Lyme Disease in Dogs – What You Need To Know

lyme disease

Ticks transmit diseases of all varieties. One of those diseases is Lyme Disease, harmful to animals and humans alike. Dogs that get Lyme disease are prone to lameness, which means they have trouble walking or moving due to infected joints. If not treated, the illness can spread through the dog’s body through the bloodstream, causing the kidneys to shut down, the nervous system to become damaged, and the heart to stop.

What Symptoms are Common?

Trouble getting up and around is one of the most common symptoms associated with Lyme disease for dogs. This is because of inflammation that occurs in multiple joints throughout the dog’s body. Joints may even feel warm to the touch and appear swollen. This can be quite painful.

Are There Uncommon Symptoms?

Other areas throughout the body may also become inflamed. This can cause severe complications and damage. The kidneys are most likely to become damaged to Lyme disease. The kidneys may begin to fail, causing other symptoms. These range from vomiting to diarrhea; limited interest in eating to weight loss; and also an increased thirst and need to urinate.

Trouble may also develop with the heart and nervous system, although this is rare. Before this happens, other signs are noticed. Dogs may keep their back arched and walk stiffly. They may sensitive if touched. It is also possible for them to experience a fever and have trouble breathing.

Dogs with this disease often feel depressed because they are not able to function as they once were. It is a debilitating disease.

What Causes Lyme Disease in Dogs?

Deer ticks carry a bacteria known as Borrelia burgdorferi. If a tick remains on a dog for two or more days, the bacteria spreads and causes the disease to develop.

Is Lyme Disease Contagious?

lyme disease

Lyme disease cannot be spread from dog to dog, or dog to person. It is only administered by a tick who carries the bacteria required to spread the disease. It is also only possible if the tick remains on the skin for 48 hours.

It is important to note that although dogs with Lyme disease cannot pass it on to their owners, they are capable of bringing ticks into a home. The tick itself can then attach to humans or other animals and cause in another host.

What is the Diagnosis?

Degenerative joint disease is capable of causing pain to the joints. This, as well as arthritis symptoms, need to be differentiated between to help rule out other causes. Several diagnostic tests are required to determine if Lyme disease is in fact the culprit of the joint pain and swelling.

Taking fluid from swollen joints is one way to diagnose the disease. A blood chemistry test may also be performed, as well as a blood cell count, fecal examination, urine analysis, and x-ray. Each of these tests work together to pinpoint whether Lyme disease is in fact present within the dog’s system.

An antibody test helps to determine if the dog has experienced a reaction to the tick’s bacteria. If the infection only occurred recently, not enough antibodies may show up, meaning another test is required.

A PCR test will determine if the actual bacteria is present in the dog’s system. This works as long as the bacteria is present in the exact blood that was tested, and not elsewhere within the body. Some bacteria are only located near the joints they are effecting.

What is the Prognosis?

Most dogs recover from Lyme disease quickly, but may see symptoms return down the road. Once the treatment is undergone, symptoms are eliminated. Down the line they may return, requiring another treatment. A dog who experiences symptoms of Lyme disease on multiple occasions is more likely to develop kidney disease.

How is Lyme Disease Treated?

Lyme disease can be treated with the help of antibiotics. It typically takes four weeks of treatment before the dog is healed. Doxycycline is the most commonly used antibiotic for dogs with this disease, although there are alternative options if needed. Amoxicillin is another option.

Living with Lyme Disease

Symptoms improve within only a few days of treatment. This can help the dog return to normal, ensuring he can get up and walk like before, eat like before, and even stop feeling pain. It will take another few weeks on top of that before all symptoms are fully gone and the disease is put at bay.

Dogs may continue to live with the disease for the rest of their lives, experiencing flare ups in the future. This can lead to further damage if not properly treated each time. Multiple rounds of antibiotics and other medications may be necessary to help alleviate symptoms and manage pain.

Prevention Suggestions

Lyme disease cannot fully be prevented. Ticks easily find their way onto dogs and cause the disease to spread. It is still ideal for owners to regularly check their pets for ticks so any spotted can be removed immediately. If the ticks are not left on the body for more than two days, it is possible to prevent the disease from occurring.

Areas known for ticks should be avoided. Highly wooded areas are home to the largest tick populations. Marshes, tall grasses, and areas with thick brush are also popular places for ticks to live. They are primarily found in the Midwest U.S., as well as the Northeast. 

If owners do plan on taking their dogs for walks through the woods, special tick repellants can be used. They are not 100 percent effective, but are still able to limit the amount of exposure to ticks. Sprays, collars, and topical treatments are all available.

It is also important to have dogs regularly tested to determine if they have the disease. A Lyme disease screening can be conducted each year. There are also vaccines intended for use against Lyme disease. A vaccine is available at most veterinary offices, but its use is somewhat controversial. It should only be used if the owner and veterinarian agree.