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Lyme disease is on the rise for dogs and their owners

Ally Hirschlag is a producer/actor/writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY and buys way too many toys for her cats. She contributes to several publications, including Bustle, and The Nerve, and enjoys writing about all things woman. In her spar...

Lyme disease cases are growing — know the signs and symptoms for both you and your dog

If you've ever spent a summer running through the tall grass with your canine friend, you're probably familiar with ticks and their ability to carry Lyme disease. However, you may not be aware of the exponential rise in cases across the country, both in people and in dogs.

According to a recent study conducted by Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, the deer tick population has increased significantly and is affecting more dogs and their owners. What's more, the study found that one-third of the tick population in the Giles and Pulaski counties of Virginia tested positive for Lyme disease. While this study concentrated on the local Virginia area, it may be indicative of rising numbers across the country.

Dr. Mark Freeman of the Small Animal Clinic at Virginia Tech told WVTF, "Humans and dogs are coming into more and more contact with wild species that are carrying the organism, so based on what we’re seeing clinically with more and more cases, is that the organism is spreading and becoming more of a problem in the environment and in the population."

Dr. Freeman's postulation was more on the money than he realized. The CDC just released a study that declares that Lyme disease incidents have risen by 320 percent from when they were first reported back in 1975. What's more is that it's now showing up in states and counties where there had never before been reported cases of it. While certain states (like Connecticut and Massachusetts) have been at "high risk" for Lyme disease since the early 1990s, the area of concern has now grown to almost all of New England. This means if you live in or are visiting these areas with your dog this summer, you should be aware of how the disease is contracted and ultimately treated.

How you (and your dog) can get Lyme disease

  • Deer ticks tend to reside most in wooded, suburban areas, especially those with thick, high grass and vegetation.
  • The disease can be transmitted to both dogs and humans if a deer tick (the ticks with black legs) bites and/or burrows under the skin.
  • The infection typically only occurs after an infected tick has been attached for over 18 hours.

Signs your dog has Lyme disease

If a human has Lyme disease, a rather obvious bull's eye mark will form around the initial bite. This may occur before any other physical symptoms manifest.

  • Your dog, however, will not have such a marker, or if he does, it will be nearly impossible to find under his fur.
  • Your dog may actually show no symptoms of the disease at all or not for several months after the bite occurred.
  • If he does show symptoms, the common ones are recurring lameness of limbs due to inflammation, inflamed joints, stiff walk, depression (from pain), sensitive to the touch, difficulty breathing, fever, lack of appetite and possible kidney problems.
  • If the kidney problems are left untreated, your dog could go into total kidney failure.

Treatment of Lyme disease in dogs

If your vet suspects and diagnoses your dog with Lyme disease, the treatment is quite simple.

  • Your dog will be prescribed one of several antibiotics that typically you'll have to administer for four weeks.
  • You will need to keep your dog warm and dry during treatment.
  • Activity should be limited during this time as well.
  • If symptoms don't start to improve within three to five days of treatment, your vet will need to reevaluate his/her diagnosis.

More on dog care

12 Rules to follow when you adopt a second dog
10 Deadly dog illnesses every pet owner should know
15 Toxic foods for dogs every owner should know (INFOGRAPHIC)

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