Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Billion Dollar Lyme Disease Scam

Center for Disease Control (CDC), Lyme disease cases (human) for 2006.

"Lyme disease vaccines and testing, as well as Lyme treatment of asymptomatic dogs, is a huge scam costing American dog owners hundreds of millions of dollars a year."

In a previous post about Lyme disease, I gave good medically-sound advice, which can be summarized as follows:

  1. Just say NO to Lyme disease vaccination. This is junk billing.

  2. Just say NO to Lyme testing; the tests ALL give false positives, none of the tests tell you if your dog has the disease, and ALL the tests cost more than Lyme treatment which is the only definitive test of the disease.

  3. Treat suspected Lyme disease with doxycycline (5 mg per pound of dog) which you can purchase without prescription and without visiting a vet. If your formerly lame, lethargic and stiff-jointed dog shows marked improvement after a few days, keep the dog on doxycycline for a full 5 week regime.
In response, I got an anonymous post saying that there was a new Lyme test that was 100 percent accurate, that this fool-proof test should be followed up with more tests, that capsules given to a dog were "problematic," that doxycycline would upset a dog's tummy, and that doxycycline should be administered longer than 5 weeks. In addition this anonymous person wanted me to know that doxycycline will not cure Babesiosis.

My tolerance for nonsense is low, and it's even lower from anonymous posters, and so I let fly, calling prattle exactly what it was, and noting that the medical literature agreed with me.

In response, I got back a short nasty-gram from someone signed "Gil" who did not give an email address or offer a single corrective citation to what I said.

No matter. The world is a small place, and it was not hard for me to figure out who "Gil" was.

Gil Ash has a small web site about Lyme disease in which she suggests that folks should ignore what anyone else says (including their own veterinarian) and keep looking around until they find a vet who will take their money to do Lyme testing, Lyme titers, and Lyme treatment. The veterinarian she seems to lean on for Lyme disease information is a "holistic" vet in Texas (where there is very little Lyme it should be said -- see map) who specializes in ... horses.

A second poster then chimed in, suggesting I needed to take a chill pill because Lyme was a really serious disease, and she should know because she owned a "potential" Search-and-Rescue dog that had been wrecked by Lyme disease. Her evidence for the horror of Lyme is that her own dog had tested positive for Lyme and was fearful of noise, lights and sounds, and was aggressive to other animals (but not to humans).

Whoo boy!

Now, to cut to the chase, Gil's advice on Lyme disease is not supported, and I assume Gil knows it, as it's simply NOT that hard to find good information on Lyme disease.

I will cover Lyme disease in detail in a second, but for now let me get rid of a stray strand of worry and confusion that Gil attempts to throw into the mix: Babesia.

If you are worried about Babesia, you probably shouldn't be, as it turns out you are 20 times more likely to be hit by lightning than to catch Babesia microti, the human version of the disease, while Babesia gibsoni, the more serious canine version of the disease is not much more common, and its occurrence seems to be almost entirely limited to Pit bull terriers. Babesia canis, the less virulent (and more common) form of Babesia is generally asymptomatic, and does not require treatment. Finally, it should be noted that Babesia symptoms in dogs (when they occur) are not the same as that for Lyme, which generally presents as lameness and stiff joints.

As to the second poster, it turns out that blaming an animal's unrelated problems on Lyme disease is such a common phenomenon it is actually mentioned in the literature on Lyme. Here's a hint: a bit of bacteria does not tell an animal to bite other dogs but to leave the human in the house alone.

Fear and aggression are NOT symptoms of Lyme disease. Fear and aggression are, more likely, due to a twist of genetics and/or poor socialization of the animal.

OK, now back to Lyme disease. First, a little history.

America is a huge country, and we are no longer a new one. With a population of well over 300 million people, and the modern historical time line going back more than 300 years, I think it's safe to say there have a few hundred million dogs in the U.S. over that time. And yet, Lyme disease was not diagnosed in humans until 1975, and was not diagnosed in dogs until 1984.

What does this suggest?

Well, for one thing, it suggests that Lyme disease may not be very common.

Which it isn't.

In fact, Lyme disease is very rare over most of the U.S., and the prevalence of the disease is heavily skewed to a few relatively small regions of the country (see map at top).

