Ticks and Dog Training: My Life with Lyme Disease, Part 1

If there was one factor that I never considered as a dog trainer, it was my chances of contracting Lyme Disease, a bacterial infection spread by ticks. Lyme is transmitted to people and animals while being bitten by an infected tick. Up until a few months ago, I didn’t know much else about Lyme, other than it came from ticks in the Northeast.  

Here in North Carolina, ticks are just part of life, particularly during April-October.  During these months, I frequently check my dogs for ticks and if I find one crawling on myself, after being creeped out, I carefully remove it without much thought. In the 14 years I’ve lived here, I can’t ever remember finding ticks on my body that were attached for any length of time, or so I thought.  

So, why worry?  After all, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the annual cases of confirmed Lyme in North Carolina can be counted on one hand.  Unbeknownst to me, Lyme is actually the most common tick borne illness in the U.S and is becoming more common is areas of the country that it has never been seen before.

My Lyme risk was actually quite high, considering that I was spending a great deal of time working outside with clients, teaching outdoor classes next to an open field, meeting clients on local trails for field trips, and attending different local dog events, all areas frequented by the ever increasing deer population and deer being one of the main transportation devices for ticks.

Lyme Disease symptoms first crept into my life this past spring.  I became more and more fatigued and began to have problems with my memory. At first, I was forgetting little details like the names of my students and their dogs, thoughts seemed to get lost on my tongue, or I could not complete my sentences.  I thought I was overworked and maybe a little burned out from teaching too many training classes.  My husband teased me that I was just getting old.  At my yearly physical, my doctor suggested I change my diet, exercise more, and take a vacation.   

That vacation came and went, but my fatigue continued and my memory began to fail me more and more over the summer.  Soon it was forgetting where I was driving or why I walked into a room on a regular basis and it began to scare me.   One day I noticed gradual swelling one of the joints of my left hand and the buzzing started.  My hands and feet felt as if there was an electrical current running through them.  This sent me running back to my doctor’s office.  Since my doctor was off that day, I saw a different doctor.  He quizzed me on my symptoms and became particularly interested when I told him I was a dog trainer.   Many lab tests later, my diagnosis came back as confirmed Lyme Disease.  

How could this happen??  As I learned, Lyme can be a challenge for physicians to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other conditions such as the flu, depression, menopause, and chronic fatigue, particularly in women.  In areas where Lyme is less common, doctors are less likely to test for it.  The most unlucky 20% with Lyme, like myself, never have the obvious, initial symptoms which include a fever and a bull’s eye rash that occurs shortly after the infectious bite.  So, my infection was able to progress to an advanced state impacting me physically and neurologically without my even being aware of it.

My diagnosis was just the beginning of how Lyme impacted my life as an active dog lover and my business as a dog trainer…

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