Happy Spring! Call me crazy, but I already miss the snow. There is nothing like hiking through the woods under a blanket of white, with the air clear and crisp and the silence deafening. Yeah, sure, I’m looking forward to warmer weather and the green emergence of the plants (yea!) after a long winter hibernation, but I am very definitely not looking forward to the emergence of ticks – nor the spirochetes that many of them carry.
The first consideration when looking at Lyme Disease is prevention. Not all dogs bitten by a tick transmitting Borrelia burgdorferi spirochetes will contract Lyme Disease (many don’t), and the determining factor is immune function. The safest and most effective way to prevent any health condition is to support the body in healing itself. The dog’s body knows how to do this (in fact, it does it every day), but there are ways we can help aid our dog’s immune function in conquering invaders.
Of course, the basis of health is nutrition. All systems of the body rely on vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, etc. which are provided by food. I won’t go into food here (see “The Importance of Food” for that), but will mention that dry kibble alone will not provide your dog with optimal immune support. It will sustain your dog; it will not foster a healthy response to pathogens. If you buy your dog food at a grocery store or big-box pet store, your dog’s immune support is most likely sadly deficient. The same is true of “prescription” or “science” formulas found in many vets’ offices. These foods are loaded with cheap fillers and even known carcinogens banned for use in human food, with one or two key ingredients to mask or suppress symptoms your dog is manifesting.
Even if you are feeding a quality food, a good multi-vitamin and -mineral supplement should be added, as well as digestive enzymes. The processing of dry food includes a heat process, which destroys the viabilty of enzymes and minimizes the integrity of essential vitamins and minerals. (If feeding raw and rotating meats, these supplements aren’t necessary.)
Another huge factor affecting immune support is vaccination. By giving all of the vaccines that Big Pharma dictates, we are lowering the immune function of our dogs. I’m not anti-vaccination; I’m anti-overvaccination. Bombarding the immune system with repeated combo vaccines throws it into disarray, compromising its ability to function appropriately (see http://www.shirleys-wellness-cafe.com/petvacc.htm). I often wonder how many of the autoimmune issues and cancers we see in dogs are a direct result of this unnatural bombardment. Talk with your vet about a limited vaccine schedule using single vaccines.
Please do not allow your vet to vaccinate for Lyme. The Lyme vaccine was developed for use in humans, but was recalled after too many people suffered the symptoms of Lyme. So, as is the case when pharmaceutical companies spend oodles of money on things that are not approved by the FDA or later recalled, the vaccine was peddled to the veterinary community. Now, vets are seeing more Lyme in dogs who were vaccinated for it than in those who weren’t. There are a couple of reasons for this (see http://www.thedogplace.org/VACCINES/Lyme-Disease1-10062-Jordan.asp), but the bottom line is that the vaccine isn’t doing your dog any favors – just compromising the immune response. A far safer option is the Borrelia nosode. Unlike the the Lyme vaccine, there have been no reported adverse reactions. Connecticut vet Dr. Steve Tobin recommends a dosage of 60C once daily for one week, then once a week for a month, then once every 6 months. If your vet insists on the Lyme vaccine (as many still do), find another vet. Really.
With immune function as the basis, we can build on that during tick season by giving herbs which specifically combat Lyme and other spirochetal diseases. The easiest way is to make a strong tea and pour it over your dog’s dinner every night. Astragalus is an excellent choice during tick season, aiding the immune system. Cat’s Claw is another immunosupportive herb, especially useful in spirochetal disease and prevention, as it raises certain lymphocyte counts specific to Lyme. Japanese Knotweed is an important antispirochetal herb for use during tick season, shutting down the pathways in the body that spirochetes like to take. We’ll talk about these herbs in more depth in Part II; but here, we’re using the root, which is best decocted (or, simmered) to extract the full benefits. Some people like to make up a jar to store in the refrigerator for a few days, but if you don’t see yourself doing that, a strong tea is better than nothing.
In addition, add fresh, raw garlic to your dog’s dinner every night. Garlic contains hundreds of sulfur compounds, which parasites will not tolerate. Garlic supports almost every system in the body – especially the immune system – and acts as a natural antibiotic.
Many choose to apply topical flea & tick preventives like Frontline. While I understand the need to protect your dog against these parasites, chemical topicals are actually neurotoxins which are absorbed by the skin (“wear gloves when applying”). As such, they actually suppress the immune system because it’s so busy fighting against these invaders. Kind of negates the action for which it was intended, and the reason so many dogs smeared with these toxins get ticks, anyway. Parasites love a weakened host because they’re an easier target. I prefer applying a natural spray before going into areas where ticks are likely to be present. Honestly, I don’t recommend most herbal bug sprays, because they usually just don’t work – especially for ticks. The only herbal ingredients I have found to be effective against ticks are Tea Tree oil and Neem. Tea Tree oil is very potent and must be used in small quantities (only a few drops per spray bottle). Tea Tree and Neem are pretty stinky, so I will add some Lavender and Rose Geranium to make the spray tolerable – as well as help deter other bugs. Generally, I’m not a huge fan of using essential oils at all with dogs – but tick season calls for special measures, and it sure beats chemical neurotoxins.
If your dog is bitten by a tick and you would like to take extra precaution, you can give the homeopathic Ledum at a dose of 1M, three times a day for three days. Dogs respond very well to Ledum, and there are no adverse effects, even if there were no spirochetes transmitted by the tick.
Don’t let ticks keep you out of the woods! Enjoy long and happy hikes with your dog.