And while relatively few humans catch Lyme disease, dogs are even less likely to catch it.

The good news is that since 1984, when Lyme was first identified in dogs, a heck of a lot of stuff has been written about Lyme disease's prevalence, symptoms, epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment in dogs.

Most of this literature is marketing stuff cobbled up by drug companies trying to sell Lyme tests, Lyme vaccines, and Lyme cures, but some legitimate research on this disease has been done as well.

This legitimate research has, for the most part, shown that most of the "problems" associated with Lyme disease, other than leg lameness, joint stiffness, and lethargy, cannot be replicated in a laboratory setting in which dogs are intentionally infected with Lyme disease.

I could reference all of this literature, but it's not necessary, as the "Consensus Statement of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine on Lyme Disease" offers an excellent "best practices" paper as to what can and should be done regarding Lyme.

Read the whole thing if you want, but I will summarize -- in plain English -- the basics of what you need to know, with appropriate highlighted text to be found on the PDF:

  1. Lyme disease in dogs is very rare nationally, and Lyme disease itself is endemic to only a small portion of the U.S.

  2. It is much harder for a dog to catch Lyme disease than it is for a human.

  3. 95 percent of the dogs that catch Lyme from a tick are asymptomatic (no symptoms).

  4. An asymptomatic dog does not need to be tested for Lyme, as an asymptomatic dog does not need treatment, and treatment will not completely rid the dog of Lyme infection in any case.

  5. All Lyme tests and titers give false positives or otherwise offer up only meaningless information that tell you nothing about whether the dog actually has Lyme disease or will come down with it.

  6. A dog with symptoms of Lyme disease should not be tested for Lyme, as tests and titers do not prove that Lyme is the causal agent of any observed problem. The ONLY 100% indication that Lyme disease is a causal agent of a problem in a dog is if the dog responds to appropriate antibiotic treatment. Said treatment is cheaper than either a test for Lyme disease or an assay titer.

  7. The best treatment for Lyme disease is oral doxycycline (5 mg a pound) for five weeks. Longer treatment periods have not been shown to be therapeutic. Doxycycline is also an effective treatment for several other tick-borne diseases such as Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Note that neither doxy nor any other treatment will rid a dog of Lyme antibodies; they will remain in the dog forever, and repeated infection from another tick bite is always possible.

  8. Most dogs that come down with Lyme-related lameness, lethargy, or joint stiffness get dramatically better after 2-3 days worth of treatment with doxycycline. If so, continue doxycycline treatment for a full 5 weeks. In humans, long-term doxycylin treatment has not been shown to be more effective than placebos, and there is no evidence to suggest it as a sensible regime for dogs

  9. Lyme vaccines are more likely to do harm than good, and should NOT be given even in Lyme-endemic areas.

  10. Some dog owners and veterinarians are only too happy to blame other medical issues on Lyme disease. However, if your dog does not get better after a five-week treatment of doxycycline, the problem is probably something other than Lyme, such as an a congenital autoimmune disorder.
What's all this mean?

Boil it all down, and what you have is a simple fact: Lyme disease vaccines, testing, and medically unnecessary treatment of asymptomatic dogs is a huge scam costing American dog owners hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

As noted in my earlier post, you should say NO to Lyme disease vaccination and NO to Lyme testing. If your dog comes up lame or stiff, do nothing for two weeks; it's probably as simple as a sprain, bruise, or cut pad. If the dog does not get better, however, and no other problem seems evident, treat the dog with doxycycline that you have ordered on your own and without a prescription. If the dog dramatically improves in 2-3 days, then the issue is Lyme disease, and continue to treat with doxycycline for a full 5-week regime.

Bird-biotic doxycycline can be ordered from Amazon or Revival Animal Health, and contains a 100 mg dose of doxycycline, which is a perfect dose for a 20-pound terrier. Scale up or down for a larger or smaller dog, dosing 5 mg per pound of dog, twice a day (once every 12 hours).

This is a repost from April 25, 2008.



Pai said...

All of your articles on Vets and pet health have taught me a lot -- it's so opposite of what so many other folks are saying, but it's undeniably true...

