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April 24, 2008

Dog is sick, and I'm ticked off

If you have a dog, this is one you'll want to read. If you're an outdoorsman with a hunting dog, it's one you must read. We all cherish our dogs, whether they're a house pet or a trained field companion, but there are things out there looking to get them -and us. This is a tale of what a tick can do.

You're probably thinking about Lyme disease already, for Lyme is well known, even if it isn't easy to diagnose or treat. But, for pets at least, there are simple ways to prevent that threat by using Lyme vaccinations and preventative medications like Frontline, which help keep ticks and fleas at bay.

There are other tick-borne diseases out there, however, that aren't well known, or seem exotic and rare enough not to warrant a second thought. When you hear of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, the easy assumption is that we aren't in the Rockies so we don't have to worry about that one. Not true. The Rockies is where it was originally discovered, but it's found across the country, including Delmarva.

I have an 8-year-old black lab, Evy, who still looks and acts so much like a puppy even the vets have a hard time believing her age. Last week, she started acting strange. She had a large bump on her side, nearly 6 inches around, surely an insect bite of some sort, and her demeanor had changed completely. She seemed tired, lethargic and acted that sulking way labs do when they've done something wrong. As the week progressed, she didn't want to rise from the sofa.

After a few more days, things got worse as she started having great trouble walking. She was limping on stiff legs and joints, suddenly looking like a 15-year-old dog with a bad case of hip dysphasia. Then she got warm with a fever. Time to see the doctor.

My vet knew right away what it was: Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Evy got a needle of antibiotics, a bottle of antibiotic pills for the next 30 days and a few more pills for her joint pain. Now, a day and a half later, she's already doing much better and my vet assures that she'll be back to normal in a few days more.

Keep an eye on your pets, especially if they spend a lot of time outdoors in the fields and woods, because my vet has seen an increase in RMSF cases this year. There's not much we can do to prevent RMSF either, as there's no vaccine, and a tick carrying the bacteria only has to make one quick bite to spread the disease.

The irony is that I, of all people, should have picked up on Evy's symptoms much quicker. While RMSF isn't common, I have had it, six years ago. My case knocked me out, put me in the hospital for a week with a 104-degree fever, and had my knee and ankle joints so sore I could barely walk.

Watch out for those bugs, they really are out to get us.


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