Dear Dr. John: The news has been pretty consistent lately in talking about tick diseases not just locally but across New England. We have our dog vaccinated every year for Lyme Disease but apparently there are some other diseases that ticks can carry and wonder if you can address these. I read about one newer disease that just seems to be emerging in Connecticut called Powassan. Is this something we should concern ourselves with near Boston? Which ticks should we be most concerned with around here? We do use tick preventatives on our dog, especially in the summer months when there seems to be a higher risk of exposure. G.B.
Dear G.B.: The news has always covered tick borne diseases primarily because they can be so devastating to the animals or humans that contract these diseases. You are wise to vaccinate your dog and to also use preventatives to avoid ticks from transmitting anything detrimental to your dog. Readers should beware — I recently read about purchasing cheap medications online which could be counterfeit or even dangerous. I suggest always working with your veterinarian and purchasing from or through them when it comes to these preventatives.
Your timing in writing about this is good in that May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, April 30 was World Veterinary Day, and May 1-7 was National Pet Week! Different parts of the country have different tick issues. In the Northeast, Lyme Disease is most prevalent, but Massachusetts has the highest incidence of Anaplasmosis. Other diseases that ticks can carry include Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Powassan, which is relatively new on the scene.
Diagnosis of a tick-borne disease is often based on history and clinical signs, followed by blood tests, since one sometimes has no idea that they or their dog was exposed. The case in Connecticut recently involved a middle-aged man who contracted it from a tick bite. Ten percent of these cases can be fatal and roughly half have long term effects that can vary in severity. Many of these diseases present similarly with fever, lethargy, decreased appetite, lameness, or joint swellings. Doxycycline is the drug of choice in treating many of these maladies and often with a good rate of success. One should be concerned with all kinds of ticks, here and elsewhere. Some species are the Lone Star, Brown Dog, Deer, Rocky Mountain Wood, and others. The deer tick is responsible for Lyme and Powassan, but ticks can carry more than one pathogen at a time which is why precaution to avoid tick bites is so crucial. If any dog is going into areas where ticks live then they should use proper precautionary preventatives and be vaccinated for Lyme.
Dr. John de Jong owns and operates the Boston Mobile Veterinary Clinic.He can be reached at 781-899-9994.
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