Lyme disease is a common tick-transmitted disease seen in people and pets across North America. Although Lyme disease in people often leads to chronic symptoms such as joint pain, Lyme disease in dogs is treatable. Here our Alpharetta vets explain some causes, symptoms, and treatments for Lyme disease in dogs.
What is Lyme disease in dogs?
Lyme disease has been diagnosed in both dogs and people across all states, however, infection rates vary from one state to another. In the US, the Upper Midwest, Pacific Coast and Northeast regions of the United States report the highest number of cases of Lyme disease in dogs.
Dogs contract Lyme disease through the bite of an infected tick. Ticks, including those carrying Lyme, are most often found in wooded and grassy areas including farm fields and forests.
Ticks don't fly or jump, they find their prey by resting on the tips of grasses, shrubs, and leaves with their front legs outstretched waiting for direct contact with animals or people. As your pup brushes past, the tick simply grabs hold and latches on to your pet.
Lyme disease is not contagious between dogs, or dogs and people, however, an infected tick from one dog could make its way to another dog or a person, spreading the disease.
Symptoms of Lyme disease in Dogs
Dogs often carry Lyme disease without showing any symptoms at all (asymptomatic). That said, other dogs can suffer from a range of painful symptoms. If your dog has contracted Lyme disease, they may show one or more of the following symptoms.
- High fever
- Sensitivity to touch
- Swollen inflamed joints
- General lethargy or discomfort
- Decreased appetite and depression
- Breathing difficulties
If your pooch is suffering from any of the symptoms listed above, contact your vet to book an examination.
If left untreated, the effects of Lyme disease in dogs can be serious or even life-threatening. Untreated the condition can lead to kidney failure, serious heart problems and neurological issues in dogs.
How Lyme Disease is Diagnosed in Dogs
If your vet believes that your pet could be suffering from Lyme disease they will review a full medical history of your dog health, discuss with you any instances when your dog may have come into contact with ticks, examine your pet's body for ticks, then perform a number of tests which may include, blood tests (C6 Test and Quant C6 tests), urine analysis, fecal exam and x-rays. If painful joints is one of your pup's symptoms, your vet may draw fluid from the affected joints to be analyzed.
Lyme Disease in Dogs - Treatment & Prognosis
The typical treatment for Lyme disease in dogs a course of an antibiotic called doxycycline for a period of at least four weeks. If your dog is suffering from especially painful joints, the vet may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to help relieve your pup's pain. In many cases this treatment will resolve any symptoms of Lyme disease the dog is experiencing, however in some cases, the infection will persist and prolonged medication may be needed.
Your dog's treatment may also include other therapies targeted specifically at any symptoms your dog may be experiencing.
Unfortunately, antibiotic treatment is not always 100% effective and is not always able to cure Lyme disease in dogs. Some dogs that are treated for months with doxycycline still show positive antibody levels in the future. In spite of treatment, it is possible for the infection to hide in the body for years often resulting in future health problems. Early diagnosis and treatment may make treatment more effective.
The most serious chronic health problems that can result from Lyme disease include kidney, heart, or neurologic problems - irreversible kidney failure called glomerulonephritis is the most common. Kidney failure can reduce a pet's quality of life and their lifespan.
Lyme Disease Prevention in Dogs
One way to help prevent your dog from contracting Lyme disease is to keep your pet on a tick prevention medication year-round and speak to your vet about vaccinating your dog against Lyme.
Whenever your dog has been walking through areas where ticks may be hiding, it is a good idea to check your pet's skin when you get home. It's important to remove ticks as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of disease transmission.
That said, removing ticks isn't as straightforward as you may think. Contact your vet for instructions on how to properly remove ticks from your dog. (Your vet may request that you keep the tick for testing).
Remember - Lyme disease is much more severe in humans than it is in dogs! If you walk in areas with long grass or shrubs be sure to check your skin regularly for ticks. Contact your doctor for advice on removing ticks if you find one latched onto your skin. Lyme disease in humans can cause a host of painful chronic symptoms.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.