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Your Flat-Coated Retriever and Lyme Disease


In recent years, a great deal of attention has been directed at a disease named after Lyme, Connecticut, where it was first recognized in 1975. Since then Lyme disease has continued to spread among humans and pets. It is now diagnosed in every state in the nation.

Lyme disease is both insidious and dangerous to pets and humans. However, some aspects of this threat have been somewhat exaggerated, while others have been minimized. These questions and their answers will help achieve the balance needed to avoid or combat this disease.

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Number of reported cases of Lyme disease, by state, United States, 1996. Reprinted from Centers for Disease Control. Lyme disease--United States, 1996.

Just how serious is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is the most prevalent illness currently being spread by any kind of insect in the United States. Some experts say that since many cases are not diagnosed and thus not reported, the actual prevalence of the disease may be much more serious than official reports indicate.

Even so, this disease doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. for example, far more cases have been found in the Northeast and the Midwest than in the rest of the nation. The annual reported cases now number in the thousands, or about 10 times the number reported less than a decade ago. Yet even in areas where there is a high incidence of Lyme disease, a majority of people and their dogs avoid it.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

First, a rash appears in what is probably best described as a bull’s-eye pattern. This rash can reach 6 to 7 inches in diameter. If left untreated, arthritic, respiratory, neurological and other problems can develop.

Watching for a rash of this sort – and not simply assuming it is not serious and will go away on its own – is obviously crucial in avoiding serious problems. If Lyme disease is diagnosed and treated early, complications can be kept to a minimum.

What causes Lyme disease?

tick.jpg (6515 bytes)The carrier is usually a tiny tick a little bigger than a pinhead which carries a spirochete (a form of bacteria) named Borrelia Burgdorferi. These ticks ingest this bacteria when they suck blood from an infected animal such as a white-tailed deer (where the bacteria is often found), or on cats, dogs, horses, cows and birds.

Humans cannot become infected with Lyme disease directly from their dogs. Instead, the disease is spread by ticks.

Since the tiny deer tick is the direct cause of the disease, this complicates any sort of defense. This kind of tick is so small that it’s very difficult to spot on a pet with the naked eye. Also, ticks of any kind hide in the ears, between the toes and under the tails of animals.


Nymph (left) and adult tick.
Nymphs are responsible for nearly 90 percent of cases
of Lyme disease for the following reasons: nymphs are
active in the spring and summer when people are outside
wearing less protective clothing; nymphs are so small
that  they are not detected before they can bite.

How can a tick be removed from the skin?

If you find a tick on your Flat Coated Retriever or yourself, use your fingers (preferably protected by gloves) or tweezers to break its grip. Then pull upward carefully and twist until the head is out. Don’t squeeze the tick; that will only spread the poison.

Since the tick which carries Lyme disease is so hard to spot, is it virtually impossible to defend against?

Any defense can have its difficulties, but in the case of ticks and Lyme disease, several positive steps can be very effective:

First, have your dog vaccinated to protect it from Lyme disease. In any area infested with ticks, you need a continuing program to control ticks and other disease carriers such as fleas.

The situation still isn’t hopeless even if a carrier tick attaches itself to you or your pet. If you can locate and eliminate the deer tick soon after its attachment, you can minimize the chances that the tick will spread Lyme disease to your pet or to you. If a tick has become attached, bring your pet to your vet to examine. If it is a tick that can carry Lyme disease, the doctor may want to start your pet on antibiotics to help prevent your pet from getting the disease.

To keep from being attacked by ticks, use repellents on yourself and your Flat-Coat before a walk in the woods; give your pet careful hands-on inspections after each walk in the woods, plus a good combing and brushing with special attention to its underside, ears, toes and tail.

What can be done about Lyme disease once a pet or human catches the disease?

You will need professional help, first to diagnose the disease and then to be treated. the best help is through antibiotics. These can be very effective, especially if Lyme disease is diagnosed early. Naturally, it’s best to avoid Lyme disease in the first place. If there is any suspicion in your mind that you or your pet might have it, get professional help immediately.

Your Action Plan!

This is how you can help prevent Lyme disease in your pet:

  • Carefully check every square inch of your Flat-Coated Retriever's body for ticks after any outing in fields, woods or forests.
  • Spray your Flat-Coat with a professional flea and tick spray before going into any area where ticks may be present. Ask us to recommend a safe and effective spray or tick collar.
  • If a tick is attached to your Flat-Coat, bring the dog in for thorough tick removal. Preventative antibiotics may be necessary.
  • If any symptoms of the disease are present, please take your Flat-Coat in to see your vet as soon as possible.

Updated 09/27/98