Just as people are faced with arthritis and joint disease, our canine companions may also develop some form of degenerative joint disease over the course of their lifetime. Specifically, inflammatory joint disease (although not as common as other forms of canine joint disease) can be a real threat to your dog’s health.
Therefore, it’s important as a pet owner to be aware of the risks and joint pain relief measures you can take to protect your beloved pooch from inflammatory canine arthritis. Although there are several causes for this sometimes debilitating condition, including bacterial/fungal infections, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, or a hereditary defect in your dog’s immune system, the two primary causes of inflammatory joint disease in arthritic dogs are Lyme disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Causes of Lyme Disease
Although Lyme disease has become a widespread problem for animals and their human counterparts since the mid-80s, it can be managed if caught early on. Initially recognized in dogs in 1985, this tick-borne disease is actually caused by a type of bacteria (known as spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi) that the common deer tick carries and passes on to its host.
Even though the disease has been documented in individuals from all 50 states, it is endemic primarily in the Northeast and upper Midwest regions of the United States. If left untreated, your dog may be at risk for the complications of Lyme disease, which can include inflammatory joint disease symptoms that affect him for the duration of his lifespan.
However, if you’re diligent in checking your dog for ticks and tick bites – particularly if he spends any amount of time outside during the summer months – you can ensure his safety and protect him from this harmful disease.
Lyme Disease Transmission and Life Cycle
The actual life cycle of the deer tick itself has a defining role in infecting your pet. Because the eggs hatch into larvae in the spring, the summertime is when the larvae will feed on the initial host, typically a small mammal such as a white-footed mouse.
From there, the infected larva will last throughout the winter until the following spring, when it becomes a nymph and continues to feed, primarily on mammals such as a deer, dogs, or humans. Keeping this in mind, infections primarily occur during the warmer months. Therefore, you should closely inspect yourself, family members, and pets for tick bites or infestation.
Although an infected dog may not pose a risk to other members of your household, it is important to be aware of even one single tick, as a tick that hasn’t received a complete meal upon attachment may seek out a human (or other pet) and bite them, causing possible infection. It typically takes about 48 hours for the the disease to be transmitted from the tick to the host animal.
Signs & Symptoms of Lyme Disease
Recognizing Lyme disease can be tricky as the illness takes about 2-5 months to manifest after your dog is bitten by an infected tick. Although studies have shown a number of different canine forms of the disease, the most common symptoms include joint swelling, a fever between 103 and 105°, lethargy, loss of appetite, and swollen lymph nodes.
Although not as frequent, there have been some cases in which dogs will develop kidney disease, heart problems or nervous system complications after being infected with Lyme disease. Therefore, it is of utmost importance for pet owners to take their dog to the vet for a full blood and urinalysis if they have tested positive for Lyme disease.
A thorough battery of tests can properly assess your pet’s organ functions and determine the best course of treatment, depending on the severity of complications.
Did you know: Although there have been cases of cats contracting Lyme disease, it rarely occurs among the species, even in endemic areas. Other domestic animals, such as horses, have been known to develop the disease, but it does not seem to pose a serious problem. Another interesting fact worth noting: dogs do not develop the ‘bull’s-eye’ circular rash on the skin, which is typically found on people who are bitten and test positive for Lyme.
Preventative Measures for Lyme Disease: Vaccination, Tick Control, & Insecticides
There are a number of preventative measures you can take to protect your four-legged friend from the perils of Lyme disease. It’s also important to keep in mind that just because your dog was infected with Lyme once before, doesn’t mean he can’t become re-infected – so he still needs protection.
According to studies, dogs who have been vaccinated are less likely to contract Lyme disease than unvaccinated animals. However, there are some vets who have criticized the vaccines and do not recommend their usage.
Your dog may receive vaccination for Lyme disease after 12 weeks of age, and your vet will administer follow-up doses and annual boosters after his initial shot. In order to avoid complications associated with over-vaccination, experts recommend only vaccinating dogs who live in areas where Lyme disease is prevalent.
One of the most effective ways of prevention for you and your pet is the immediate removal of the insect if they become attached to you or your dog’s skin. Besides Lyme disease, ticks carry a host of other diseases that may be transmitted to you and your family.
An easy way to avoid contact with ticks: steer clear of outdoor areas that are heavily overgrown with grasses or other foliage, particularly in the warmer months. Inspect yourself and your dog carefully for ticks after every outing.
Administering insecticides is another method of prevention, including once-a-month topical treatments and specially-formulated flea and tick repellant collars that you can use at home to protect your dog.
As with any treatment, be sure to consult with your veterinarian to discuss the safest brands and proper administration of any insecticide or related product on your pet.