New puppy owners generally have a lot of information to digest on how to best raise their new companion. On top of discussing topics such as nutrition, socialization, and vaccinations, we also need to address lifestyle with these owners. Lifestyle conversations create better relationships with clients by giving us insight on how to best serve the client and the patient.
Lifestyle information is especially relevant for vector-borne diseases such as Lyme disease. Dogs that have an active outdoor lifestyle (hiking, hunting, live near wooded areas, etc..) are at more risk for the disease because they are at more risk for coming into contact with ticks. In Lyme disease endemic areas (such as Northeastern states, the upper Midwest, some Mid-Atlantic states, and some Northwestern states), it is crucial to proactively address Lyme disease conversations with owners. The conversation should start by learning about the activities the owners intend to do with their dog.
High-risk outdoor environments include places with wildlife interface that are heavily wooded or have tall grasses, dense brush, or thick ground cover. Therefore, owners who plan outdoor excursions such as hiking, camping, or swimming with their dog are more likely to encounter ticks that carry Borrelia burgdorferi. Likewise, dogs that participate in sporting, herding, or hunting activities will have a higher risk of tick exposure than the average dog. Not only are these dogs at risk for Lyme disease, they are also at risk for leptospirosis because of an increased chance of exposure.
You will need to talk to these owners about strict tick control measures such as ectoparasiticides, frequent tick checks, and immediate tick removal. With these patients who live in Lyme endemic regions, you can also consider vaccination starting at 8-12 weeks of age depending on your overall assessment of risks and benefits.1
For Lyme disease risk assessment in endemic areas, it is worthwhile to know details about housing as well. Is the dog primarily an indoor dog or does it spend most of its time in the yard? Does the yard have a high level of wildlife interface (especially species such as rodents, small mammals, birds, or deer) or does it have heavy vegetation that serves as an ideal habitat for ticks?
Outside of Lyme endemic areas, the lifestyle conversation helps to determine if the owner and dog will be travelling to high-risk regions. In these cases, discussing vaccination before travel is appropriate and may be considered.Lifestyle discussions that begin at the puppy stage help us to create the best wellness care plans for the dog as it matures. Preventing tick-borne diseases from an early age is central to preventative care and to the long-term health of our patients. By talking about Lyme disease with puppy owners, we can institute proper tick control and precautionary measures that are based on individual lifestyle choices. In this way, we can protect the puppy from Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases before exposure can occur.