Intimidating news for farmers regarding tickborne diseases

by Hope Holland

The Haemaphysalis longicornis tick, also known as the East Asian tick, the longhorned tick, and the bush tick, has been found in three nearby states — New Jersey, West Virginia and Virginia. The Maryland Department of Agriculture urges animal owners to check livestock and pets for this new, exotic species, and to report any unusual ticks or high volumes of tick bites to the department’s Animal Health Program office.

According to the release from the MD Department of Agriculture, “The USDA considers the longhorned tick a serious concern for livestock, including cattle, sheep, horses, goats, pigs, donkeys, chickens, turkeys, and many others. A large number of longhorned tick infections in animals may cause stunted growth, decreased production or even death. The longhorned tick also has the potential to carry illnesses that may affect both animals and humans, including Anaplasmosis, Q-fever, Piroplasmosis and newly emerging infectious diseases like Japanese Spotted Fever and Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome.”

In order to protect your family, pets and livestock, the department recommends routinely checking animals for ticks, especially if those animals have been outdoors.

This statement from the MD Department of Agriculture has been released almost concurrently with a recent statement from the Centers for Disease Control stating that at least seven new diseases have been identified as being tick borne.

For a disease that is as prevalent as Lyme disease has shown itself to be, precious little is known about its effects on the animals that populate our worlds. One cause of this is that Lyme is able to present itself in many different ways, ways that are more easily assumed to be something else entirely. Another is that often enough the owner of the animal and the practitioner both are not keeping Lyme disease in the forefront of their minds when they look at the symptoms that it can present during an examination.

Also, according the Pet Health Network, Lyme disease can affect different organs and systems within the canine body. The most common symptoms you might spot are:

  • Recurrent painful joints that lasts 3–4 days, sometimes accompanied by loss of appetite and depression
  • Reluctance to move, or a stiff, painful gait
  • Swollen joints that are warm to the touch
  • Leg pain or pain throughout the body
  • Fever, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes

It is important to use a veterinarian-recommended tick preventive on your dog and to discuss vaccinating your dog against Lyme disease with your vet as well. Successful treatment of Lyme disease is dependent upon early detection and the severity of your dog’s symptoms.

When you move to the larger farm animals you still have that area of perplexity. Lameness, arthritis, neurologic disease, uveitis (moon blindness), and dermatitis have been the most commonly described signs of Lyme disease in horses although both symptoms and test results often are confusing. However, according to many experts in the equine field, even whether to treat a horse that has a blood titer for Lyme disease is in question.

Diagnosing Lyme disease can be tricky while blood tests can help make the diagnosis, often they don’t yield a clear answer. But if the physical exam and the tests both point to the disease, your vet may recommend that your horse be treated for it.

As far as Lyme disease in cattle, according to a statement by Larry Sparks, Ph.D. on the program Line On Agriculture on Aginfo.net on Sept. 27, 2016, “I called Dr. Bill Barton, chief veterinarian for the State of Idaho [who stated]: “Can a cow get Lyme disease? It appears that cattle can become affected by it because when they do blood tests on it, they have demonstrated antibodies to the infectious organism. So if they have the antibodies to it, it means they were infected and they mounted an immune response. What we don’t know currently and there is more and more research coming out on Lyme’s disease in livestock, but in humans there is a set pattern of symptoms. In cattle there is no set pattern of symptoms and the symptoms can look like lots of other maladies that can affect cattle. They can run a fever, they can get stiff, they can have weight loss, swollen joints, but yes, it is possible, horses, too.”

It appears that the tick is holding fast to its secrets in some quarters while it has been at least exposed as the threat that it is as far as humans and dogs are concerned. Certainly more will be learned in the very near future.

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