It has not been proven that Lyme disease is contagious, either from dogs and cats to one another, or to humans. However, dogs and cats may bring disease-carrying ticks into the home. Ticks can absolutely impart Lyme disease to humans and other pets, and this is the most important thing to look for. Lyme disease in humans can result in debilitating symptoms like permanent brain damage, and even hallucinations, so you should take steps to prevent Lyme, and identify and treat it early.
Step 1: Avoid Ticks
If your pet plays in wooded areas, in tall grasses, or interacts with other animals who have exposure to ticks, check them regularly. While giving them affection, check their bodies and ears for ticks. If you find any, remove them and kill them.
Be sure to check your own body for ticks as well. Most human cases of Lyme come from the immature form of ticks, which can be as small as the head of a pin, and whose bites are painless.
If you’re able to remove ticks from the body within 12-18 hours, chances are everyone will be safe. Left undetected for any longer, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease may be transferred. Tick bites do not impart Lyme disease 100% of the time, so you may be just fine. Still, look for signs of Lyme in the coming days and weeks.
Step 2: Early Detection
When Lyme disease is present, humans -- like dogs -- may begin to show symptoms that appear as a general lack of wellness. Symptoms may be flu- or allergy-like, and can present as early as a few days and as late as a few weeks after the bite.
A ring-like rash with a bite at the center is a clear indication of Lyme disease, and you should see a doctor immediately. However, this helpful indication isn’t always present. Sometimes a rash will occur at the bite site, and sometimes it will occur elsewhere around the body. Rashes may vary in shape and texture, so it may not be clear what you’re dealing with.
As soon as you suspect you may have Lyme, head to the doctor. Left untreated, the bacteria that causes Lyme can fester. In some cases, Lyme may become chronic, which can cause serious neurological damage, and affect respiratory, heart, and reproductive functions a few months or even years down the line.
Step 3: Treatment
Experts agree that the earlier Lyme is treated, the more effective treatment will be.
Antibiotics are the most common, and to date the safest, method of treatment for early Lyme disease. Courses of antibiotics may last a few weeks, or longer. Sometimes, symptoms continue to persist, even after a course of antibiotics. At this stage, treatments become highly individualized.
Chronic Lyme disease can be very traumatic. Some consider long-term Lyme symptoms to be similar to living with chronic heart disease. It’s clearly important to check yourself and your pet early and often for ticks.
Tick Prevention in Pets and Humans
Lyme disease prevention is essentially tick-prevention.
Prevention for your pet:
Consider a monthly spot-on treatment for your pet, to deter ticks. If your pet frolics in high-infestation areas, consider additional repellants like a flea and tick collar. Most collars protect only the face and neck from ticks, but every little bit helps. Just be sure to know what type of collar you're using and if you should remove the collar before bringing your pet back inside. Check the packaging or ask your vet.
Prevention for yourself:
Debbie Hadley, a naturalist, teacher, and insect expert, says the best way to avoid ticks in everyday life is by doing regular checks before allowing pets and kids back in the house after outdoor time. She says, “Ticks can easily drop onto carpets or furniture, where they’ll wait for a bloodmeal to come along. Before coming back inside, strip down and search all those places that ticks love to hide: in your hair, under your arms, behind the knees, and even in your belly button.” Remember to check between your dog’s toes, and in their ears as well.
When camping or hiking, she suggests, “using a product with 20% DEET or higher on both skin and clothing.” Carefully applied, of course. She also recommends applying Permethrin products “to clothing, tents, and outdoor furniture.” She cautions that, “Permethrin products should never be used on human skin.” (Although Permethrin is a common ingredient in some pet spot-on repellants.) Permethrin for use on objects is sold under the names Permanone and Duranon.
The best prevention, all experts agree, for pets as well as for yourself, is early detection. Look for ticks, and remove them as soon as possible.
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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.