Lyme disease is one of 3 diseases in pets caused by a rickettsial organism (rickettsia are a type of bacteria.) Your pet cannot get the disease simply by exposure to an infected pet. Transmission occurs when an infected tick, which serves as the intermediate host for the disease, bites the pet. As the tick attaches and feeds on the pet, the Lyme disease organism is transferred from the body of the tick into the bloodstream of the pet. Once inside the pet, the organism infects certainwhite blood cells, multiplies, and spreads throughout the body.
Clinical signs of the disease depend upon which organ or tissues is infected by the Lyme disease organism. In general, arthritis and kidney disease are most commonly seen.
People can also contract Lyme disease, and the condition is usually more severe in people than in pets. As is the case with pets, infected ticks must bite people in order for them to become infected. This demonstrates the importance of proper tick control. By controlling ticks, the incidence of rickettsial diseases can be reduced and even eliminated.
There are several methods of tick control available. Both conventional and complementary methods are effective. Conventional methods usually involve chemical collars, sprays, topical spot-on products, and dips. Collars are notorious for being ineffective in controlling external parasites on pets; however, a new tick collar containing the chemical amitraz is effective in preventing ticks from attaching to the pet. Sprays, spot-ons, and dips are effective. However, many pet owners worry about health hazards to themselves and their pets from exposure to the potent chemicals contained in the products. While the occasional use of the products can be safely recommended for pets with potential exposure to large numbers of ticks, in general the more natural methods are safer for pets.
Natural preventive methods of tick control involve herbs or volatile oils. These can be applied to the pet as topical products including dips and cloth herbal flea and tick collars. Herbs, which have shown anti-parasite properties, include those, which are given orally to the pet, as well as those that can be applied topically. Oral herbs include garlic, burdock root, dandelion, and red clover. Topical herbs include feverfew, pyrethrum (from Chrysanthemum,) mullein (available as Rotenone,) and Canadian fleabane.
Volatile oils that may be effective include geranium oil (rose geranium,) pennyroyal oil, lavender oil, and citrus oils (which contain d-limonene.) These oils are generally safe. However, pennyroyal oil has been associated with fatalities in dogs and is not recommended due to the narrow safety margin. Properly diluting the stock oil is very important in preventing toxicity; undiluted oils are often more toxic than the conventional chemical products currently available. Because of safety concerns and the fact that cats have a more difficult time detoxifying many chemical compounds, it is best to avoid using most essential oils on cats.
Other natural therapies, which can have insecticidal properties, include neem, citronella, diatomaceous earth, sodium polysorbate, and beneficial nematodes (see the recipe for an herbal tick repellant below.)
Because Lyme disease is an infectious disease and can lead to serious problems if not treated properly, I prefer an integrated approach to treating infected pets. Therefore, I combine both conventional medications with complementary therapies.
Conventional medications that are effective against the Lyme disease organism include amoxicillin and doxycycline. I integrate antibiotic therapy with supplements that can help boost the immune system and exhibit antibacterial properties. Supplements that fall into this category include Echinacea, arabinogalactans, colostrums, olive leaf extract, and even the homeopathic Lyme nosode. To minimize the insult that antibiotics (especially tetracycline’s like doxycycline) can cause to the GI tract, I like to add probiotics to my treatment regimen. Using this integrative approach maximizes the pet’s chance of recovery while minimizing side effects.
There is a vaccine for Lyme disease. However, the vaccine can cause a false positive Lyme blood test, is not extremely effective, and can produce side effects that mimic the disease. While there are individual instances where the vaccine might be beneficial, it should not be thought of as 100% effective in preventing the disease and most pets will not need the vaccination.
In summary, Lyme disease is an important tick-borne disease that can affect pets as well as pet owners. The decision regarding vaccination is best left to a discussion between pet owner and veterinarian, and the vaccine should not be considered 100% protective. Preventing tick exposure is vitally important in preventing the disease, and there are a number of effective preventive measures and therapies for infected pets from which to choose. If therapy is needed, an integrative approach helps the pet recover quickly while minimizing side effects. Herbal Tick Repellant
Many pet owners prefer a natural approach when it comes to parasite prevention. While there are several effective choices that can be safely used on dog, the following suggestions can be helpful.
Using dried flowers (lavender, chrysanthemum) as a powder applied to dogs or cats can help prevent ticks and fleas.
A tick-preventing herbal oil concoction could also be prepared for use on dogs. Well known herbalists Greg and Mary Tilford, in their wonderful text, All You Ever Wanted to Know About Herbs for Pets (Bow Tie Press,) recommend the following recipe: Mix 300 milliliters of olive or almond oil, 500 milliliters of essential oil of terebith, 100 milliliters of St. John’s wort infused oil, and 100 milliliters of essential oil of lavender. The oil can be massaged on affected areas to aid in tick removal, can be massaged on areas of the pet most likely to come into contact with ticks, or brushed onto the dog’s coat prior to tick exposure.
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