still sitting in the esophagus." The study also brought out the dangerous occurrences of esophagitis, which can be caused by the irritation of pills and capsules remaining in the esophagus for long periods of time. This can often lead to blockage, entirely.


How to Give Your Cat Liquid to Avoid Dangerous Dry Pilling

It may seem impossible to force a cat to drink. Fortunately, though, there are a number of tricks you can use to prevent problems when administering oral medications to cats:

  • Follow Pilling with Liquid
    Use a small 1cc syringe filled with either plain water or low-salt broth. Approach the cat from the back or side, rather than front-on. Keep the cat's head level rather than tipped back, to facilitate swallowing.

  • Conceal the Pill in a Pill Pocket
    Pill Pockets are cone-shaped, soft treats with a hole down the center. Just pop the pill inside and pinch the top closed, and offer it to your cat as a treat.

  • Treat After Pilling
    Offering a favorite treat will not only encourage future pilling cooperation but will help get the pill into the stomach quickly so it can go to work.

  • Canned Food After Pilling
    Try giving only a small portion of a regular meal of canned food before the pilling, and withhold the remaining portion for afterward.

  • Compounded Flavored Meds
    Some pharmacies will compound medications into flavored liquid doses, which are both easier to swallow, and a lot tastier than pills. Your veterinarian may work with a compounding pharmacy, a "regular" pharmacy may have flavors for pets (we strongly advise against shopping online for your pets meds).

  • Transdermal Meds
    Some medications can be formulated into a gel or ointment that can be rubbed into your cat's inner ear. These can also be compounded by pharmacies.

At least one of these solutions should relieve both you and your cat of the anxiety and discomfort found in dry pilling. Speak with your veterinarian specifically about the best approach for your feline friend.


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Toxic Medications & Products For Pets

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It’s natural to want to ease your pet’s pain if they are experiencing illness or discomfort. But before you act, you must be aware that common medications used for adults and even children can be toxic and even fatal to your pet.

It is always recommended that you contact your veterinarian before administering any medications to your pets. It could be the difference between life and death.

Danger Lurks in the Medicine Cabinet

Tylenol: Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in this pain reliever, is very toxic in cats. The drug interferes with oxygen uptake in the blood of cats and can result in death if not treated promptly. Acetaminophen (also used in Excedrin and other aspirin-free drugs) can be used in dogs, but there is a fine line between the effective dose and the toxic dose. Consult with your veterinarian. Acetaminophen overdose in dogs can cause severe liver damage.

Aspirin: This drug is also very toxic to cats except in a very low dose. At times, veterinarians will use aspirin as an anticoagulant for cats with heart disease. This should only be done under a veterinarian’s supervision, as aspirin can be fatal. Dogs can tolerate this drug, and veterinarians will sometimes recommend it for use as a pain reliever. Chronic use of the drug produces side effects.

Ibuprofen: This is the active ingredient in over-the-counter medications such as Advil, Motrin, and "cold and flu" medications, and is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID). This drug is never recommended for cats or dogs, as it can result in severe gastric ulcers or acute kidney failure. Accidental ingestion should be treated immediately. Ibuprofen and other human NSAIDS should never be used in pets, as there are veterinary specific NSAIDS that are less toxic. Drugs like Rimadyl, Deramaxx, and Meloxicam are veterinary prescribed NSAIDS, and are much safer for pets.

Naproxen: This is the active ingredient in Aleve or Anaprox, and is a very potent NSAID. Even the smallest of doses can result in severe symptoms of gastric ulcers, stomach perforations, or acute kidney failure in animals, and should never be used in animals.

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DID YOU KNOW?

Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are two of the most common pet poisons.

Over-The-Counter Products to Skip

Tear supplements with antibiotics: Dogs with chronically dry eyes (commonly a problem in short-faced dogs with protruding eyes) need tear supplements to help with lubrication and keep them comfortable. But read the label: Some of these products contain neomycin, an antibacterial that should be administered under the advice of your veterinarian only.

Alcohol-based ear treatments: Alcohol burns and inflames the sensitive tissues of the ear canal while drying them out, which actually makes problematic ears worse. And yet, a quick internet search will show you all kinds of “home remedy” sites encouraging its use. (Along with gentian violet, another Internet “cure” that’s not recommended by veterinarians.) If your pet has an ear infection, you need to take him to your veterinarian. After that is resolved, you can use a veterinary-recommended cleaner on a regular basis to help keep the ears clean and healthy.

Hydrogen peroxide: While commonly, effectively and safely used to induce vomiting in dogs, hydrogen peroxide should not be used on wounds. The fizz created when it interacts with tissue makes it seem like something good is happening, hydrogen peroxide, in fact, inflames the healthy skin around a wound, which increases healing time. However, recent studies have shown that it’s not even an effective antibacterial.

