A Columbia Falls couple continues nursing their dog back to health after it was bitten by a tick and afflicted with Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Hopkins, a border collie, was diagnosed with the diseases in late June, Kate Moseley said.
Kate and her husband, Scott, take Hopkins for walks in the woods almost every day.
"One night we were playing with him and felt something on his back," she said. "It was a tick. We pulled it off, thought nothing of it, burned the tick up and moved on."
Two days later, Hopkins became lethargic. That immediately got the Moseleys' attention, because "generally he has an amazing amount of energy and we love him for it," Kate said.
The dog's nose and muzzle were hot, so they called their veterinarian at the Whitefish Animal Hospital and took Hopkins in to get checked, Moseley said.
"When we called the vet, we wondered if these things were related," she said. "He had a tick and he's doing this now."
At the veterinary clinic, the dog was tested and "he came back positive for Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever," Kate said. Hopkins also was checked for antibodies and came back a "low positive," which Moseley was told meant he didn't have many antibodies present. That could mean the dog had picked the disease up earlier and carried it, she said.
But Hopkins is just 2 1/2 years old and has only been outside Montana once in his life, in Arizona "and not in any place you might have expected to find a tick," she said.
Plus the dog hadn't shown any symptoms of the diseases until June.
And, Moseley said, "we pet and brush him often. A tick couldn't have been there for more than two or three days."
He had an X-ray to check if he'd eaten metal, which can result in some of the same indications Hopkins was exhibiting, Moseley said.
Around the time the dog became ill, the Moseleys had taken him around parts of Columbia Falls, up Columbia Mountain, up the South Fork of the Flathead River near Hungry Horse Reservoir and around the Stillwater River.
The wet spring and early summer conditions in the Flathead Valley this year prompted the Flathead City-County Health Department in June to issue a warning to take precautions to avoid tick bites.
Kevin Morrell, a veterinarian at Alpine Animal Hospital in Whitefish, said they have treated animals for Lyme disease in past years, but haven't had any cases this summer.
Ticks can be kept off animals with the use of topical treatments, he said, which are especially important in wet years like this year.
Dogs usually are at greater risk for picking up ticks than cats, Morrell said, because dogs tend to roam more than cats.
Pets with Lyme disease typically show a recurrent lameness, he said. It shifts from one leg to another.
Moseley said Hopkins has been limping on a different leg all the time since he became ill.
While Lyme disease isn't particularly prevalent in Montana, it was first reported to the Centers for Disease Control in 2006.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is far more common in Montana, Morrell said.
Animals with either or both of the diseases will show symptoms of lethargy, fever, swelling of their lips and ears, a stiff gait, bloody noses, difficulty breathing and depression. They often stop eating, Morrell said.
Typically, both diseases are treatable, he said, and generally animals respond relatively well to treatment, "however there are always exceptions."
Hopkins didn't respond to his first round of antibiotics, Moseley said, but doxycycline has helped, except it upsets his stomach so he has to take Pepcid, too. Hopkins has lost about 10 pounds.
The CDC reports that Lyme disease is spread through the bite of infected ticks, either black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks; or western black-legged ticks.
In most cases, a tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted, the CDC says.
There is no evidence that Lyme disease can be transmitted from anything other than ticks or through air, food or water. Dogs and cats that get Lyme disease don't spread the disease to their owners, however, the CDC says, pets can bring infected ticks into a home.
People are reminded to check themselves and their pets for the presence of ticks. Flathead health department officials caution people to not crush ticks during removal, since the insect's fluids may contain infectious agents.
The best methods to dispose of ticks are by putting them in a container of alcohol or flushing down the toilet. People may want to consider saving the tick for identification in case illness develops, health department officials say.
"We check for ticks every day now," Moseley said. "We are looking for ticks on everything. It's very scary. I grew up here and I hadn't seen a tick for years, but this year I've seen tons of them.
"It's going to be a long road to recovery for Hopkins," she said.
Reporter Shelley Ridenour may be reached at 758-4439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.