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Lyme Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

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Lyme Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Lyme disease is a severe issue that can affect people as well as our furry friends. This disease, also known as Lyme borreliosis, is spread by infected ticks. There are currently four known species of tick that are capable of spreading Lyme disease - Ixodes pacificus, Ixodes scapularis, Ixodes ricinus and Ixodes persulcatus. However, most tickborne infections are distributed through a type that is colloquially known as the black-legged tick or deer ticks. 

These arachnids carry a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi that they transmit to the bloodstream of their victims by biting them. It is essential to recognize that Borrelia burgdorferi causes Lyme disease rather than the ticks themselves. The condition got its name after many cases were found in 1975 in Lyme, Connecticut.  

What Are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs?

One of the first symptoms of potential Lyme disease in dogs is a circular rash around the site of a bite. If you notice this, the infection can usually quickly be diagnosed. However, this rash does not always develop, and it is not always easily visible, so there are other clinical signs of Lyme disease to watch out for as the infection progresses. 

If you notice the following common signs of Lyme disease in your dog, you should get them tested right away. 

Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs | Innovet Pet
  • Lower energy levels
  • Joint swelling
  • Stiffness or lameness
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Difficulty breathing

One of the best ways to spot these clinical signs of Lyme disease is to pay close attention to your dog’s behavior and act on any changes you notice by taking them to the vet. 

When Lyme disease isn’t treated early, it may progress and lead to kidney failure. This form of the disease is rare; however, it can be fatal. Therefore, it is imperative that you take your pet to the vet if you notice these common symptoms and clinical signs of Lyme disease. 

How Lyme Disease in Dogs Is Diagnosed

Veterinarians can diagnose Lyme disease through a combination of symptom analysis, medical history, and diagnostic tests. Veterinarians are trained to recognize the symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs. Once they suspect that a pet has the disease, they will attempt to see if it was recently in a position where it could have contracted it. 

Blood Tests to Diagnose Lyme Disease

To be sure that a dog’s symptoms are of Lyme disease, a veterinarian will likely administer two blood tests:

  • C6
  • Quant C6

The C6 test is used to determine if your dog has produced antibodies to protect itself from a protein called C6. If they have created these antibodies, then it is indicative of an active Lyme disease infection. 

The animal does not necessarily need to be showing symptoms to receive a positive C6 test. It generally takes three to five weeks after a bite causing infection for the test to be accurate because it takes time to build up the antibody levels necessary to trigger a positive test. If you administer the tests too early, your dog may have the infection but not the required antibody levels to make the test come back positive yet.  

After the C6 test comes back positive, the next test is the Quant C6 test. This second test, along with an analysis of its urine, will allow the veterinarian to determine what kind of treatment your dog will need. 

How To Treat Lyme Disease in Dogs

Lyme disease is most commonly treated with antibiotics. Sometimes your dog must take this treatment for upwards of thirty days or more. The three types of antibiotics that are widely used in the treatment of Lyme disease are as follows:

  • Doxycycline
  • Amoxicillin
  • Azithromycin

Usually, this will do the trick, but in some cases, your dog may also need to undergo treatments to target specific symptoms of the infection. One such treatment may be anti-inflammatory medication to help them have an easier time getting around. This medication can help with the common symptoms of lameness and joint swelling.

How To Prevent Canine Lyme Disease

The following Lyme disease prevention methods are helpful to follow to keep your dog safe, happy, and healthy.

Avoid Ticks

Causes of Lyme Disease in Dogs | Innovet Pet

One of the best ways to prevent canine Lyme disease is to avoid areas where ticks are prevalent. Deer ticks tend to call tall grasses, marshes, woods, and thick brush home. When walking your dog, try to keep it on the trail to avoid coming in contact with these places. 

While every state has experienced Lyme disease cases, they are more common in the Pacific Coast, Upper Midwest, and Northeast, where infected deer ticks are common. If you live in any of these areas, you should be especially aware of this problem.

In your yard, ensure that your grass is always mowed as short as possible to reduce the likelihood of an infected tick being able to crawl from a tall blade of grass onto your dog. They cannot fly or jump, so this measure is more effective than you might think in preventing Lyme disease.

Remove Ticks Quickly

If you visit an area where ticks are commonly found, you must search your dog for them when you get home. The quicker you can remove them from your dog, the less likely they will spread disease. Most of the time, it takes the infected arachnid 24-48 hours of being attached to your dog to transmit the illness. 

Ticks are gray or brown, and may look like skin lumps until you look closer and can see their legs. They can range from the size of a pin head to an average of 1cm diameter. 

When you search your dog for these nefarious bugs, these are all the places you should look:

Preventing Ticks on Your Pets | Innovet Pet
  • Feet (including between the toes)
  • Under the front legs
  • Between the back legs
  • Under the collar
  • Underneath the tail
  • Around the eyes
  • Around the ears (including inside)

If you spot one, you should take a pair of fine tweezers and remove it. To do so, grasp it by its head and pull it cleanly off. Make sure to grab the head, NOT the body, so that you remove the entire thing. It would be best if you considered wearing gloves while you do this and washing your hands promptly afterward to protect yourself. Consult this guide for safe removal techniques. 

If you do not feel confident that you can successfully check your dog for insect intruders, you can request your veterinarian to conduct a check when you go in for an exam. As veterinarians have experience in this field, they will be able to find any that you have missed. 

If you do remove one from your dog, it is important not to panic. Just because a tick bit your dog does not mean that your dog will contract Lyme disease. Not every tick carries the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi that causes the disease; however, the infection rate is as high as 50% in some areas. Therefore, research shows that your dog has between a 0 and 50 percent chance of getting Lyme disease after a single bite.  

Vaccinating Your Dog

While vaccines may not be the perfect solution for every dog, if Lyme disease is of particular concern for your pet, vaccination may be the right choice for tick control. Please consult your veterinarian if you would like to consider a vaccination for your pet. However, you should be aware that there is no consensus among veterinarians about the Lyme disease vaccine’s effectiveness. Most dog owners only choose to go with vaccination if Lyme disease is prevalent where they live.  

Applying Preventative Medicine

Veterinarians recommend that dog owners routinely apply flea and tick medication to their dogs to prevent infection. Doing this can prevent them from making their way onto your dog in the first place. If you do not currently use one of these medications, speak to your veterinarian to see which formula would be best for your pet. 

Do I Have to Worry About Catching Lyme Disease from my Dog?

The answer to this question is no. There is no evidence that dogs can spread Lyme disease to their owners. However, your dog could bring an unattached, infected tick into your home where it may then bite you or another pet and spread tickborne Lyme disease. Being diligent about finding these arachnids on your dog and disposing of them will help to keep you safe as well as your pet. 

Sources:

Lyme Disease
Lyme Disease in Dogs
Preventing Ticks on Your Pets
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