Pet Points: Lyme vaccines find wider acceptance

In the past few weeks, ticks have come up three times at my veterinary office.

My son's friend called for a second opinion on his limping Bernese mountain dog. His pet had been diagnosed with Lyme disease, and he wanted to know about treatment. Lameness is a classic sign of Lyme disease, which is the result of a tick bite. Further diagnostics with a test called C-6 found that Lyme disease was not the problem. The lameness had already been resolved.

Then a very good client called after he found a tick on his cat. Although ticks attach to cats, this cat never goes outside, and Lyme is not a common problem in cats. We started all of his cats on a flea and tick topical specific for cats.

Finally, my sister-in-law called in a near panic. She was visiting friends at their cabin, and after a bucolic walk in the woods she found ticks crawling all over her. She may never go outside again.

Veterinarians in this area are spending increasing amounts of time discussing the treatment and control of ticks and the potential for Lyme disease. Pittsburgh and surrounding areas have gone from a low incidence area to a high incidence of this disease over the past few years, and Pennsylvania is the No. 1 state for Lyme disease. I have discussed it in past Pet Points columns, but today I want to focus on vaccination.

Lyme vaccines are controversial. Experts disagree on the need for vaccination, and some opt for strict tick control and treatment of the disease instead. Other specialists are concerned about the small percentage dogs that can die as a result of infection. When veterinarians make decisions about specific medical recommendations, we usually do so after attending continuing education seminars or after reading research articles. We also discuss clinical cases with specialists and other colleagues.

Tick control is not always enough to combat these critters, and not all of the products we use can totally prevent exposure to ticks. I have had a few difficult situations, such as a white standard poodle that had high contact with ticks in ground cover and the yard. Nothing seemed to work well. We had to resort to a strong product we do not often use because of the side effects.

More veterinarians in this area are recommending vaccines to stop the spread of Lyme disease. Both clients and veterinarians are asking if vaccines are safe. The answer is yes. Although Lyme vaccine can have some adverse effects, these are not major issues. Safety is less of a concern when vaccines are not administered all at one time. We often give some vaccines separately.

Lyme vaccine may not afford 100 percent protection, but, as with tick control, we try to provide as much protection as possible. Not all vaccines provide long-term protection, and Lyme vaccine boosters should be given annually.

Should all dogs receive vaccines? The risk of exposure and other issues like breed variabilities should be discussed with a veterinarian to determine if vaccination is suggested. Different breeds have different susceptibility to the disease. In experimental studies, beagles seem to be more resistant to Lyme disease, while retrievers and Bernese mountain dogs seem to be more predisposed to infection.

Although the veterinary profession is not always in total agreement on Lyme vaccines, more vets are using tick controls and immunizations.

Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email Include name and municipality or neighborhood.

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.