It seems to me that the growing 'over-babying' of pets is what's getting folks to believe every little claim they hear about 'how to protect your pet's health', even over rational facts that say the opposite.

I love my dog, and will admit that she's a bit of a child substitute, but I also do not see the use in over-medicating and sheltering her. I think people do that too much with their KIDS, and look how allergies and all that have grown among the young in recent years... I'd have to have it become just as common someday for dogs to have asthma and food allergies because we sterilize and medicate them to the same extent. Purebreds as a whole already have enough issues as is.

I'm sure there are pharmaceutical companies and crooked vets who'd just love for that to happen, though.

Anonymous said...

One of the blogs I read is running a series on 'fake diseases.' This one is on 'chronic Lyme disease' in humans. I thought you might find it interesting.

Pai said...

Another thing to mention would be that an infected tick has to be attached to the dog for 12 to 24 hours before the bacteria can even be transmitted in the first place.

In other words, careful daily checking and removal of ticks does a huge amount of good.

Seahorse said...

Although nearly all the common wisdom on Lyme's in humans says the tick must be attached for 24 hours or so, I can tell you from my own experience that I believe this is untrue. I can't say what might be true for dogs, but I had a tick on me for less than four hours and got an epic case of Lyme's. And yes, I'm absolutely certain of this time frame. I don't understand why if the mouth parts are exchanging fluids with the host, it would require such a lengthy attachment to transmit the bacteria. My husband came down with Lyme's about a week after I did, so in my experience it's not a difficult thing to catch, either. My county has a pretty high incidence of Lyme's in humans, so maybe we're just an unlucky hotbed.


HTTrainer said...

I agree that the vaccine is for all intents useless and the basic tests show the presence of the these spirochetes whether alive or dead. I had dogs test positive (first time) for anaplasmosis (erlichiosis) but not Lyme. Nor do the test distinguish between the 2 forms of anaplasmosis.
if these bacteria are related to the other Rickettsial bacteria that cause malaria why isn't there an epidemic? I'll have another gin & tonic, than you.

Donald McCaig said...

Lyme is so common among east coast trialing sheepdogs that some handler routinely dose all their dogs with doxy every year. After I bought my Luke (age 2) I learned he had lyme teeters and treated him as perscribed. Knocked them down but not out. He will always test positive.

No big deal except:

a couple years ago, we had a new strain of botulism in the county. Merck says dogs don't get it. Not true.
When Luke found some carrion and started wobbling (first symptom), his lyme also kicked in which meant he was not only part paralyzed, all his joints were hurting too.

And, two years ago, age seven, Luke developed a heart murmur which is unusual among Border Collies. Mild but getting worse andt this will be his last year running big trials.

I suspect his early lyme disease affected his heart.

PBurns said...

Yes, botulism can affect dogs -- coyotes too. Botulism in dog is rare only because it is rare in nature. The most common source is a duck or goose pond saturated with goose and duck crap. There are botulism outbreaks in these ponds every year (most never reported) with lots and lots of dead ducks and geese as a result. Never let your dog chew on dead waterfowl.


Donald McCaig said...

Here it's deer carcasses and gut piles after hunting season.

Donald McCaig

HTTrainer said...

Migrating birds also carry the immature ticks, but who check them?

Anonymous said...

I live just North of an area illustrated as endemic on your map but I understand Lyme Disease has spread quite a lot since 2008. My dog is symptomatic and has tested positive for Lyme Disease. I am wondering about the length of Doxycycline treatment. Tick List recommends is an aggressive regime: 5 mg. of doxycycline per pound of body weight given every 12 hours for 8 weeks. The link is:
The rational is that Lyme must be hit hard the first time out and lower doses and/or shorter treatment times all too often mean recurrence. Unless your dog is one of the few that cannot take doxycycline or take it in this higher dose, my best advice to you is to insist on it. Each time ehrlichiosis or Lyme recurs, it's harder to stop or contain it. I notice your site recommends 5 weeks. Have you heard of the 8 week treatment?

Janice - From Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

PBurns said...

Why do anything? Your dog is ASYMPTOMATIC. That means there is no DOG problem you are treating. Why did you even test your asymptomatic dog since false positives are more common than rain? Please read this post again.

