Reported Lyme Disease Rates Increase in Pets

Area veterinarians have begun to test for Lyme disease in dogs and cats. At one Central New York veterinarian’s practice, 210 dogs and cats tested positive for Lyme Disease this year alone. While dogs and cats are frequently infected and treated with antibiotics, they only become symptomatic 5 to 10 percent of the time. Humans, however, almost always become symptomatic when infected with Lyme Disease. The growing number of reports of Lyme Disease in pets is a warning sign to be vigilant in detecting deer ticks on ourselves.

Though more common in eastern New York, the deer tick has made its way toward Central and Northern New York. Statistics for infected humans still reflect a relatively low amount of sufferers (about 100 in both Onondaga and Oswego counties annually). However, the Wadsworth Center for Laboratories and Research of New York State reports New York has the highest number of confirmed cases of Lyme Disease in the United States.

The disease is a bacterial infection usually recognized by a distinctive skin lesion, accompanied by headaches, stiff neck, myalgias, fatigue and possible swelling of the lymph nodes. Not all symptoms are seen in every case which complicates a diagnosis. While treatable with antibiotics, unrecognized and/or untreated patients may develop meningoencephalitis, myocarditis or even arthritis, particularly in the knees. Lyme disease may be brief or chronic, persistent and incapacitating. The chronic disease state may resolve in time with or without antibiotic treatment. Patients treated with antibiotics in the early stage of the infection usually recover rapidly and completely. Since Lyme disease first became reportable in 1986, over 77,000 cases have been confirmed in New York State.

People who spend time in grassy and wooded environments are at an increased risk of exposure. The chances of being bitten by a deer tick are greater during times of the year when ticks are most active. Young deer ticks, called nymphs, are active from mid-May to mid-August and are about the size of poppy seeds. Adult ticks, which are approximately the size of sesame seeds, are most active from March to mid-May and from mid-August to November. Both nymphs and adults can transmit Lyme disease. Ticks can be active any time the temperature is above freezing.

Not all deer ticks are infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Ticks can become infected if they feed on small animals that are infected. The disease can be spread when an infected tick bites a person and stays attached for a period of time. In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36 hours or more before the bacteria can be transmitted. Lyme disease does not spread from one person to another. In 60-80 percent of cases, a rash resembling a bull's eye or solid patch, about two inches in diameter, appears and expands around or near the site of the bite. Other symptoms appear within 3 to 30 days after a tick bite.

Lyme Disease is preventable. In tick-infested areas, your best protection is to avoid contact with soil, leaf litter and vegetation. However, if you garden, hike, camp, hunt, work, or otherwise spend time in the outdoors, you can still protect yourself:

• Wear light-colored clothing with a tight weave to spot ticks easily.

• Wear enclosed shoes, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck pant legs into socks or boots and shirt into pants.

• Check clothes and any exposed skin frequently for ticks while outdoors and check again once indoors. Ticks gravitate toward the warmest areas of the body.

• Consider using insect repellent. Follow label directions.

• Stay on cleared, well-traveled trails. Avoid contacting vegetation.

• Avoid sitting directly on the ground or on stone walls.

• Keep long hair tied back, especially when gardening.

If you do find a tick on yourself or a child, use tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Gently pull the tick in a steady, upward motion. Wash the area with a disinfectant. When trying to remove the tick, do not touch the tick with your bare hands, do not squeeze the body of the tick as this may increase your risk of infection. Also, do not put alcohol, nail polish remover or Vaseline on the tick or a hot match. These methods can increase the rate of Lyme Disease transmission.

For much more information on Lyme Disease, visit the New York State Department of Health link on Lyme Disease at

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at or by calling (315) 598-5185.