Dear Dr. John: The news has been pretty consistent lately talking about tick diseases not just locally but all over New England. We have our dog vaccinated against Lyme disease every year, but apparently there are other diseases that ticks can transmit and I wonder if you can treat them. I read about a new disease that seems to be emerging in Connecticut called Powassan. Is this something we should be concerned about near Boston? What ticks should we be most concerned about here? We use tick preventative products on our dog, especially during the summer months when the risk of exposure seems to be higher. GB
Dear GB: The news has always covered tick-borne diseases, mainly because they can be so devastating to animals or humans who contract these diseases. It is wise to have your dog vaccinated and also use preventative agents to prevent ticks from transmitting anything harmful to your dog. Readers beware – I recently read about buying cheap drugs online that could be counterfeit or even dangerous. I suggest always working with your vet and buying from or through them when it comes to these preventative products.
Your timing for writing about this is good in that May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, April 30 was World Veterinarian Day, and May 1-7 was National Pet Week! Different parts of the country have different tick problems. 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, as one sometimes has no idea that they or their dog have been exposed. The Connecticut case recently involved a middle-aged man who contracted it from a tick bite. Ten percent of these cases can be fatal and about half have long-term effects that vary in severity. Many of these illnesses present the same way with fever, lethargy, decreased appetite, lameness, or joint swelling. Doxycycline is the drug of choice in the treatment of many of these diseases and often with a good success rate. You have to be concerned about 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 a dog goes to areas where ticks live, he should use appropriate preventative measures and be vaccinated against Lyme disease.
Dr. John de Jong owns and operates the Boston Mobile Veterinary Clinic. He can be reached at 781-899-9994.