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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 tick borne 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 deer tick 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 disease "lyme" 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 Is Transmitted

Ticks are the slowest of all living creatures, so it's no wonder that Lyme disease is caused by a spirochete (bacteria) called Borrelia burgdorferi. This microorganism thrives on deer ticks because they feed for days at a time and their sharp mouthparts make them hard to dislodge after attacking you. But when these two factors come together with your dog, who has been acting as bait or otherwise in close proximity to said tick-infested animal - well then you've got yourself some trouble brewing! Tick borne diseases typically occur anywhere from 24 hours up until 48 hours after the ticks have started feasting away unnoticed on our beloved dogs.

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. 

Arthritis Caused by Lyme Disease

Arthritis is one of the most common signs that your dog has Lyme disease. Sudden lameness or swollen joints can become a clinical sign that your dog has acquired the tick borne disease. This is a sign that the disease has been untreated for some time and you will need to get your dog to the vet. You may also see signs such as weight loss, fever, lack of appetite and swollen lymph nodes which can be very alarming. If this goes untreated for too long it can lead to severe consequences including a very poor quality of life and even kidney failure. If you notice any of these issues it's very important that you get your dogs to the vet ASAP for a round of antibiotic treatment.

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.

Treatment usually takes at least 4 weeks, but it may take longer depending on the severity of your dog's condition. Your veterinarian may also prescribe an anti-inflammatory if they feel that this will help with any discomfort and pain you pup might be experiencing during treatment. Antibiotics are not always successful in eliminating Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria from the body; symptoms can improve for a while before returning again later on down the road. Kidney disease is another major concern when treating Lyme Disease because there isn't currently enough information to know what effects long-term antibiotic use could have over time.

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

dogs may get ticks leading to lyme disease | 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.

How to 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 burgdoferi 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.  

Make sure you cover your fingers with a tissue or disposable glove when removing ticks on dogs. You may need to enlist the help of another person for restraint so that both hands can be free and clear from exposure contact. Removing them quickly is important because it's not until 12 hours after they've fed, which means there are no risks involved in this process unless we're talking about crushing them (don't).

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 tick borne 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. 


Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease in Dogs

Preventing Ticks on Your Pets

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