P.E.I. vet seeks puppies to be part of Lyme disease study

A veterinarian on P.E.I. is looking for puppies on P.E.I. to be part of a lifetime study to better understand their risk for developing Lyme disease and another disease called leptospirosis.

30 puppies signed up in Atlantic Canada, including 10 on P.E.I. and looking for more

Dr. Michelle Evason started the study a year and a half ago with another researcher in Ontario and has now launched it in Atlantic Canada where she now teaches.

A veterinarian on P.E.I. is looking for puppies on P.E.I. to be part of a lifetime study to better understand their risk for developing Lyme disease and another disease called leptospirosis.

"Our hope is by following a group of young dogs through the course of their life that we would be able to answer some of these questions as far as how are they exposed to some of these diseases," said Dr. Michelle Evason, who teaches at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown.

Not only are we asking people to be involved, we're asking people to stay involved.— Dr. Jason Stull, veterinarian

"And perhaps even more importantly what can we do to prevent them."

Lots of unknowns

Evason said one of the challenges is all of the unknowns around Lyme disease, both in dogs and humans.

Removing a tick on a dog can be done with a little plastic instrument supplied by veterinarians. (Getty Images)

"We just don't know a lot about it," said Evason.

"This is a new condition for us over the past five to six years and on the Island itself, finding more of these ticks that carry Lyme disease is new."

When a dog tests positive for Lyme disease, she said, there are still lots of questions.

"We don't know if that then means they are going to develop severe clinical signs associated with Lyme disease and if we should be treating them with antibiotics, yes or no," Evason said.

"And it may be different from Lyme disease or other tick-borne diseases in other places."

100 puppies wanted

The study started a year-and-a-half ago in Ontario, where more than 200 puppies are now enrolled. 

Mount Allison biology professor Vett Lloyd, left, found the ticks that can transmit Lyme disease on P.E.I., according to a year-long study. (Submitted by Vett Lloyd)

Evason launched the study in Atlantic Canada this summer and now has 30 puppies signed up, including 10 on P.E.I., with a target of 100 in the region.

Her vet students and co-researchers visited all the veterinary clinics on the Island in June and to date seven clinics have enrolled puppies.

The vet clinics collect blood samples from each of the puppies, then samples will be collected annually for the lifetime of the dog.

Pet owners are also asked to fill in a questionnaire.

'Big concern'

In Atlantic Canada, Evason also added leptospirosis to the study. 

Dogs can contract leptospirosis by drinking from water sources contaminated with urine from an infected animal. (Frank Augstein/Associated Press)

"That's a really big concern and a fairly recent one again here in Atlantic Canada," Evason said, pointing to an outbreak last year in Halifax and surrounding areas.

"We know that it's a disease that can be spread from animals like raccoons and rats that shed it in their urine," Evason said. 

"Then dogs that splash through a puddle that has been contaminated with that urine can contract leptospirosis and become very ill."

Lifetime study

Dr. Jason Stull is a veterinary epidemiologist and co-author of the study in Atlantic Canada.

Dr. Jason Stull is a veterinary epidemiologist and also part of the study in Atlantic Canada. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

"This is a really challenging type of research to do because not only are we asking people to be involved, we're asking people to stay involved," Stull said.

"You don't see a lot of these types of studies occurring in veterinary medicine but I think it's one that if we want to answer these types of questions, this is the way we do it."

Owner concerns

Susan Tweel is eager to hear more about the research, to help her decide what she needs to do to protect eight-month-old Lucy.

Eight-month-old Lucy is vaccinated against leptospirosis, one of the diseases in the lifetime study by AVC researchers. (Submitted by Susan Tweel )

"There was no question that I wanted her protected against Lyme disease so she takes a monthly medication for that," Tweel said.

"The veterinarian didn't necessarily recommend that she needed to be vaccinated for leptospirosis but we travel a lot off-Island where there are concerns about that, so I wanted to make sure she was covered."

Evason said the goal is to follow the dogs for their lifetime, with updates along the way. She and her co-researcher have already presented the findings of their baseline study in Ontario at two conferences this year.

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About the Author

Nancy Russell

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water rowing, travelling to Kenya or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca