Dog Health

New England Owners: Time for Lyme (testing, that is)

I hate to say it, but it’s going to be a VERY bad year for any tick-borne diseases and for heartworm. Because of our extraordinarily mild winter, the ticks were active all winter and we didn’t get a hard mosquito kill either. Snowless winters are also very bad for squirrels and other small furries, because they don’t have the snow cover they need to hide, and many have died. Compounding those problems, last year was a bust year for acorns, so a lot of mice and squirrels starved to death last fall. All of those factors mean the ticks have not had a blood meal in months, are going to be traveling further to find it, and they are in greater numbers than they’ve been in years.

I’ve already heard of one of our puppies from last year with a positive Lyme test. I am also sorry to say that (for the first time in my entire breeding life) I am not going to be surprised if one of your dogs comes back positive for heartworm. Sarah says they’ve already seen three positives this spring and it’s going to get worse.

PLEASE REQUEST the SNAP 4DX test! A negative for Lyme does not equal a negative for anaplasmosis or ehrlichia, which can be even worse.

If your puppy comes up positive for a tick-borne disease, a month of doxycyline should set him or her right. Please let me know, but don’t panic. If your puppy comes up positive for heartworm, contact me RIGHT AWAY. There are newer, safer, gentler protocols than the old immiticide (which many vets don’t have on hand anymore anyway, because it’s been short-shipping for months now) and I’d want your baby on those rather than the very harsh treatment. I’ll be happy to advocate for you with your vet if he or she doesn’t want to use the newer dosing.

This concludes your scary health alert of April – back to regularly scheduled puppy love :).

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  • Reply Julie Garland-Powers April 8, 2012 at 8:23 am

    I am so happy I kept my guys and gal on heartworm preventatives all year this year. Usually I take a break during teh winter, but it was too mild.

  • Reply Ruth April 8, 2012 at 9:10 am

    Yah, I had to put the preventic collars on my two WAY early this year, and I never DID stop the heartworm stuff for the winter. It was so warm!

  • Reply Micaela P. April 8, 2012 at 10:14 am

    freaking squirrels didn’t starve in *my* neighborhood, seeing as how they stole most of the pecans off our trees (and the neighbor’s)… I haven’t seen a tick yet but the fleas have been ridiculous. That Snap 4DX test, should one request that as a routine test, even if the dog is acting perfectly normal? We need to take Ellie in soon for a routine checkup and bordetella booster (which she’ll need for boarding in June).

  • Reply Jeri April 8, 2012 at 11:01 am

    Even here in Denver, where ticks are the only thing we usually worry about, I’m worried about heartworm this year. Already have had one in to the vet for a test, taking the others soon…used to be that we didn’t even use heartworm medication here at all (very few mosquitoes!). Will be using it in the spring/summer/fall now.

    Lots of ticks here but I’ve never heard of a high incidence of Lyme, so guess I should count my blessings. Still being careful though!

  • Reply Katie April 8, 2012 at 11:58 am

    Yep, ticks are awful already. I say already, but I have been pulling ticks off me and the hairy dog all winter long. I learned the other day that ticks can go five or six months without a blood meal. The suckers just don’t DIE.

  • Reply Beth April 8, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    The Snap test will show positive even if the dog had exposure and cleared the infection (a positive dog will always be a positive dog). Many vets around here recommend giving asymptomatic positive dogs the Quantitative C6 test, and treating or not based on those results.

    Opinion varies, but personally I am hesitant to give antibiotics for a month if the infection has already cleared. And again, after treatment the dog will continue to come back positive anyway, so the C6 gives you a baseline. It’s not clear that doxy actually clears the bacteria from all tissue.

    Lyme can be nasty and I’ve known of more than one dog to die of it.

  • Reply Sarah April 8, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Actually with the newer tests a previously infected dog will not always show positive, in fact at most the ones that do show up as a faint positive. Ianto has been vaccinated for Lyme and his recent Snap test was negative. His sister was vaccinated and infected and now never shows up positive. But a C6 is a good idea if you are hesitant to treat. It will tell you for sure. I always get the 4dx anyway since it also tests for heartworm, anaplasmosis, and erlichia. Also of note but requiring special testing are the other tick borne diseases like Rocky Mountain Spotted fever and bartonella. We actually had a bartonella positive cat last year. And we are now up to 6 heartworm positives seen this year at my practice.

