Taking bite out of Lyme

Pets: Vaccines, insecticides and extra grooming can help dogs and cats avoid Lyme disease-bearing ticks.

Health & Fitness

July 02, 2000|By Deborah Stoudt | Deborah Stoudt,Special to the Sun

Edward and Catherine Bolgiano knew the family's black Labrador retriever Kae Kae was acting strange. She wouldn't put any weight on one of her paws, and she seemed stiff when she tried to get up.

They realized it was serious 24 hours later. "I was making breakfast, pancakes and bacon, and she wouldn't get out of bed for the bacon scraps," says Edward.

Catherine suspected Lyme disease. It was in April when deer ticks that transmit the disease are prevalent. The Bolgianos and their two daughters live in Chestnut Ridge where deer run through their back yard and surrounding woods.

"Kae Kae chases them, and I do pick ticks off of her regularly," Edward says.

Dr. Michael Szego, a veterinarian at the Hunt Valley Animal Clinic, examined her and gave her a blood test that confirmed Lyme disease.

Kae Kae is among an increasing number of dogs and some cats diagnosed each year with Lyme disease. While the Maryland Health Department doesn't record the number of cases each year, rough estimates are that thousands of pets in Maryland are diagnosed with the ailment, says John Fioramonti, public relations chairman for the Maryland Veterinarian Medical Association.

Within the last couple of months, vets around the state have seen a steady increase in the number of dogs diagnosed with the disease. If detected early, many pets recover quickly. Although it's not fatal, if left untreated, it can result in lameness from chronic arthritis, and heart and kidney failure.

Fortunately, Kae Kae responded well to the antibiotic doxycycline. Within 24 hours, "she was her usual self, energetic, her appetite was back, she was moving normally and not favoring one leg or another," Edward says.

The rise in Lyme disease in pets mirrors what's happening in humans.

More than 100,000 cases in the United States have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since 1982, when it first began monitoring the tick-borne illness. Reported cases of Lyme disease in humans nationwide totaled a record high of 16,801 in 1998, the last year for which figures are available from the CDC. Maryland was one of four states that showed marked increases of confirmed cases in humans. The number jumped from 494 in 1997 to 899 in 1999, according to Karon Damewood, chief of zoonotic diseases for the state Health Depart- ment's Center for Veterinary Public Health.

Andrew Spielman, professor of tropical public health at Harvard University, says Lyme disease has spread over the past 10 years with the increasing numbers of ticks and deer. The deer tick life cycle begins when the adult ticks feed and mate on large animals, such as deer. Female ticks drop off the animals to lay eggs on the ground. Eggs hatch into larvae and molt into nymphs, which are about the size of a pinhead.

Nymphs become infected with Lyme disease bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, as they feed off the white-footed mouse and the white-tailed deer. Infected ticks then bite and transmit Lyme disease bacteria to other small rodents and animals, including dogs, as well as humans.

Nymphs emerge from dormancy in early spring, peak throughout June and taper off in August. Deer ticks wait in wooded areas for a passing host. Dogs are easy prey for ticks because they are low to the ground as they run around in the woods and sniff the grassy areas where ticks hide out, says veterinarian David Tayman of Columbia Animal Hospital.

Allan Frank, head veterinarian at Hunt Valley Animal Clinic in Cockeysville, has seen the number of Lyme disease cases double every year in recent years. "Five or six years ago, we saw two cases a year," he says. "Now it's about 85 to100 cases a year."

Symptoms range from lethargy to loss of appetite. "Many are out of their routine," Frank says. "Where they were once active, they are dull and nonresponsive."

In May, Bob Hickman, of Cockeysville, noticed that Jillie, his 4-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback hunting dog, was having trouble walking on her front paws.

He didn't find a tick on her, but they had been out in the woods the previous week on the Hunt Valley North Central Railroad trail, where deer are plentiful.

As a salesman for Long Fence, Hickman often measures yards near fields and wooded areas. He considers himself at risk for Lyme disease and thought that Jillie might have it, even though she had received the Lyme disease vaccination.

The vet gave Jillie a Western blot test, which distinguishes between a dog infected with the bacteria versus the vaccination.

The results took a couple of days to return, but the vet started her on doxycycline, prescribing it twice a day for three weeks.

Within 48 hours, she was back to normal.

Not all dogs are so fortunate. "We have a dog now that has Lyme disease," Tayman says. "It's affecting its kidney, and we're wondering if it will live."

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