Steroid creams: We all know how miserable itching makes us, and when your dog is scratching, you’re almost as miserable as they are, just from watching and listening. But don’t just slap a steroid cream on the itchy spot; you may be making an infection worse, or you may just be wasting your money. Your veterinarian has many ways to help stop the itch, but the problem needs to be correctly diagnosed before any of them will work properly.

What to Do If Your Pet Is Poisoned

If you suspect that your pet has been poisoned by a medication, call your veterinarian immediately. If your veterinarian is not available, call an animal poison control. There is often a charge with these services, but paying a minimal fee could save your pet’s life.

  • Pet Poison Helpline: 1-800-213-6680


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Homemade Slime: Toxicity and Health Risks for Pets

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There has been a rise in a love of crafting homemade slime in households. While not a threat to creativity, some ingredients in slime pose a threat to our beloved pets.

 

Table Salt

This is often the most concerning ingredient in many slime recipes. Pets can develop salt toxicity or hypernatremia. Depending on the amount of salt ingested symptoms can range from GI upset to Central Nervous System signs such as lethargy, tremors, seizures, coma, and death. Signs of toxicity can be seen at 2 g/kg , or 0.13 tablespoons/kg of body weight. To put this into perspective, a 10lb dog (4.54 kg) could began to show signs of toxicity after ingesting just over 0.5 tablespoons of table salt. For that same 10 lb dog a fatal dose is possible at 1.5 tablespoons of salt ingested. Some slime recipes do not contain a particular amount of salt but just instructions to continue adding salt until the desired consistency/texture is achieved. This can make it difficult to gauge the amount of salt in the finished product. Some homemade slimes contain epsom salt instead of table salt. It would generally take more epsom salt than table salt to cause toxicity but this is still an ingredient that should not be ingested in large amounts as significant GI signs can result.

 

School glue

This is a common ingredient that does not usually hold significant potential for toxicity. When ingested GI irritation (vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia) is possible.

 

Shaving cream, hand soap, dish soap, shampoo and most hand lotions

These ingredients cause not much more than GI irritation but variations in ingredients are possible that may increase the risk for toxicity. For example, there are shampoos and lotions that contain cocoa bean (Theobroma Cacao) extract which is an ingredient of concern for chocolate toxicity.

 

Boric Acid

Generally, in acute (one time) doses, this is a GI irritant that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or anorexia.

 

Saline Contact Lens Solution

While some contact lens solutions are just saline, in addition to the salt concern, many (usually the ones used to make slime) contain Boric Acid or Borate which is a GI irritant.

 

Laundry detergent

Laundry detergent, when ingested, can be a GI irritant or for some products even cause corrosive injury to the oral cavity and GI tract. Mixed into a product like a slime it would be diluted and less likely to cause corrosive injury but if not well mixed and if an area of concentrated laundry detergent came into contact with the GI tract there would still be potential for injury.

 

Toothpaste

Many kinds of toothpaste contain xylitol which can pose significant toxicity risk for dogs.  Depending on the dose ingested, xylitol can cause profound hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and in higher doses liver failure. Both of these levels of toxicity can be life-threatening for your dog.

 

Liquid Starch

Most liquid starches contain ingredients that would be expected to cause GI irritation at most when ingested in a slime mixture.

 


There are other concerns in addition to toxicity when our pets ingest slime. Large amounts of slime could pose a risk for a foreign body obstruction or blockage in the GI tract.

When slime contains decorative additives such as sequins, tinsel, or glitter, injury to the GI tract is also possible. Tinsel is of particular concern as if long enough strands (more than a couple of inches long) are ingested, linear foreign body (a condition where string type materials can cause injury to the GI tract by bunching it up and causing blockage or necrotic damage)is possible.

Another concern is that slime is by nature slimy, and viscous. If your pet vomits this material back up there is a risk for aspiration of the product into the lungs which can quickly become a life threatening situation.


How do we prevent our pets from ingesting homemade slime?

  1. When the slime is not in use keep it somewhere that is not accessible to your pet.

  2. Keep your pets out of areas where slime is in use.

  3. Teach your children not to walk away from their slime project without putting it somewhere that is inaccessible to pets.

  4. Store the slime making ingredients out of reach of your pets at all times.

  5. Slime ingestion is also harmful for wildlife. Please dispose of your used slime responsibly.

 

What should you do if your pet ingests slime?

  1. Do not attempt to induce vomiting at home or treat your pet in any other way without advice from your veterinarian or an animal poison control center. Some at home treatments can do more harm than good.

  2. Call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline.


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