(NEWS CENTER) -- Not only do you need to watch for ticks on you and your family -- but your pets as well.

Doctor Ginger Johnson, from the "Veterinary and Rehabilitation Center" of Cape Elizabeth joins the Morning Report with more.

Watch the video above for the full interview.

Lyme disease is caused by an exaggerated immune response to a bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, carried in the deer tick. New England has a higher incidence of Lyme disease than the rest of the country. Exposure to the Borrelia organism is less likely to cause disease in dogs (5%) than in humans (90%). For this reason, exposure to ticks carrying the Borrelia organism and Lyme disease is almost synonymous for people, but very different in dogs. Most dogs show no signs of infection (95%), but of those that do, the most common signs are slight fever, decreased appetite and/or low energy level, these symptoms may progress to lameness or joint pain (often in more than one location) and rarely to severe kidney disease. Most cases of canine Lyme disease are successfully treated with antibiotics. Late kidney disease may not be able to be treated.

Where is Lyme disease found?
95% of human cases are found in the following states: CT, DE, ME, MD, MA, MN, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT, VA and WI.

What ticks harbor the Borrelia organism?
The deer tick (or blacklegged tick), Ixodes Scapularis in our area and the Western blacklegged tick, Ixodes pacificus, along the Pacific Coast. Dog ticks and other ticks do not carry Borrelia.

How do ticks transmit the Borrelia organism?
Ticks must be attached to dogs for at least 24 hours to transmit Borrelia (even 48 hours or more). The organism goes through a series of changes to move to the gut of the tick and then be transferred to the dog.

Can dogs catch Lyme disease from people or vice versa?
No, only ticks can transmit the Borrelia organism to people or dogs.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
Most dogs exposed to Borrelia show no symptoms or mild self resolving symptoms. 5% of dogs will develop Lyme disease 2-5 months after the tick bite which usually causes a low grade fever, decreased appetite and/or low energy. These signs may progress to joint soreness or lameness. An even rarer, but severe form of Lyme disease involves a kidney disease called glomerulonephritis. This is a gradually chronic disease that allows proteins that should be kept within the body to leak out in the urine. It can be fatal.

Is there a test?
Yes, current tests identify antibodies produced by dogs in response to exposure to the Borrelia organism. These tests do not diagnose or predict Lyme disease itself. These tests are very sensitive and may remain positive for years after exposure. They do not distinguish between current and past exposure.
About 13% of dogs in the Northeast (compared to 5% elsewhere) test positive for exposure to Borrelia.
It takes 3-8 weeks after exposure for a dog to become positive on tests.
A test done in the veterinary hospital yields a blue dot (similar to a pregnancy test) as a positive indicator of Borrelia exposure. There is also a test done at labs outside the veterinary hospital that give a numerical count of antibodies present in the dog's circulation.
Other testing (such as for protein loss in the urine), may be beneficial in assessing the possibility of the rarer, but more serious kidney form of Lyme disease.

Can Lyme disease be treated?
Lyme disease's usual symptoms in dogs: mild fever, decreased appetite or energy and joint soreness respond well to antibiotic treatment for 3-4 weeks. The rare kidney glomerulonephritis form of Lyme disease is less successfully treated.
When dogs without any signs test positive for Borrelia exposure, treatment may not be necessary or beneficial. If these dogs do develop clinical signs, treatment may be started at that time. Treating Borrelia exposure without clinical signs has not been shown to prevent, deter or decrease the severity of clinical signs of Lyme disease that may develop at a later time.
The one time preventive dose of antibiotic used in humans within 72 hours of developing the characteristic bull's-eye lesion, does not work in dogs because they do not develop the same lesion and disease cannot be recognized as early. When antibiotics are used after clinical signs have developed (2-5 months after the bite), they must used as treatment, not as prevention.

What is the best prevention for Lyme disease?
Keeping ticks off pets with year round tick prevention. Ticks are very hardy and can survive Maine winters. There is no season in Maine that is safe from tick exposure. Veterinarians can prescribe safe and effective collars, topical products and oral medications. Consumers should be aware that tick products available over the counter may not have the same safety or efficacy as those prescribed by veterinarians and that many over the counter products are toxic to cats.
Remember to do regular tick checks on dogs, especially when in known tick habitats, but do not rely on this exclusively as even the tiny nymph stage of the tick (size of a 12 font period) can transmit the Borrellia organism.

Is there a vaccine?
Yes, several vaccines exist to decrease exposure to the Borrelia organism by killing it in the tick or preventing it from being transmitted from the tick to the dog. These vaccines appear to be most effective when given before dogs have had exposure to the organism, therefore consider immunizing early (2 vaccinations given as puppies) and annually (1 vaccine) thereafter. Remember that vaccination does not completely stop Lyme disease; tick control is just an important part of prevention.

The infectious disease field in veterinary medicine is constantly changing. Your veterinarian is the best equipped resource for current information and advice regarding your pet's health. Remember to schedule wellness exams for your pet once to twice a year to discuss the best way to keep your pet healthy.

Another infectious disease to consider is Leptospirosis. This disease has been increasing in prevalence in New England due to milder temperatures. Because we are seeing more of this disease in our area, because it can cause significant disease that can be costly to treat or even fatal and because safer and more effective vaccines are available, many veterinarians have modified their prevention protocols to include most dogs regardless of size or living situation.