Lyme Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnoses and Treatment

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    What is Lyme Disease in Dogs?

    Lyme Disease in dogs, formally known as Lyme borreliosis, is a bacterial illness that can be transmitted from ticks to humans, dogs, and other animals. Ticks themselves do not cause Lyme disease; they harbor and transmit the bacteria that carry the infection. 

    What Causes Lyme Disease in Dogs?

    Lyme Disease stems from a bacterium known as Borrelia burgdorferi that is carried in deer ticks. This bacteria enters the bloodstream of dogs through a tick bite. The issue occurs when the bacteria starts to travel to different parts of the body and cause problems in specific regions and organs including joints and overall illness. Deer ticks that carry the disease are most often found in tall grasses, thick brush, marshes, and woods. Once the tick has attached to a dog, the disease can be transmitted within 24 to 48 hours. 

    Who's At Risk of Developing Lyme Disease?

    While ticks in any state can carry Lyme Disease, the majority of cases stem from the Northeast, the Upper Midwest, and the Pacific Coast. It’s important to understand that if you live in one of these regions, your dog is at higher risk of Lyme disease. According to the CDC, 95% of Lyme disease cases were reported from the below 14 states: 

    • Connecticut 
    • Delaware 
    • Maine 
    • Maryland 
    • Massachusetts 
    • Minnesota 
    • New Hampshire 
    • New Jersey 
    • New York
    • Pennsylvania 
    • Rhode Island 
    • Vermont 
    • Virginia 
    • Wisconsin

    Even if you don’t reside in one of these states, your dog is not completely in the clear. Boundaries of where ticks migrate are constantly shifting and growing, so there is a possibility of ticks that can transmit Lyme disease in every state.  

    What Are The Symptoms Of Lyme Disease?

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    Oftentimes, symptoms of Lyme disease are not shown in a dog for months following transmission. The most common symptoms of the disease include: 

    • Fever
    • Fatigue 
    • Loss of appetite 
    • Joint swelling 
    • Swollen lymph nodes 
    • Lameness
    • Decreased activity 
    • Distinct bullseye rash (this may not be detectable where fur covers) 
    • Signs of kidney failure 
      • Excessive drinking 
      • Urinary accidents
      • Nausea and vomiting  

    How Can Lyme Disease in Dogs Be Prevented?

    Photo Credit: VCA Hospital

    There are a number of measures that should be taken to prevent Lyme disease in your dog. Practice the below to reduce the risk of Lyme disease transmission:

    • Prevent ticks from latching to your dog by using year-round flea and tick preventative products 
    • Lyme Vaccination could prevent your dog from getting the disease; following the initial vaccination and boosters, it is required annually for immunity 
    • Following walks or activities in wooded areas, inspect your dog and yourself for ticks. The most common areas that ticks are found on dogs are on the feet, in between the toes, on lips, around eyes, ears, and inner ears, near the anus, and under the tail. 
    • If a latched tick is found, remove it as soon as possible. Follow the proper method of tick removal: 
      • Protect yourself – use a tissue or disposable glove (the bacterium that causes Lyme disease can pass through a wound or cut on skin) 
      • Utilize a tool – fine tweezers or a specific tick remover tool such as a Tick Twister or Tick Key
      • Grasp the tick near the dog’s skin and firmly pull it straight out 
      • Refrain from twisting or jerking the tick as you remove it as this may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the dog’s skin 
      • If you’re unsure how or unable to remove the tick, see your veterinarian for proper removal 
    • If you find a live, moving tick on your pet, it has not attached or fed on your dog. Remove the tick immediately and place it in rubbing alcohol or crush it between two solid surfaces to prevent any transmission

    How is Lyme Disease Diagnosed?

    Lyme disease can be very difficult to diagnose. Diagnosis is made by a combination of medical history, symptoms, and diagnostics. Your veterinarian will perform two different blood tests in order to diagnose, called the C6 test and the Quant C6 test. The purpose of the C6 test is to detect antibodies against a protein referred to as “C6”. If these antibodies are present, there is likely an active Lyme infection. The C6 antibodies can be detected three to five weeks after the tick bite, which is often even before the dog shows physical symptoms. However, in some cases, dogs that have been infected for a long period of time may not have enough antibodies present in their system to be detected by the C6 test. 

    The follow-up test, Quant C6, can be done to detect the antibody level present and confirm infection. The Quant C6 test in combination with urinalysis will determine if antibiotic treatment is necessary for the case. 

    What Is The Treatment For Lyme Disease?

    Treatment for Lyme disease in dogs typically includes antibiotics, usually lasting at least 30 days. Antibiotic treatment often relieves symptoms in a timely manner. However, in some cases, the infection may persist and a further round of antibiotic treatment. The antibiotic that is most preferred is Doxycycline

    In addition to administering antibiotics, treatment may also include other therapies to help relieve specific physical symptoms. An anti-inflammatory is often prescribed if your dog is experiencing joint discomfort. 

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