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From Our Holistic Vet: Preventing And Treating Lyme Disease in Dogs

May is Lyme Disease awareness month, a good time to review natural approaches to this common diagnosis.

Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria known as Borrelia Burgdorferi, and is transmitted most commonly by the bite of a deer tick.

In the vast majority of dogs who test positive for Lyme, it simply means the animal has been exposed to the organism, as most pets have minimal to no symptoms.

In the minority of dogs who have clinical symptoms of Lyme Disease, this is usually due to the effect on the immune system, where the Lyme bacteria initiate an inflammatory response in the collagen, the glue that makes up many tissues of the body.

The most common area affected includes the joints, where varying degrees of shifting lameness of various limbs often occurs, along with lethargy, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. In rare cases, Lyme exposure can lead to inflammation of the kidneys, heart, and/or central nervous system.

The keys to a holistic approach to this condition involve naturally reducing inflammation, increasing immune function, and supporting the collagen in the body.

This can be accomplished firstly by making sure the dog is on a species-appropriate diet, which is the cornerstone of any holistic treatment of many diseases.

“Let food be thy medicine,” is a famous quote from the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, which is still true all these generations later. For our pets, this would include a species-appropriate, fresh meat-based diet, which is preferably minimally cooked/processed and/or raw.

There are several excellent resources on how to prepare this type of diet at home in the work of Ian Billinghurst and his BARF-based diets, as well as recipes from earlier editions of Dr. Pitcairn’s Guide To Natural Health for Dogs and Cats.

There are also commercial variations of a fresh meat-based diet from companies such as Darwin’s, Honest Kitchen, Primal, and Stella and Chewy’s to name just a few. For those clients who choose not to feed a fresh meat-based diet, many of these companies have freeze-dried variations, which are healthier options than most commercial canned or dry food-based diets.

As far as natural treatments for Lyme disease, one of the more commonly employed measures is the use of homeopathy.

A very common homeopathic remedy used for Lyme disease is the remedy Ledum Palustre, which is derived from wild rosemary. The basis of the choice of this homeopathic remedy is that transmission of the Lyme bacteria occurs by a tick bite. Many homeopathic protocols use this remedy but many homeopaths will often prescribe a 200C or 1M potency once or twice daily for 3 days after the tick bite.

Other more classical homeopaths will choose an individualized homeopathic remedy based on the symptom totality tendency of the patient; Not just the current symptoms expressed by the animal, but those over the life of the patient. In this way, it is hoped that the body will heal itself and put itself back into balance.

There are several herbal and supplement preparations that also may help support the body in healing.

Glucosamine supplement products can help with not only pain and inflammation but also in helping protect and restore the cartilage of affected joints. Glucosamine supplements come in many forms from doggy snacks to tablets and powders and often include other supportive joint additions such as MSM and other nutrients.

Astragalus is a food-based herb that boosts the immune system. It’s best used as a preventative for Lyme disease, and/or in the earlier stages of infection.

Another herb commonly used by herbalists is the herb Teasel, which is excellent for joint inflammation and can be added as a powder to the food.

Two other herbs that have also helped manage Lyme disease cases include the herb Cat’s Claw, as well as the herb Japanese knotweed root, which is wonderfully helpful to quell the multiple avenues of inflammation in the body triggered by the Lyme bacteria. Not only can this herb help increase the efficacy of other herbs used in managing Lyme disease, but it can also help with the actions of the antibiotic commonly prescribed known as doxycycline.

In addition to the above herbal and homeopathic suggestions, one can also prevent tick exposure and bites naturally. Essential oils are wonderful at repelling fleas and ticks and are best used in a diluted form on the pet.

Amongst the most common essential oils used include Lemongrass oil, rosemary oil, Neem oil, and peppermint oil. Other clients have found cedar oil helpful as well as Germanium oil, thyme, and citronella. In those cases where tick exposure is heavy, it may be necessary to use one of the many conventional flea/tick products.

As the approach of tick season increases across many areas of the country, I am hopeful that by employing some of the above more natural measures we can prevent and help treat Lyme disease in dogs.

Dr. Michael Dym, VMD