Help! My Dog has Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease in Dogs Dog at Vet

As a paw-rent, knowing about the common health related issues that can affect my fur baby are extremely important. I’m definitely someone who stays up late on webMD/petMD jumping to worst case scenarios.

So, in an attempt to save you from some of the panic induced googling I’ve been through, I’ve rounded up some information on a rapidly growing health concern, Lyme Disease.

Lyme not Lime

Despite the name, Lyme Disease doesn’t have anything to do with the deliciously tart fruit. Lyme Disease (borreliosis, if you’re fancy) is an infectious disease spread by ticks.

More specifically, deer ticks (literally, ticks that feed on white tailed deer). These nasty little bloodsuckers are most commonly found in the Eastern and Midwestern United States.

A photo posted by Abe Froman (@scary_brad) on

Not every incidence of a deer tick bite is a for sure Lyme Disease diagnosis.

Transmission occurs when a female tick who carries a bacteria called B. burgdorferi is attached to a host for an estimated 48 hours. I say estimated because the duration seems to vary from source to source.

The constant comes from how the bacteria is transmitted to the host. VCA Hospital explains that when the tick’s meal is finished the tick regurgitates before detaching, and the bacteria is spread into the bloodstream where it then takes up in joints, muscles, tendons, skin, heart, lymph nodes and other areas high in collagen.

Only 10% of dogs exposed to the bacteria will contract Lyme Disease.

However, an infected pooch who lives in the household can spread the disease if a tick feeds off of him and then detaches and feeds off another animal or human.

How Will I Know?

While there are some similarities between the way Lyme Disease manifests itself in humans and in dogs, the symptoms of Lyme Disease in dogs differ from those in people.

The main difference is in the amount of time it takes for the symptom to show up.

In humans, you can start to see the symptoms of an infected tick bite in an average of seven days according to VCA Hospitals.

In dogs, this process takes much longer—usually around two to five months.

Dogs also do not develop the telltale rash around the bite that humans do making it more difficult to diagnose.

2nd Chance explains that no two cases of Lyme Disease present themselves the same. They also go on to note that in many cases there aren’t any symptoms at all and the disease is discovered through routine examinations.

When symptoms are present, the most common are fever between 103 and 105, lethargy, an inability to walk, swelling in joints, swollen lymph nodes and loss of appetite.

Testing and Diagnosis

If you do suspect Lyme Disease in your pupster, blood tests are available to help confirm a diagnosis.

However, the standard blood tests available will only tell you if your dog has been exposed to the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease and not if your dog has it for certain since, as previously noted, only 10 percent of exposure results in contraction.

Vets will typically use these blood tests along with presenting symptoms and health history to make a diagnosis.

Antibiotic therapy usually causes a pretty rapid improvement, so if Lyme is expected and treated but your dog does not show any improvements within 48 hours Lyme will likely be ruled out and other tests will be run to determine the cause of your pup’s illness.

It is also extremely important if your dog is diagnosed with Lyme Disease that he has regular kidney function tests.

Lyme organisms can destroy the blood-cleansing ability of the kidneys which can eventually lead to kidney failure and death if left untreated.

Speaking of Treatment…

Fortunately, the treatment for Lyme Disease is pretty straightforward.

Since it is a bacterial induced infection, it responds well to antibiotics; doxycycline and amoxicillin are the two most commonly used.

Treatment length will depend on how long your pooch has been infected for.

If diagnosed early, a treatment time between 14 and 30 days is usually sufficient, but if the condition is suspected to be long-standing it will need to be longer.

In some cases, a relapse will happen after treatment and another course of antibiotics is required. Some pups will never be “cured” of the disease despite antibiotic treatment and may go through periods of flare ups in symptoms.

Medical science isn’t completely sure what causes the differences in treatment responsiveness, but according to 2nd Chance, your dog’s age might have something to do with it.

Studies have shown that younger pups are affected more severely than older ones. It is also known that the Lyme organisms are extremely good at avoiding detection and eradication.

Be Proactive

Prevention of Lyme Disease is the best method of attack for your pupster.

Tick control is the most obvious method but can be difficult, especially in rural areas. Once a month topical insecticides like Advantix, Frontline, and Spot On are some pretty effective examples.

Checking your dog for ticks regularly after periods outdoors is also a good idea. Another option is vaccination.

However, according to Pet Education, some veterinarians have criticized the effectiveness of them.

It appears that vaccinated dogs are less likely to contract the disease, but it isn’t a guarantee so you’ll have to weigh the potential pros and cons.

While you’re tick-proofing your pooch, check out how to protect him from the other common blood sucker—the flea.


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