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Vaccinating dogs for Lyme disease

Q: I’m wondering if I should vaccinate my dog for Lyme disease. My veterinarian says it’s not necessary. However, a friend I often go hiking with said his veterinarian recommends the vaccine, and his dogs are vaccinated. What do you think? – C.G., Jackson, Mich.

A: “We hear this a lot; the conversation over the past 10 years has changed,” says Dr. John VanDaele, of Saginaw, Mich. “I would have once answered, ‘let’s not worry so much unless your dog is in New England.’ But over 700 cases of Lyme disease have been diagnosed in dogs in just our state so far this year. Increasingly, Lyme is occurring where previously it didn’t exist.”

If the reader lived in a high rise and confined his dog-walking to the sidewalk, “the answer might be different,” says VanDaele. “However, a dog who goes hiking is therefore exposed to ticks.”

He adds, “The deer tick (black legged tick) which carries Lyme may not be the most common tick in this region. But then my own sister lives near you, and her hunting dog was diagnosed with Lyme.”

“Ticks are nasty little creatures, and checking the dog for ticks daily is important,” VanDaele notes. “We have a client who moved to Missouri, and the first day there, she pulled 30 ticks off her dog. In some places, it’s crazy.”

Work with your veterinarian to choose the appropriate tick prevention product for all pets in your home, and for the region where you live.

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Q: A few years back, a stray cat started coming into our yard. We eventually began to feed him, and when he didn’t show up for a few days, we’d worry. He kept coming back, though, even if occasionally bloody, presumably from a catfight. We subsequently heard about a local trap, neuter, return program. We caught the cat, had him neutered, vaccinated for rabies, and ear-tipped to ID him as being TNR’d.

After this, the cat began to hang around our house even more. Our indoor cat would see him through the patio door but didn’t seem to mind his presence.

While we were away on a trip, we boarded the indoor cat, and a neighbor took care of the outdoor cat. When we returned, the indoor cat was acting lethargic and had fleas. Could these have come from the outdoor cat? We’re afraid we created a monster in the outdoor cat by taming him. We haven’t been able to find him a home. Should we bring him indoors? – R.W., Anderson, S.C.

A: Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Sharon Crowell-Davis, a professor of behavior and anatomy at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine-Athens, says, “I think you’ve grown to care for the outdoor cat. I’m convinced you want to find a way to bring this cat inside, and I don’t blame you.”

For starters, both cats should be protected against fleas. If you can touch the outdoor cat, you may be able to administer flea protection (as you simultaneously offer bits of tuna or salmon). Also, both cats should be protected against heartworm disease (transmitted by mosquitoes), and intestinal parasites. It’s impossible to say how the indoor cat got fleas, perhaps at the boarding facility.

When and if you bring the outside cat indoors, make the transition slow and easy. Gradually introduce him to your home and your indoor cat.

“If the cats have been communicating with one another (through) the patio door, and acting calmly, you have a head start,” Crowell-Davis notes.

First, take the outdoor cat to your veterinary to be checked for the feline immunodeficiency virus and feline leukemia, as well as for parasites. Once inside, keep him in a small room with a litter box, toys, food/water and a place to scratch. Visit the room frequently. Play with the cat using an interactive toy if he’s willing, but don’t push him to be a pal. Let the cat make the call.

Meanwhile, rotate objects belonging to each cat. For example, let toys and bedding belonging to the indoor cat appear in the room of the outdoor cat (and vice versa). Plug a Feliway diffuser into the wall in the room where each cat stays; these emit a copy of a calming pheromone.

“When you finally bring the cats together, do so gradually,” says Crowell-Davis. “And never be afraid to use treats; encourage the cats to focus on the treats rather than on one another.”