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Pets and Lyme Disease

Pets and Lyme Disease

Ticks are easy to spot on your body. You can feel them move sometimes, and though their bites aren't often felt, you can see ticks and remove them.

But on your pets? Not so much. 

Kevin McIntosh, a veterinarian, recently told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning that finding ticks on dogs and cats becomes more difficult when they have longer fur. 

But there are a couple of areas owners should focus on when they're checking their pet. 

People should look around their head, under their earflaps, armpits and leg pits, and between their toes.

"All places that ticks like to hide that they're not easily knocked off, and it's nice and warm for them," he said. 

McIntosh, who owns the Algonquin Animal Hospital and Prince of Wales Animal Hospital, said they see more pets coming in with bites during the spring and fall, when ticks tend to be more widespread. 

His hospitals keep track of how many dogs test positive for Lyme disease. 

"It's plateaued a little bit but that's just because I think a lot more people are educated about it and they're putting more of their dogs and even cats on prevention as well." 

Kill the ticks, kill the Lyme 

McIntosh said while pets can be treated with antibiotics when they get Lyme disease, their goal at the hospital is to prevent tick bites in the first place.

"Because the problem is it's not just Lyme anymore," he said. 

About a month ago, McIntosh treated a dog with a tick-borne disease that attacked the dog's platelets, which are cells in the blood that clump together to form clots. 

"If we kill the ticks, we're also killing off not only the ticks that carry the Lyme, but also these newer emerging diseases as well." 

McIntosh said there are topical treatments that go on the back of the neck that stop the tick before it bites the pet. 

But, he said it's more messy with dogs and cats with longer fur, and can be washed off if a dog goes swimming immediately after application. 

Instead, pet owners are now opting for a treatment that the pet takes orally that stays in the bloodstream for a month. 

"As soon as the ticks taste blood, they die and fall off, long before they can transmit Lyme," McIntosh said.

Rare display of symptoms 

With antibiotic resistance becoming a growing concern among health-care professionals, McIntosh said not every dog is treated with antibiotics if they contract Lyme disease. 

In most cases, he said, dogs don't show any symptoms. 

McIntosh said 1 in 10 dogs might show swollen joints and lymph nodes, as well as limp — and those ones are given antibiotics. 

"In veterinary medicine, we have to be careful as well that we don't accidently create super bugs because all of a sudden that makes it [that] much harder for our human colleagues to treat human Lyme cases." 

Use tick tweezers 

McIntosh cautioned against people using regular tweezers to remove ticks off their pets. Instead, he recommended using tick tweezers or twisters. 

"They're a lot easier to use than an old pair of tweezers because we find when people use tweezers, once they're attached, they tend to rip off the heads." 

He said this causes a major localized reaction, but one that is treatable. If people are concerned about removing ticks themselves, McIntosh said it's best to take them to the vet. 

Story re-posted from CBC News.

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