A few months ago sweet little Wiper (yes, that’s his name) was so sick his humans (Russ and Donna Lamer) thought he might be dying.
First, his legs kept going out from under him and then one morning, they found him stretched out on their bed rigid and glassy-eyed. His heart was beating, but he wouldn’t respond to anything they said or did. They thought he’d had a stroke.
Terrified, they scooped him up in a blanket and drove straight to the nearest veterinary clinic.
As the vet checked him out and drew blood, Wiper began to perk up a little, but was far from his usual mischievous doggy self. He couldn’t even stand up on his own.
Russ and Donna didn’t sleep a wink that night. The next morning they got a call saying the blood test didn’t show a thing. It might have been good news except that it was obvious something was terribly wrong and they were determined to find out.
They were vacationing in Arizona at the time and decided to get a second opinion from their vet back home in Maine, Dr. Thomas Netland at the Cumberland Animal Clinic.
The first thing he thought of was Lyme disease, a tick-borne infection that is rampant in New England, but not out west.
“Many diseases, especially tick-transmitted diseases, have very strong regional distributions,” says Netland. “Veterinarians get used to seeing the diseases that are common in their region over and over again. However, people are traveling with their pets much more frequently than they used to.”
What that means is that it’s critical for veterinarians to ask if a dog has taken any recent trips.
“Just as Lyme and other tick-transmitted diseases could be considered rare in Arizona,” he says, “we are beginning to see more diseases in Maine that used to be considered ‘southern’ or ‘desert’ problems. If you’ve traveled with your pet and your veterinarian doesn’t ask, gently remind her/him of your travel history.”
The Arizona vet did another blood test to screen for several tick-borne illnesses and sure enough, Wiper had Lyme disease.
The treatment was a 30-day course of the antibiotic Doxycycline. Because he weighs only 6 pounds, a special dose had to be compounded for him. Within a week or two, sweet little Wiper was feeling better.
Back in Maine, they live in the Portland area, in a development that borders the woods. They’re always careful to check for ticks. Not easy to spot on a furry little creature, even if he’s light-colored like Wiper. They found one last year, but it wasn’t embedded.
The theory is that he was probably infected sometime late last fall or early winter. If you think ticks hibernate during the winter, you’re wrong! Adult ticks are active even when it’s near freezing. Snow may slow them down, but if the sun comes out and warms the air a few days in a row, be on the lookout.
Symptoms of Lyme disease may not show up for at least two to five months after a tick bite, if there are any at all. It’s possible for a dog to test positive for Lyme, and not have any symptoms, creating a conundrum about whether or not to treat with antibiotics.
Wiper may not have been feeling well for a while after he was infected. There’s really no way to tell. Usually, the first visible symptom in dogs is lameness, and he began having trouble standing up and walking. The most common symptoms include:
• Lack of appetite
• Joint swelling
I probably don’t need to remind you, but I will anyway. If your dog has been outdoors, especially if he/she has been romping in a wooded area, check carefully for ticks.
There isn’t a Lyme vaccine for humans yet (unfortunately) but there is one for dogs. Check with your vet to see if getting vaccinated is a good idea for your dog. There are also tick repellents that can be applied topically. Again, check with your vet. Do not use your repellent on your dog because it could be poisonous if he/she licks it off.
Donna says they had they had used a topical product in the past, but sadly, didn’t always follow the recommended schedule. Dr. Netland says she’s not alone: “I do have clients who believe their dogs are not at risk for Lyme disease, but I think that as Wiper’s case demonstrates, virtually all dogs that live in Maine (or at least the southern half of the state) are at risk. We recommend annual screening for Lyme disease, Anaplasma and Ehrlichia, along with Heartworm disease.”
Wiper finished his course of antibiotics and stopped limping soon after. For a while he still tired easily, but he’s been healing ever since. “Wiper is fine,” says Donna. “He’s doing great!”
Wiper and Bella, the other sweet little dog in the family, have now been vaccinated and they both take a monthly tick prevention pill, both recommended by Dr. Netland.
Diane Atwood writes the blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood, which received a Gold Lamplighter Award from the New England Society for Healthcare Communications and a Golden Arrow Award from the Maine Public Relations Council. Find it at catchinghealth.com.
I’m sure some of you are wondering, so here’s additional information unrelated to Lyme disease. Wiper is a Yorkie, Pekingese, Poodle and Lhasa Apso mix.
Jane – if you include the picture of both dogs, add this to last sentence. “… and Bella is a Shih-tzu Poodle.”