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Cases of tick-borne diseases in pets spiking in Maine

Lyme, anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are increasing among dogs.

MAINE, Maine — As warmer temperatures draw more people to the Maine outdoors, veterinarians are warning that pets are also at risk for tick-borne diseases, just like their owners. Cases of Lyme, anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever have been on the rise among dogs in Maine.

Experts point to climate change allowing deer ticks to migrate further north and west, and more sensitive tests are detecting tick-borne illnesses. 

Pepper, a hound mix, loves chasing balls and meeting other four-legged friends at the dog park. Sarah Green, a senior producer at NEWS CENTER Maine, says she does tick checks every time the nine-month rescue comes in from the outdoors.

"She is on a preventative, and she has the vaccine, so we are really trying to keep up with it," Green explained. 

Precautions Veterinarian Kate Domenico wants every pet owner to take seriously. The president of the Maine Veterinary Medical Association, practices at the Portland Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Care.  

She says veterinarians are seeing a spike in tick-borne disease across Maine, as ticks establish new populations, plus more sensitives tests are picking up more illnesses. 

"More sick dogs from anaplasmosis, and we are definitely seeing more Rocky Mountain Spotted fever, which used to be a disease we used to see out West, but it's moving," Domenico said. 

The transmission of the bacteria that causes anaplasmosis happens within a few hours of the tick attaching. The disease attacks the white blood cells. Symptoms can include joint pain, fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. It can be treated with a course of antibiotics. 

According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council, anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis cases, which are spread by dogs have more than doubled in dogs over the past decade in Maine.  Dogs are also at risk for getting another tick-borne illness, babesiosis.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever, transmitted by the dog tick, is showing up more in Maine, with people moving here from other parts of the country where the disease is more prevalent.  It can be treated with antibiotics but in some cases can be fatal if left untreated. 

Lyme disease can also be deadly for dogs in a very small percentage of cases. Dogs don't get a "bulls-eye" rash. The first signs can be lameness and appearing tired. Late detection can lead to kidney failure, so making daily and frequent tick checks is critical.

"The tick has to be attached for 24 hours before it spreads Lyme disease to your pet, so if you can get those off, that's your first line of defense," Domenico added. 

Domenico recommends testing your dog for tick-borne diseases every year. Also, consider getting your dog vaccinated against Lyme, and using an oral or topical preventative year-round, with ticks being active anytime temperatures are above 32 degrees.  

As for Green, reducing Pepper's risk of tick-borne illness is personal. Her beloved terrier mix Benny was diagnosed with Lyme and anaplasmosis five years ago. Benny passed away in 2021 from an autoimmune disease, which she believes could have been linked to tick-borne illness, something experts say is possible in some cases. 

"Benny was so young it was so hard for us, but it's really nice to have another little doggie,"  Green said with a smile on her face.

While Benny will always be in the hearts of Sarah and her husband Miles, they doing everything they can to make sure their newest family member has a healthy and long life.

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