Carissa said...

I have just read your blog and am very happy I did. Before we moved to FL from NJ about a yr ago, she tested "positive-neg" for lyme and was immediately put on doxy. She wasn't even a yr old. There was a tick on her ear before she was tested maybe a mth or so before that so I panicked.
And this morning she woke up out of nowhere with a limp on her left leg and so I called her vet in NJ that originally tested her and of course they told me she would have to be tested again here in FL for lyme!! I had my doubts so I stumbled on your blog and read this I am considering just ordering the doxy myself instead of putting her through all that crap again for nothing just to see if that is what the problem really is..

Thanks Again

Carissa said...

I just read your blog doing some research on lyme because of my Yorkie who was tested in NJ about a yr ago and it came back "positive". Since I was new to this, I panicked of course and they immediately put her on doxy and told me if I noticed any symptoms to bring her back.. Well it's been almost a yr and we've moved to FL and this morn she woke up w/a limp in her (L) leg. I call the vet that tested her and they tell me she HAS TO BE tested again for lyme!! No surprise there!! I have my doubts so I ended up stumbling on your blog and started to read, I agree w/alot of info in it! I also think that there are vaccines that do more harm than good and that certain vaccines are not necessary to even give to animals.
I also am very wooried about my dog and will take your advice before putting her through a whole bunch of blood tests.

Unknown said...

Is it beneficial to give a dog the treatment if his symptoms seem to be subsiding on their own?
My dog has been showing signs of Lyme on and off since August. This was just after a visit to northern CA mountains where he was hiking with my mother. The symptoms have been kidney related til now - a couple days ago he had very tender hips/back legs and couldn't even get on the couch. He's fine now. Can Lyme go away on its own? Should I treat him anyway? Is there a harm to treating him if he didn't have it? This has been a health rollercoaster since August and I want this to be done with. He has had blood and fecal tests that all came back clean.

PBurns said...

If you were in pain this long, you would have treated yourselfong ago. Treat now. No harm done if it is something other than Lyme.

asiriusgeek said...

Unfortunately it's not nearly so simple to obtain doxycycline now, with or without a prescription :-(.

PBurns said...

More expensive, but still easy to get.

With prescription, it's a $4 or $10 fill at WalMart >>

Dog Man said...

Old post but worth a comment or two. I LIVE in l Lyme ground Zero in Southern N.H. where the
common dog tick has been largely supplanted by the black legged deer tick.
I HAVE been diagnosed with lyme twice, treated with both times and consider long term chronic human lyme to lyme be a total myth, regardless of the internet drivel.
ALL my dogs have had Lyme VAX And all have been treated with doxy due to active lyme infection despite Vax!In my area I am just treating with Doxy or Minocycline twice a year, no Vax no Test.

Dog Man said...

Also, Doxy prices are 10 times higher than a couple years ago.Minocycline is just as effective and crosses the blood/brain barrier more effectively than Doxy.

PBurns said...

Minocycline works fine, but the recent price inflation on Doxy is purely due to U.S. market manipulation and price-gouging through control and limiting of distribution channels. Doxycyline is the #1 treatment for malaria the world over, and so all you have to do it order from overseas where they cannot -- and do not -- pay ridiculous prices for this generic drug. See

Unknown said...

Really appreciate the tip regarding doxycycline that is intended for birds but can be used in dogs. My terrier has been severely ill for almost two years now which has included kidney failure. Everytime she's had blood work she's showed positive for an infection and treated with antibiotics but this is the first time I've tried doxycycline having all but given up on vets. I strongly suspect leptospirosis.

She's responding well to doxy and has only been on it two days - the drooling and vomiting have stopped and she is no longer as stiff or hunched in pain. That said she has a dramatically decreased appetite and as I write will only eat lamb - I've ordered a high calorie supplement and I'll try broth feeding too if it continues for the course of the antibiotics.

Thank you! I was despairing and seriously contemplating putting her to sleep as I felt she was suffering needlessly and would likely die any way. I suspect the penicillin courses she has had have helped but not got to the core of whatever infection has been running through her. Lepto, lyme, a combo or something else - this is working.