How dog owners can prevent Lyme disease

This 3-year-old American bulldog mix found himself at the Washington Animal Rescue League because of a change in his human companion’s lifestyle.

WASHINGTON — The same ticks that cause Lyme disease in people can also pose a threat to our pets. That is why at this time of year — when we are all spending more time outdoors — dog owners need to be vigilant.

“There are some great preventatives out there for our pets, both topical and oral, that can help with fleas and ticks,” says veterinarian Katy Nelson, host of “The Pet Show with Dr. Katy” on News Channel 8.

Katy Nelson cares for her dog.
Katy Nelson cares for her dog.

She says some pet owners get out of the habit of using these meds in the winter, which is why she is a proponent of using them all year long.

Fleas, she notes, can be irritating, but ticks can be really dangerous. “They carry the really bad diseases — not only Lyme disease, which we all know is a human disease as well as a pet disease — but also Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis,” says Nelson.

The American Kennel Club says thousands of dogs are infected annually, which is why it is so important for owners to be alert, keep their pets out of tick-infested environments and head to a vet at the first signs of trouble — which in the case of Lyme Disease, can similar to the flu-like stiffness, fever and fatigue seen in infected humans.

Preventative medications, while highly effective, will not stop a tick from getting onto a pet — especially one that is always going in and out of the house.

“If your dog goes outside, comes into the house immediately, and the tick has not been on the pet long enough to actually get the proper dose of the medicine, it can come off to you,” Nelson warns.

That is why so many experts, including the American Kennel Club, urge owners to check their pets for tick regularly. But that is easier said than done when it comes to long-haired breeds, such as Nelson’s very own black poodle mix.

Her answer to the problem is simple: Keep a package of baby wipes by the door.

“That physical jostling of taking a baby wipe and just kind of wiping your pet down very quickly as they come into the house might be enough to get that tick off of them and get it dislodged, especially if you have got a good prevention in place that has not allowed that tick to attach,” Nelson says.

Making sure you have proper flea, tick and heartworm prevention in place is one reason  veterinarians urge pet owners to bring healthy adult dogs in for an annual checkup.  That’s also a great time to make sure their vaccine record is up to date — especially if you are planning on boarding them during summer vacation season.

These wellness checks are even more important for older dogs. Nelson says they should get a once-over from the vet at least twice a year after reaching the age of seven or eight, depending on the size and breed.