Lyme Disease: Ticks Can't Take All the Blame

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Ticks cause Lyme disease, right? So that’s why I need to find a spray or collar or spot-on product to protect my dog from ticks. And if I live in a high-risk area for Lyme, I should definitely look into the Lyme vaccination. Right?

Well . . .no.

A recent article on the Dogs Naturally Magazine website highlights exciting new research that turns traditional thinking about ticks and Lyme disease on its head. The new message to dog owners? Lyme disease isn’t as simple as a bite from a tick.  In fact, tick bites are not the primary cause of Lyme disease.

Wow.  If this is true, pet owners need to pay attention! For their pets' sake and for their own. Let's take a look at the highlights of that article.

Game-changing research

When Dr. Thomas Rau, a Swiss researcher, studied groups of farmers who were at high risk of being exposed to Lyme, a whopping 80% were diagnosed with Lyme disease.  Surprisingly, of that 80%, only 2% exhibited any symptoms; and of that 2%, a full 100% had other viruses which were stressing the immune system.

Dr. Rau also determined that only 33% of ticks are likely to be infected with the Borrelia bacteria that causes the early, stage 1 symptoms of Lyme, i.e. rash and flu-like symptoms; and only about 10 to 20 percent of those infected tick bites will actually lead to stage 1.

If untreated, of course, 30% of stage 1 cases can go to stage 2. That’s when the bacteria infects the skin, joints, kidneys and, in some cases, the heart.

[If you’re concerned about Lyme disease for yourself, I would highly recommend you check out the article on Dr. Rau’s research.]

A second study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania experimentally infected beagles with Lyme disease. There were equally surprising results here, as not one of the adult dogs developed any Lyme symptoms.  Beagle pups in the same study showed temporary signs of infection (fever and lameness) but these disappeared in about four days -- without treatment.

What does all this mean?  Dr. Rau concluded the following:

  • First, Lyme disease isn’t that common, even in high-risk areas; and even if you or your dog is infected, your chances of getting the disease are miniscule. For example, in some high-risk areas of New England, as much as 70 to 90 percent of dogs can test Lyme-positive but remain healthy with no symptoms.

  • Second, Lyme disease has far less to do with an infected tick bite and a lot to do with just how healthy you or your pet’s immune system is.

The problem with vaccines

It may be a surprise to discover that the very vaccines we think are protecting our pets can make them more vulnerable to Lyme (and probably other diseases as well).  Vaccines are known to cause chronic inflammation, suppress the immune system and expose your dog to other viruses, heavy metals and other chemical toxins, all of which put him at risk for Lyme and other diseases.  And because 30% of vaccinated dogs develop Lyme nephritis (kidney disease), it’s no surprise that both the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) and AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) do not recommend the Lyme vaccine as a core vaccine.

 

How to protect your dog from Lyme disease

If you or your dog has a weakened immune system – an autoimmune disease, diabetes or some other chronic illness – you might do well to avoid living in an area at high risk for Lyme.  Wherever you live, the number one way to keep your dog Lyme-free is to strengthen her immune system.  Bacteria and parasites prey on weak animals, so a healthy pet is your best defense against infected tick bites.

 In addition, there are other practical steps you can take.

  • Be proactive! While it may sound strange, the best time to have your pet checked for Lyme disease is before he has any symptoms -- in other words, when he's healthy! If he tests positive but has no symptoms, Dogs Naturally recommends having a routine urine analysis every year to check for elevated protein, a sign of possible kidney damage.

  • Avoid tick-infested areas whenever possible. If your pet loves to roam in the woods, look for a natural insect repellent. Dogs Naturally recommends Cedarcide (a spray) or Mozi-Q (taken internally). My own research indicates that, while there are natural, non-toxic ways to discourage fleas, there isn’t much in the way of sprays and powders that will actually discourage ticks.

  • Avoid toxic flea and tick collars, sprays and spot-on treatments. They can be loaded with toxins that weaken your pet’s immune system. They can also be harmful to young children who love to cuddle with their pup! There are lots of safe, natural alternatives.

  • Similarly, avoid toxic heartworm, flea and tick medications whenever possible.

  • Instead, get in the habit of using a flea comb regularly! This is truly the best little weapon against ticks and fleas. Use it any day your dog has been outside. If you find a tick, remove it carefully (with a gloved hand) right away.

  • Avoid unnecessary vaccines. I agree with Dogs Naturally that your best advice on this subject will come from a holistic or integrative veterinarian. These vets believe that strengthening the immune system enables your pet to fight off diseases naturally without the “help” of unnecessary vaccines.

  • A holistic vet will also help you choose the best food for your pet! Good nutrition is the foundation of good health, and that starts with what we eat -- pets and people alike.

While we certainly need to be vigilant about checking for ticks if our pets (or we ourselves) have been roaming woods and grassy areas, we don't need to fear this tiny pest.  If you detect a rash or lameness in your pet, do have his blood checked for Lyme disease.  A holistic vet will recommend treatments that will not further compromise your pet's immune system.

I hope this news encourages you!  Has your pet been diagnosed with Lyme? What steps do you take to avoid ticks? Pass this news along to your pet parent friends!