    • Reply rufflyspeaking April 8, 2012 at 4:55 pm

      I agree – I’ve seen the difference between a SNAP test with a “show positive” dog and a genuinely positive dog, and it’s obvious. I’ve also, unfortunately, seen dogs get reinfected year after year. If there’s a real dot, I treat.

      Anytime a dog is acting “off” – grumpy, a little quicker to react, stiff in the mornings – vector diseases are the first thing I’d look for if you live in this area. Most cases of tick disease are “asymptomatic” until you treat them, and then you realize that the dog WAS feeling it, just not doing the classic outright limp or lethargy.

    • Reply Beth April 8, 2012 at 5:23 pm

      We had one of ours come up with a positive. The way it was explained is the snap test shows for antibodies, but it can be an old infection or a new one. We sent off for the C6 and the levels were very low so we did not treat. We were told if she ever shows any symptoms to treat.

      One thing to keep in mind with Doxy is that it’s a fairly strong anti-inflammatory, so an ouchy dog who improves on doxy can mean a lot of things and does not mean active Lyme infection. Regardless, Maddie had no symptoms (no stiffness, lameness, loss of appetite, etc) and the low C6 made the vet recommend not treating. I researched extensively at the time and found that was a fairly standard protocol (and this was just last summer).

  • Reply Julie April 8, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    I do a Snap 4DX every year. This was the first year in forever that I kept my guys on heartworm preventative all year. I am glad I did. I am bummed about the Lyme+ test. I always do a C6 after the positive on the Snap 4DX in order to have a baseline of the infection and know if it was treated successfully. In this instance, not 100% sure why unless it is just the office’s new protocol, my vet is waiting to start doxy until we see what the C6 is.

    • Reply Beth April 8, 2012 at 5:37 pm

      Julie, in our case as I mentioned above, the vet wanted to see levels. The snap only shows whether or not antibodies are there, but of course antibodies don’t mean the dog has an active infection, only that it was exposed at some point. The Q6 will show whether levels are high (indicating infection) or low (indicating the infection was likely cleared).

      Since Doxy frequently does not bring Q6 levels down to nothing anyway, a lot of vets will suggest not treating if Q6 shows low levels. I believe the cutoff used is around 30 and when we tested Maddie, her levels were much lower than that.

  • Reply Julie April 8, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Hi Beth, Yes the treat or not treat line is 30. I have never personally had a dog test below 30 when testing Lyme+. I guess I have been unlucky. My dogs levels have always been 200+ or 400+. Even after treatment, and 50% reduction, the levels 6 months and 12 months out haven’t been near 30. The closest I have gotten is 80. We are no longer doing C6’s on the boys because at this point they are asymptomatic and still testing high on the C6. Since Irie is only 7 months old we can hope it is below 30 and the doxy won’t be necessary.

    • Reply Beth April 8, 2012 at 10:19 pm

      Fingers crossed!

      • Reply Julie April 12, 2012 at 5:10 am

        27 !!! Could have knocked me over with a feather. I am super happy to not have to kick her system’s bum with antibiotics.

        • Reply Beth April 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm

          So glad to hear that Julie! I’ve been down with the flu so I saw your response on my phone but couldn’t answer. As someone who reacts horribly to antibiotics, I’m always thrilled when they are not necessary. I think of all those friendly bacteria, murdered. Don’t get me wrong, antibiotics save lives and are indispensable. But they are not to be taken lightly. And the more they are looking at gut bacteria as being related to auto-immune diseases, the less lightly they are to be taken. So glad you don’t have to treat!

  • Reply Julie April 8, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    My understanding is they could potentially always test high on the C6 since their numbers were so high originally. There is a new test out of Cornell I would be curious to try – supposedly it can show whether an infection is chronic, new, etc.

  • Reply Maggie April 10, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Thanks for the health alert! I took Kipling to the clinic today. Ticks are ridiculous here too. A dip into the Danube and Kipling’s nose is crawling with them. However, we didn’t get to do any test because we were told it’s not neccesary without super obvious symptoms. Our vet also told me if we don’t go to Italy or Croatia, there shouldn’t be any problem with heartworm. Yay for optimism, LoL.

  • Reply Laurel April 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    Thanks for the reminder. We’re traveling to places with heartworm this year, so I need to get the dog checked soon.

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