Vets Issue Warning After Lyme Disease Among Pets Increases By 560%

'Now is the time for vigilance.'

Worrying figures show there has been a 560% rise in Lyme disease cases among pets in the UK over the past six years.

The increase is thought to be as a result of climate change and warmer winters.

Vet Vicki Larkham-Jones, from charity PDSA, said the figures were likely to be "just the tip of the iceberg", as many cases go unreported.

She said the figures were "incredibly worrying" because Lyme disease "can be a very serious and debilitating condition which can cause long-term problems if left untreated".

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Lyme disease is transmitted to pets by parasitic ticks, found in woodlands and long grass. They are often picked up on dog walks.

The disease, which can affect any animal including humans, is transmitted when an infected tick latches onto the skin and consumes the blood of their host.

The most common symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs are: lethargy and weakness, fever, inflammatory arthritis, swollen or enlarged lymph nodes, and loss of appetite leading to weight loss.

In some cases it can cause nerve damage and meningitis.

The PDSA saw around 100 cases of suspected or confirmed Lyme Disease in 2015 – an increase of 560% since 2009, when there were just 15 cases.

Larkham-Jones said: "Caught early, the disease can usually be effectively treated with long-term antibiotics. However, owners may not even be aware that their animal has been bitten by a tick, so they need to be vigilant."

Human cases of Lyme disease are also up, with reported cases rising from 268 in 2001 to 959 in 2011.

Larkham-Jones added that while the tick population appears to be increasing, the majority of parasites do not actually cause Lyme disease.

She said: "We treated 2,545 pets for tick-related issues, including bites or removal in 2015 and only around 100 of these cases were suspected or confirmed cases of Lyme disease.

"Now is the time for vigilance, as the UK’s tick population peaks between late spring and autumn."

The PDSA has also issued the following guidelines on how to prevent the disease:

  • Speak to your vet about prevention, as some flea treatments can also kill ticks.
  • Ticks are often found in wooded and moorland areas, especially in long grass.
  • If Lyme disease is known to be a problem where you live, avoid letting your dog wander in deep undergrowth or grass, stick to paths.
  • Always wear long trousers tucked into socks or boots, and long sleeves to help protect yourself when walking in these areas too.
  • After walking your dog, always check for ticks. They can’t fly or jump, but they attach themselves to the skin of people or animals as they brush against them.
  • Tick bites don’t hurt so they aren’t always noticed. The most common areas for ticks on pets are the head, ears, legs and underside.
  • Hedgehogs and foxes are common tick carriers, meaning pets in urban areas with high fox populations are also at risk.

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