What is Lyme disease? How do our canine companions get this infection and what are the signs of Lyme disease in dogs? Which pets are most at risk?
Although human awareness and knowledge of the condition we know today as Lyme disease has been fairly recent (1980’s), researchers now know that the bacterium that causes this ailment has been on our planet for millions of years. The bloodsucking parasitic tick, which is the vector of this treacherous bacteria that causes Lyme disease, has been on Earth for approximately 300 million years.
Let’s briefly explore what modern veterinary medical research tell us about the signs of Lyme disease in dogs, what we can do if our pet becomes infected, and even more importantly, how we can prevent it.
What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can be spread to dogs, humans, and certain other animals through the bite of an infected tick. An infected tick is a carrier of the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium which it transmits to its host when it takes a bloodsucking bite. Once this highly invasive bacteria enters the bloodstream of its newly infected host, it sets up shop and goes about its business of causing Lyme disease.
Only certain species of ticks are known to spread Lyme disease. The usual offender for humans and dogs is the black legged tick, more commonly known as the deer tick. Deer ticks are found in grassy wooded areas, forests, marshes or swamps, but can also be lurking in your own back yard.
Lyme disease gets its name from the town of Lyme, Connecticut, U.S.A., in New London County. In 1975 a cluster of adults and children living in that town experienced unusual arthritis-like symptoms, and Lyme disease was diagnosed for the first time as a distinctive condition. Wilhelm Burgdorfer later identified the bacterium responsible for the disease in 1981.
Signs of Lyme Disease in Dogs
It’s important for pet owners to understand that not all dogs that are exposed to the Borrelia borgdorferi bacteria will develop symptoms of Lyme disease. In fact, this tick-transmitted illness only causes symptoms in 10% of affected dogs. So if you’ve found ticks on your dog and decide to have him tested for Lyme disease, a positive test does not indicate an active infection, only that your dog has been exposed to the Lyme bacteria and has developed antibodies against it; But Lyme disease is one of the most common tick borne diseases in dogs.
The most dominant clinical sign of canine Lyme disease is recurrent lameness that happens intermittently and often shifts from limb to limb to spine. This lameness is due to an inflammation of the animal’s joints. When the condition affects the dog’s spine, he will walk stiffly with an arched back. When it affects the limbs, he will limp on one or more legs. Some pet parents have described it as “walking on eggshells.”
Other symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs may include:
- Fever and loss of appetite
- Exaggerated sensitivity to touch
- Swelling of the joints
- Stiffness, discomfort, or pain
- Breathing difficulties
- Enlargement of the superficial lymph nodes near the site of the infected tick bite
- General depression and lack of energy
Some dogs may also develop kidney complications because Lyme disease can lead to glomerular nephritis. Glomerular nephritis (GN) is a disease characterized by inflammation of the glomeruli, which are structures in the kidneys responsible for filtering the blood.
A dog will typically become infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria after the infected tick has been attached to the dog for at least 48 hours. However, symptoms of Lyme disease in the dog usually do not appear until after a 2 to 5 month incubation period; For this reason, it’s important to regularly check your pet for ticks after walks or extended time spent outdoors. If you suspect that your pet may have contracted Lyme disease from an infected tick, it’s a good idea to get him to your veterinarian as soon as you can.
How are Dogs Tested for Lyme Disease?
If you were to bring your dog to the vet because of suspicious physical symptoms, or if you’ve found ticks on him recently and are concerned about Lyme disease, the doctor would recommend a blood test called the C6 test (or Snap 4Dx). This is a preliminary blood test that can detect antibodies against the “C6” protein. “C6” is a specific protein that is unique to the Borrelia bacteria, and if your pet has produced antibodies against it, then he’s been exposed to the bacteria by way of a tick bite. C6 antibodies can be detected in the bloodstream as soon as three weeks after an infected tick bite, long before symptoms might occur.
If the C6 test is positive, the next step is a Quant C6 test to determine if the level of antibodies is high enough to warrant treatment for Lyme disease. Your veterinarian will likely also want to take blood and urine samples to check for any underlying kidney problems.
How is Lyme Disease Treated?
In 1928 Alexander Fleming discovered the first true antibiotic, penicillin, at Saint Mary’s Hospital in London. Most of us know that antibiotics cannot kill viruses, but they can sure do a number on a bacterial infection. The antibiotic of choice for treating Lyme disease in dogs is DOXYCYCLINE. Other antibiotic options are amoxicillin and erythromycin. Your veterinarian may also prescribe an NSAID if your dog is experiencing painful or uncomfortable symptoms.
Home care for your pet is fairly uncomplicated. Doxycycline is given orally twice daily (about 12 hour intervals) for at least 30 days. Simply follow instructions on any oral pain relievers or other pet handling advice your veterinarian gives. Symptoms should improve within the first 48 hours of treatment.
How Can I Prevent Lyme Disease in My Dog?
With most things in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and canine Lyme disease is no different. Lyme disease prevention is tick bite prevention so be sure to use a vet-recommended tick preventative on your pet if he goes outdoors at all. TevraPet Activate II for Dogs is one of the best and costs less than many of the flea and tick products out there. It is veterinarian formulated and recommended.
Talk to your vet about giving your dog a canine Lyme disease vaccine. Yes, there is a vaccination available for dogs and research shows that it works well in dogs not previously exposed to the Lyme bacteria.
Don’t let your yard be “tick friendly.” Mowing the grass on a regular basis and removing tall or leafy weeds, especially from under shrubs, will give ticks less hiding places. Make sure your outdoor trash bins don’t attract rodents that can carry deer ticks.
Check your dog regularly for ticks, not just after a jaunt in the woods or a run at the river. An attached tick is more easily felt than seen, especially on dark colored fur, so feel your dog’s body for bumps, parting the fur to see where the coat meets the skin. Pay special attention to the legs, the ears (inside and out), and the neck region.
Don’t forget to protect and check yourself as well. Ticks can travel from pet to pet parent and vice versa!
Thank you for visiting My Geriatric Dog and I hope you have enjoyed and learned from this article. If you have any question, comments, or relevant experiences to share, please leave them in the comment section below.