Ask the Vet: Tips for Preventing Lyme Disease

| April 6, 2012

Dr. Lauren - Ask the VetDr. Lauren, a local veterinarian, answers user questions about pet health.

My friend’s dog was recently diagnosed with Lyme disease. I am confused what type of tick causes it. What should I be doing to avoid this happening to my pets? -Sonya Walker of Oil City, PA

Your friend’s dog is not alone! Lyme disease is the most diagnosed tick-borne disease of dogs in the area. Tick populations are spreading due to climate changes and the recent mild winter has led to a particularly early and severe tick season.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted through the bite of infected deer ticks, also called blacklegged ticks. The clinical signs of Lyme disease in a dog include fever, anorexia, lethargy, and painful, swollen joints. Signs usually develop within 2-5 months following infection. In some endemic areas, like Venango County, 90-95% of dogs are exposed to Lyme disease but remain asymptomatic.

Relative sizes of several ticks at different life stages. In general, adult ticks are approximately the size of a sesame seed and nymphal ticks are approximately the size of a poppy seed. Source: CDC.

Relative sizes of several ticks at different life stages. In general, adult ticks are approximately the size of a sesame seed and nymphal ticks are approximately the size of a poppy seed. Source: CDC.

Lyme disease is treatable with an antibiotic and many dogs with clinical signs show significant improvement within 2 days of starting appropriate treatment. It is most beneficial to start treatment as early as possible once clinical signs appear since chronic changes in joints and other tissues may cause serious and fatal complications if left untreated.

There is no evidence that infected dogs are a direct risk for infecting people except by introducing infected ticks to the house. It is possible for partially fed ticks to reattach and feed, hence becoming a source of infection for people. Direct transmission of Lyme disease from dogs to people is unlikely.

Visit your veterinarian to have your dog screened and vaccinated for Lyme disease. Many products — collars, sprays and spot-on products — are available as tick preventatives. Some are available over the counter, but serious problems may occur when they are used improperly. Please consult your veterinarian before beginning any treatments.

The best way to find ticks on your pet is to run your hands over the whole body. Check for ticks every time your pet comes indoors. Ticks attach most frequently around the pet’s head, ears, and neck, but are by no means restricted to those areas.

My cat’s breath smells horrible. What can I do? Are there dentists for cats? -Greg Host of Tionesta, PA

Greg, you are a very observant cat owner. Bad breath, also called halitosis, is a common complaint among pet owners. The most common cause of halitosis is dental disease caused by plaque (bacteria). Bacteria is attracted to the tooth surface and over time becomes mineralized producing calculus. As plaque ages and gingivitis develops, the bacteria change into types that produce hydrogen sulfide causing halitosis.

Other causes of bad breath include eating foul smelling food, metabolic disease (diabetes, kidney disease), non-periodontal oral disease, foreign bodies, trauma and infectious agents including bacteria, and viruses. A veterinary examination is necessary to diagnose the specific cause of bad breath. If the diagnosis is not obvious after oral examination, blood tests will be taken to check for internal disease.

Daily brushing can help control plaque buildup, but a yearly cleaning under anesthesia will greatly help prevent tooth loss. Having your cat’s mouth and gums evaluated during the yearly examination will address this situation. Bacteria in the diseased mouth can lead to other chronic conditions, such as kidney dysfunction and heart valve problems.

You can visit to find a veterinarian that specializes in dentistry. Most general practice veterinarians can also perform dental procedures that include a thorough oral exam, dental radiographs, necessary extractions and an ultrasonic scaling and polishing.

Have a question for Dr. Lauren? E-mail her at

Dr. Lauren, a native of Knox, PA, practices in a busy animal hospital in Butler, PA. She received her undergraduate degree from Pennsylvania State University in 2005 and her veterinary degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. Dr. Lauren treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits.

DISCLAIMER: Neither Explore Your Town, Inc. nor Dr. Lauren Smith will be held responsible for the outcome of any advice given on this website, as a true diagnosis and/or treatment cannot be given without a thorough physical exam and lab test results. Your submissions to this column hold you responsible for the fate of your pets and relieve the above aforementioned parties of all and any liabilities.

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Category: Ask the Vet