Parasite Forecasts

Risk for Lyme disease in dogs continues to escalate in 2016

Authors:  Susan E. Little, DVM, PhD and I. Craig Prior, BVSc, CVJ

Lyme disease continues to be a threat, and the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) predicts higher than normal activity in many areas of the country again this year.

Heightened activity is predicted for northern California, New York State, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In addition, areas where Lyme disease has more recently become established, including Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and Kentucky are forecast to have above-average transmission.  Increased tick control and Lyme disease testing may be making an impact in New England, and could reduce transmission to pet dogs, but continued vigilance is encouraged in what is traditionally considered the “bull’s-eye” region for Lyme disease.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted through the bite of an infected deer tick (including eastern and western black-legged ticks). Infected dogs may show signs such as shifting-leg lameness, fever, lethargy and loss of appetite, although the majority of infected dogs show no signs at all. Lyme disease can lead to systemic complications including renal disease.

People and other pets in your household can’t catch Lyme disease directly from an infected dog. However, infected dogs do indicate that there are infected ticks in the area that may transmit the infection to other household members.

Year-round tick control and vaccination can help safeguard your dog.

Within any geographic area, there are likely several different species of ticks and each tick can harbor more than one disease-causing agent.  Ticks can also be active during the winter. While it helps to limit your dog’s exposure to ticks by avoiding tall grass and wooded areas, this approach may not always be feasible. That’s why CAPC recommends year-round tick control and regular screening tests for dogs.

In areas where Lyme disease is endemic or emerging, having your dog vaccinated against Lyme disease is also strongly recommended.  Vaccination can also be important for dogs in non-endemic regions if you plan to travel with your dog to areas of high-risk for Lyme disease, particularly if you take your dog hiking or camping.  Your veterinarian can recommend the right program to protect your dog from this serious, potentially fatal infection.

Even with tick control and vaccination, it’s a good idea to carefully check your dog’s entire body and remove attached ticks as soon as possible. Always use tweezers or other tick-removal devices and wear gloves to prevent exposure to disease-causing agents.

The science behind the forecasts

How are the CAPC Lyme disease forecasts constructed? Numerous factors are analyzed, including the number of positive tests for the bacteria and the influence of weather patterns, vegetation indices, the changing distribution of wildlife that may harbor the ticks, and human population density. Leading parasitologists work in collaboration with a team of statisticians to identify regions of the country that may experience higher prevalence of positive tests in the months ahead. While these forecasts predict the potential risk of a dog testing positive, they do not necessarily reflect clinical disease. Learn more

Stay current on activity in your area

To help you identify the risk for Lyme disease in your geographic area, CAPC provides Parasite Prevalence Maps down to the county level. The maps report the number of dogs testing positive for antibodies to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease in your area, as well as in other regions where you may travel with your pet.

Because tick activity can change, CAPC can provide you with email alerts for your area. Go to the CAPC Lyme Disease Prevalence Maps and click on “Get updates.” Enter your email address and click “Subscribe.” You will receive updates as they are posted.

It’s important to protect yourself and your dog from Lyme disease. And the more you know about the risks in your area, the better prepared you’ll be. As always, your veterinarian is your best resource for expert advice on how to protect your pet from parasites.

Category: Parasite Forecasts