It may be early spring, but household pets are already testing positive for Lyme disease, with veterinarians in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick confirming some of the earliest cases they have ever seen.

One case of Lyme disease has been diagnosed at a vet clinic in Moncton, while the East River Animal Hospital in New Glasgow, N.S. has recorded four cases of the disease in the last three months.

“We were seeing ticks straight into December and some into January and they’ve already started again, so that’s a good month earlier than usual,” says Vett Lloyd, a biology professor at Mount Allison University.

Lloyd says the relatively mild winter – especially in southeastern New Brunswick – has been good for the ticks and the small animals they depend on for a food source, and that may translate into more cases of Lyme disease in pets.

“That would be the expectation, yes, and we’ll see it first in dogs,” she says.

Veterinarian Dr. Brett Tremble says pet owners should watch for general malaise or flu-like symptoms and evidence of a tick bite.

“Wherever the tick bites, a lot of the times you’ll see a lymphadenopathy, so a larger lymph node closest to the place the tick bit,” says Tremble. “There can be a shifting leg lameness where one day one leg is sore, and the next day, the other leg is sore.”

He says pets may also develop rashes and, in rare cases, experience issues with their kidneys.

Dog owner Cecile Lafreniere says she’s meticulous about checking her dog after their walks.

“My experience has been to just keep an eye on a regular basis,” she says. “Especially in the late spring, I start using a special comb, just comb her coat regularly just to check.”

Tremble says prevention is always better than treatment, so he recommends a Lyme disease vaccine for all dogs.

“They get one shot when they’re a puppy, then about two weeks later, you get another booster, and if you’re an adult dog, it’s the same kind of thing, you can come in and be vaccinated,” he says.

Meanwhile, Lloyd is encouraging anyone who finds a tick on themselves or on their pet to send it to her at Mount Allison University, so she can check to see if it’s carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Jonathan MacInnis