Edward and Catherine Bolgiano knew the family's black Labrador retriever Kae Kae was acting strange. She wouldn't put any weight on one of her paws, and she seemed stiff when she tried to get up.
They realized it was serious 24 hours later. "I was making breakfast, pancakes and bacon, and she wouldn't get out of bed for the bacon scraps," says Edward.
Catherine suspected Lyme disease. It was in April when deer ticks that transmit the disease are prevalent. The Bolgianos and their two daughters live in Chestnut Ridge where deer run through their back yard and surrounding woods.
"Kae Kae chases them, and I do pick ticks off of her regularly," Edward says.
Dr. Michael Szego, a veterinarian at the Hunt Valley Animal Clinic, examined her and gave her a blood test that confirmed Lyme disease.
Kae Kae is among an increasing number of dogs and some cats diagnosed each year with Lyme disease. While the Maryland Health Department doesn't record the number of cases each year, rough estimates are that thousands of pets in Maryland are diagnosed with the ailment, says John Fioramonti, public relations chairman for the Maryland Veterinarian Medical Association.
Within the last couple of months, vets around the state have seen a steady increase in the number of dogs diagnosed with the disease. If detected early, many pets recover quickly. Although it's not fatal, if left untreated, it can result in lameness from chronic arthritis, and heart and kidney failure.
Fortunately, Kae Kae responded well to the antibiotic doxycycline. Within 24 hours, "she was her usual self, energetic, her appetite was back, she was moving normally and not favoring one leg or another," Edward says.
The rise in Lyme disease in pets mirrors what's happening in humans.
More than 100,000 cases in the United States have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since 1982, when it first began monitoring the tick-borne illness. Reported cases of Lyme disease in humans nationwide totaled a record high of 16,801 in 1998, the last year for which figures are available from the CDC. Maryland was one of four states that showed marked increases of confirmed cases in humans. The number jumped from 494 in 1997 to 899 in 1999, according to Karon Damewood, chief of zoonotic diseases for the state Health Depart- ment's Center for Veterinary Public Health.
Andrew Spielman, professor of tropical public health at Harvard University, says Lyme disease has spread over the past 10 years with the increasing numbers of ticks and deer. The deer tick life cycle begins when the adult ticks feed and mate on large animals, such as deer. Female ticks drop off the animals to lay eggs on the ground. Eggs hatch into larvae and molt into nymphs, which are about the size of a pinhead.
Nymphs become infected with Lyme disease bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, as they feed off the white-footed mouse and the white-tailed deer. Infected ticks then bite and transmit Lyme disease bacteria to other small rodents and animals, including dogs, as well as humans.
Nymphs emerge from dormancy in early spring, peak throughout June and taper off in August. Deer ticks wait in wooded areas for a passing host. Dogs are easy prey for ticks because they are low to the ground as they run around in the woods and sniff the grassy areas where ticks hide out, says veterinarian David Tayman of Columbia Animal Hospital.
Allan Frank, head veterinarian at Hunt Valley Animal Clinic in Cockeysville, has seen the number of Lyme disease cases double every year in recent years. "Five or six years ago, we saw two cases a year," he says. "Now it's about 85 to100 cases a year."
Symptoms range from lethargy to loss of appetite. "Many are out of their routine," Frank says. "Where they were once active, they are dull and nonresponsive."
In May, Bob Hickman, of Cockeysville, noticed that Jillie, his 4-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback hunting dog, was having trouble walking on her front paws.
He didn't find a tick on her, but they had been out in the woods the previous week on the Hunt Valley North Central Railroad trail, where deer are plentiful.
As a salesman for Long Fence, Hickman often measures yards near fields and wooded areas. He considers himself at risk for Lyme disease and thought that Jillie might have it, even though she had received the Lyme disease vaccination.
The vet gave Jillie a Western blot test, which distinguishes between a dog infected with the bacteria versus the vaccination.
The results took a couple of days to return, but the vet started her on doxycycline, prescribing it twice a day for three weeks.
Within 48 hours, she was back to normal.
Not all dogs are so fortunate. "We have a dog now that has Lyme disease," Tayman says. "It's affecting its kidney, and we're wondering if it will live."
Like Frank in Baltimore County, Dr. Kay Wagner, a vet at the North Carroll Veterinary Service, has witnessed a similar rise in Lyme disease cases. "This year has been about the worst because it all came around at one time," says Frank, who saw about 10 cases in late April and early May.
While dogs are vulnerable to Lyme disease, cats fare better.
"I've never seen a cat with Lyme disease," says Wagner. "They are just better at grooming than dogs. They have a chance to get it off. Ticks have to be on the pet 24 to 48 hours to infect them. Most cats wash several times a day. They lick and chew when grooming. If you're going to find a tick, it would be on the face or neck where they can't reach."
