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Lyme Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

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Lyme disease is also known as Lyme borreliosis. It is a bacterial sickness and can be transmitted by specific species of ticks to dogs, other animals, and even human.

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Lyme disease is caused by a spiral-shaped bacterium known as borrelia burgdorferi. This bacterium is picked up and carried around by ticks and gets into a person or dog’s bloodstream when bitten by an infected tick.

Once inside the body, the bacterium can move around, causing harms in specific organs and locations, like joints, as well as overall sickness.

Where Do Ticks Live

Ticks carrying the disease can be mostly found in tall grasses, marshes, thick bushes, and woods and then attach themselves to your dog when it passes by.

A tick is able to transmit the disease within 24 to 48 hours of latching onto a dog. This bacterial illness got its name from Lyme, Connecticut, the town where it was first discovered in 1975.

Although cases of the disease have occurred in all parts of the United States, it is most common in the upper Midwest, Northeast, and parts of California. It can also be found anywhere the Ixodes ticks are present – which is just about everywhere.

How do Ticks Get on Dogs and People

Lyme disease’s primary carrier is the Ixodes tick (Ixodes scapularis), also known as the black-legged tick, “beer tick” or “deer tick.”

The B. burgdoferi is picked up by the black-legged tick when it feeds on an already infected animal such as a deer, mouse or other mammals. It then transmits the bacterium into the bloodstream of the next animal it feeds on.

Ticks can only crawl; they do not jump or fly. They wait at tips of vegetation. When a person or dog brushes against a bush, the tick grabs on and then crawls to find a place to bite.

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Signs of Lime Disease in Dogs

Sometimes a 2-5 months incubation period or more is needed for symptoms to appear. Lime disease in dogs comes in three “states”; the acute, subacute and the chronic states.

Infected dogs can exhibit signs of any of the three states, and may then advance to others depending on the dog’s immune system, the severity of infection and treatment.

Some of the symptoms of the acute lyme disease include;

  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Lethargy/reluctance to move
  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • anorexia (loss of appetite)
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Acute arthritis in one or more joints
  • A “shifting” lameness from one leg to another
  • Swollen joints that may be warm to the touch

Some of the symptoms of the subacute Lyme disease include

  • Arthritis (either persistent or transient
  • Ongoing inflammatory changes in joints
  • Continuous lameness

Some of the symptoms of chronic Lyme disease include

  • Kidney damage
  • Neurologic signs
  • Cardiac signs like arrhythmias
  • Arthritis

Kidney damage may escalate to a more fatal form of the disease known as Lyme nephritis, however, it is usually rare. Signs of Lyme nephritis include

  • Edema (excess fluid)
  • bad breath
  • lethargy
  • weight loss
  • vomiting
  • muscle wasting
  • azotemia (increased creatinine and BUN)

Golden and Labrador retrievers seem to be more prone to developing Lyme nephritis, so dogs of this breed or mixed with this breed should be given extra attention if they contract Lyme disease.

Lyme disease symptoms can also be caused by other conditions ranging from cancer to ehrlichiosis(a different tick-borne disease) or orthopedic conditions like a torn cruciate ligament.

This makes diagnosis more strenuous and costly because the veterinarian will have to rule out an array of conditions.

Diagnosing and Testing Lyme disease

A dog’s immune system makes antibodies in response to the outer surface proteins on the spirochete when it is exposed to Borrelia burgdorferi.

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The test taken for Lyme looks for antibodies to the outer surface proteins. Testing before antibodies start to develop when the dog is being exposed may produce a negative result.

If the dog tests positively for Lyme, it does not mean the dog will have signs of the Lyme disease, it means that the dog has been exposed.

The VetScan Flex4 rapid test and VetScan Cacine Lyme Rapid Test offered by Abaxis help to evaluate if your dog has been exposed to Lyme. However, the test could give a false-positive result if the dog has received a Lyme vaccine that includes OspC protein.

If you want to get more information about a dog’s Lyme status, you should follow up the testing to quantitatively measure antibody level. Different dogs produce different number of antibodies.

If you track the antibody level over time, you can be able to tell if an infection has cleared or if reinfection occurred. Due to immune system memory, some dogs may still have antibodies present in their blood for years even if the infection has cleared off.

IDEXX offers a quantitative test known as the Lyme Quant C6 Test which gives antibody level for C6 peptide and also a general reference range suggesting whether or not to treat.

C6 antibodies are not produced by the exposure to Lyme vaccine but are produced by the exposure to borrelia burgdorferi.

The lab will be able to give you a more accurate result when you include the type of Lyme disease vaccine that has been administered to your dog as well as the date it was administered. You can include it in the paperwork that accompanies your dog’s Lyme test.

Any of these tests will not be able to indicate if your dog will be ill or not. Plus, there are no specific symptoms for Lyme disease so if your dog tests positive, it could be incidental and not the main cause of the illness.

Treatment for Lyme disease

Antibiotics are administered to the affected dog for about 30 days to help resolve the symptoms quickly.

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However, infections may persist in some cases which may need prolonged medication. Therapies aimed at relieving or resolving specific symptoms can also be included in the treatment.

Can I contract Lyme disease from my Dog?

Lyme disease can only be transmitted from pets to human or from one pet to another through a tick bite. But some carrier tick on your dog’s fur could get on you.

You may be at risk if your dog is diagnosed with Lyme and you and your other pets have been in the same environment with the affected dog. You should consult your veterinarian and physician to see if you need to test family members and other pets.

Other Canine Disease Carried by Ticks

Ticks carry some serious but less common bacterial diseases affecting dogs such as Babesiosis and Anaplasmosis.

Babesiosis can come with a wide variety of symptoms from dark urine, high fever, a sudden and severe shock to a gradually progressing infection with more subtle clinical signs.

The symptoms of Anaplasmosis are also similar to those of Lyme disease. Blood test similar to those used to check for Lyme disease can be used in the diagnosis of these bacterial diseases.

Sometimes, people and dogs can fall sick with “co-infection” of multiple diseases carried by tick, where a tick bite transmits more than one type of disease-causing bacteria.

This condition can make diagnosis and treatment a more challenging and difficult task.

How to Prevent Your Dog from Getting Lyme disease and Other Tick-Borne Illnesses

Ticks can be prevented by;

Getting your dogs vaccinated

Getting your dog vaccinated could prevent it from contracting Lyme disease. However, you should speak with your vet to know if your dog can be vaccinated as it may not be appropriate for some dogs.

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At every exam, ask your vet to check for ticks as they’ll be able to detect any you may have missed.

Remove tick stat

Early detection and removal of stats will reduce the possibility of your dog contracting a secondary illness related to tick bites.

Learn how to properly detect and remove ticks from your dog’s body. Invest in a pair of tweezers used for this purpose. Consult with a veterinarian if you’re unable to do so.

Prevent ticks from sticking to your dogs by investing in one of many veterinary-approved tick and flea preparation available in the market.

If you can, you should refrain from walking into grassy patches in endemic tick areas.

Check your dog for ticks after walking through the woods or grassy areas, especially around the eyes, on lips, ears (inside the ears as well), under the tail, near the anus, and on the feet.

References;

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