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Ticks and Lyme disease in dogs and cats

Lyme disease as a result of a tick bite has unfortunately become widely known in recent years. Not only is this disease increasingly recognized in humans, but also in dogs and to a lesser extent in cats it is an increasingly well-known phenomenon. Lyme disease is one of the diseases that is transmitted by a tick. The symptoms are often vague and can vary widely. In certain regions of the Netherlands, especially the wooded areas, there are many infected ticks nowadays.

The ticks

Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria: Borrelia burgdorfi . This bacterium is found in the saliva of an infected tick, belonging to the species Ixodes Ricinus. Depending on where the tick is found, up to 75% of the ticks can be infected with the Lyme bacteria. The longer the tick is, the greater the chance of infection. Because ticks are often not noticed, the symptoms are not recognized until late and only discovered when it is already chronic.

Ixodes Ricinus

A number of different types of ticks occur in the Netherlands. The most common tick is Ixodes Ricinus. The life cycle takes between two and three years. During this period the larvae, nymphs and ticks do not spend more than 3 weeks on the three different hosts. The rest of the time is spent at the bottom of the forest. Active adult ticks are generally a bit higher in the vegetation to be able to sit on a passing dog or cat. The ticks are most active in spring and fall. The Ixodes ricinus tick can transmit the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. Research by the University of Wageningen showed that in 2006 average 23.6% of the Dutch ticks were infected with the Borrelia bacteria. The female is usually larger, so it is soon discovered. The male does not absorb blood and therefore cannot transmit diseases. The risk of Lyme disease is many times less if the tick is properly removed within 24 hours.

The tick bite

Preferred sites for a tick are around the ears, armpits and groin, but can be found anywhere on the body. After the bite, a scab can form, sometimes it is even warm, swollen and sensitive. The tick bite itself can do little harm. Problems only arise when the Lyme bacteria is transferred into the body of your dog or cat via the saliva of the infected tick.

What to do with a tick bite

It is very important to check your pet carefully if you have been in a tick-filled place, such as in a forest. If the ticks are removed immediately (within 24 hours), the risk of infection is small. When the tick has been removed, it can be sent for examination to determine which tick it is and which infection the tick may be carrying. It is also important to remember the location of the tick, as this may be important for further investigation. If the ticks have been present on your pet for longer, it may be wise to tdraw blood for lab works. Should your pet become ill, it is possible to compare the blood taken immediately after the bite with the blood at the time of the illness. If the antibodies have risen sharply, then the acute infection can be demonstrated.

Removing a tick

With a tick removal tool you can very easily remove a tick from your pet. You slide the hook around the tick and then turn the tick out. By removing a tick with a hook, it is prevented that the body of the engorged tick is pinched and the head remains attached to the body. Anesthetizing with alcohol is undesirable, because a tick can then empty its stomach contents with the possible Lyme bacteria into the body of your pet. Tick removal tools are available at the practice.

Symptoms of Lyme disease

The first symptom of a possible infection after a tick bite is visible in humans as a red circular spot that starts to spread. We usually don’t see this in dogs and cats, because of the coat. Complaints may arise at a later time. The clinical signs of the disease are associated with nonspecific symptoms in humans, dogs and cats. There are often several vague complaints when someone is infected by a tick. The following symptoms can be seen: variable lameness, stiff thick joints, fever, tender muscles, chronic weight loss, lethargy, behavioral changes, neurological symptoms.

A possible explanation for the wide variation in symptoms is that Lyme disease can occur in combination with another disease that is transmitted by the tick, such as ehrlichiosis. Within the group Borrelia burgdorferi there are also different types that cause different symptoms.

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