Columbia's Tayman has seen at least one case of Lyme disease in cats.
To protect pets against Lyme disease, some vets recommend the Lyme disease vaccination. Dr. Max Appel, a veterinarian and emeritus professor at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine, says the Lyme vaccination is helpful for dogs but not needed in cats.
Although the vaccination isn't 100 percent effective, Wagner in Carroll County recommends it for dogs that are outside in wooded areas because they are at a high risk of Lyme disease. "For the little dog who stays in the house, I don't recommend it," she says.
Says Tayman: "We recommend it if they run in the woods or along bicycle paths near the woods. If they are staying in the yard and there is no exposure, we don't recommend it." Over the years, he says, the vaccine has gotten better and is helpful for tick-prone pets.
Although his dog Jillie was diagnosed with Lyme disease, Hickman is glad he had her vaccinated. "I have the peace of mind knowing I took the safest course of action for my dog even though she got it. I would be knocking myself in the head if she got it and I didn't do it."
Some vets were worried that the vaccine might spark some of the symptoms of Lyme disease, but that worry has proven to be false, Fioramonti says. "We haven't seen that in animals," he says. "The public should view them as very safe."
"We do vaccinate a lot of pets for Lyme," says Frank of Cockeysville. "It's about 85 percent effective."
Pet owners can take other preventive steps. They include staying out of wooded areas in the spring, checking for ticks after going near wooded areas, and using a tick collar.
Finding ticks can be challenging because they are so small, vets concede. While they cope with the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease, researchers are trying to reduce the tick population and learn more about the carriers of the Lyme bacteria.
In 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded Yale University roughly $2 million to conduct a five-year study on the effectiveness of killing adult ticks with the insecticide Amtraz as they feed on deer at feeding stations owned by the USDA. Two locations for the stations are Loch Raven in Baltimore County and Gibson Island. Others are in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. The deer feed at the stations from mid-October to the end of March, when adult ticks are active. "The tick population is dependent on the female tick mating and feeding on the deer," said Durland Fish, associate professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Medicine, heading the study. "So if you can prevent the ticks from feeding on the deer, you can interrupt the mating process."
The deer are lured by corn bait. A roller brush is used to apply the insecticide to their head and neck. As the deer clean themselves, they spread it around their bodies. "It kills the ticks before they can get a blood meal. It's the adult ticks that reproduce and lay eggs," Fish said. "Indications are that we're getting measurable reductions in the number of larvae and nymphs," says Fish. By the end of the project in 2003, researchers want at least a 50 percent reduction in the tick population but are hoping for 90 percent.
Help Fido stay tick-free
Dog owners can reduce the risk of their pets getting Lyme disease. Here are some suggestions from veterinarians.
* Buy a PreVentic collar, which contains the chemical Amtraz. "It's the only tick collar that I find works," says Dr. Allan Frank of Hunt Valley Animal Clinic.
* Frontline products. A drop between the shoulder blades helps control fleas and ticks. Spread the fur and drop it on the skin. "It's fairly effective for ticks but more effective for fleas," Frank says.
* Use a fine tooth comb and go over your pet's fur after taking a walk. Ticks are most commonly found around the head and neck. They can also be between the toes, in the ears, and in the armpit and groin areas. You must look carefully because ticks are so small.
* Prompt removal of ticks decreases the chances of getting Lyme disease. To remove a tick, use small tweezers to firmly grip the tick's mouth parts as close to the skin as possible and pull it out straight. Apply an antiseptic to the bitten area. Destroy the tick by immersing it in alcohol. Save the tick and record the date it was found in case symptoms arise and identification is necessary
* Talk to your vet about the Lyme disease vaccination. Some vets recommend it for dogs that run outside and live near wooded areas that put them at risk of a tick bite and Lyme disease. If your dog stays in the house, the vet may not recommend the vaccination.
* You can reduce the risk of tick population by taking various steps, including: keeping lawns mowed and edges trimmed; keeping the ground under bird feeders clean to prevent attracting small mammals; and having a licensed professional spray around your house with an insecticide in late May to control nymphs and optionally in September to control adult ticks.
Six symptoms to watch for in animals
Here are common symptoms of Lyme disease in pets. Symptoms can be intermittent and vary in intensity from mild to severe.
2. Lameness and soreness
4. Loss of appetite
5. Swollen glands and joints
6. Change in temperament
* American Lyme Disease Foundation
Mill Pond Offices
293 Route 100
Somers, N.Y. 10589
* American Veterinarian Medical Association
1931 North Meacham Road
Schaumberg, Ill. 60173
* Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases