Truth time: 4 of my last 5 dogs tested positive for Lyme disease — and I did, too.
In my area, there’s no getting away from the realities of living with lots of Lyme and lots of ticks. It is what it is.
Here are a few of the most common misconceptions about Lyme.
1. We know all there is to know about Lyme disease.
Physicians and veterinarians alike still have many unanswered questions. Diagnosis, treatment and prognosis are all still wading out there in murky medicine land.
2. Lyme disease is confined to certain geographic areas.
Every year, Lyme and other tick-borne diseases manage to spread farther and wider. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says Lyme is now found in 260 or so countries.
In the US, Lyme has spread from the Northeast down beyond Virginia, has hopped over to many parts of the Midwest and is cropping up on the West Coast. Lyme cases have been reported in half of all U.S. counties.
So what does this mean? Well, you and your dog are apparently only safe if you are living inside the Great Lakes or the ocean.
3. Ticks can be eradicated.
Both environmentally and on warm bodies, ticks are devious little critters. Spraying a yard or outdoor area may lessen but not eradicate ticks.
Likewise, any tick repellant for yourself or tick-control product for your pets is not 100% effective. People get upset when they use an effective topical product or collar and they find a tick. I tell them if they’ve found 1–2 while using a product, they would have found 20 without the tick-control product.
Ticks and tick exposure can be controlled and lessened — but not obliterated.
4. Ticks are seasonal.
They may prefer cooler, damper weather and don’t bug us as much in the freezing cold or the hot summer. But don’t let this fool you — I have had a tick on me or my dog in January as well as July.
Ticks celebrate all seasons and don’t discriminate when looking for their next meal.
5. Finding a tick on your dog is easy.
Even on a 5-pound, thin-haired Maltese, for example, a deer tick can be on your dog long enough to infect without you finding it. They are often tiny and neutral in color.
Learn a little more about Lyme disease in dogs from the vet in this video:
6. Tick populations are the same one year to the next.
We never know how bad the tick population or prevalence of Lyme disease will be in certain seasons or areas. Many factors affect the incidence of Lyme disease.
Scientific forecasters are predicting this upcoming season to be particularly bad, for example, in the Northeast because of the huge mouse population last summer. Infected mice infect ticks — and mice seem pretty willing to provide their body as a home to 40–50 ticks at a time.
The more infected mice, the more infected ticks in the year to come.
7. Chronic Lyme disease is common.
If not diagnosed early, Lyme disease can cause severe secondary problems like arthritis and kidney damage. Treatment can only help so much. Often, we don’t know the extent.
The good news? Most dogs and humans, when treated early, are successfully treated for Lyme disease. The problem is catching clinical Lyme disease early, particularly in dogs, and beginning treatment.
I have been talking to clients about Lyme disease almost since it was discovered, and I still have to tell folks there is much we do not know. Researchers in the human and veterinary field continue to be perplexed about how this big bugger of a disease can best be diagnosed and treated.
There is no perfect way to avoid contact with Lyme, no foolproof diagnostic test and no universally accepted treatment. Please find out if there is a risk in your area and protect your pet as best you can.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed April 12, 2017.