You’ve been hearing a lot about Lyme Disease in dogs and you’re worried about your best friend. You've learned that it affects pets as well as people. If you made a quick call to your veterinarian, her assistant got you a few short answers and an appointment for a vaccine.
During the call, you learned that Lyme Borreliosis is a disease that is caused by a spirochete named Borrelia burgdorferi, a type of bacterium. This bacterium, Lyme, is transmitted to dogs when they are bitten by an infected tick.
Even though Lyme Disease in dogs can be easily transmitted by ticks, it causes symptoms in only 5% to 10% of dogs who are affected with the disease. The most common symptom in dogs with Lyme Disease is a recurrent lameness or swelling in the joints.
There can also be other noticeable signs, such as depression and a listless appetite. Kidney disease is a serious problem for those effected and can case other signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, increased urination and abnormal fluid buildups.
Table of Contents
- Diagnosing Lyme Disease In Dogs
- How to Prevent Lyme Disease in Dogs
There are other symptoms that veterinarians associate with Lyme disease that you could watch for at home and those are:
- an arched back with a stiff walk
- touch sensitivity
- breathing difficulties
- depression, lack of appetite, fevers
- swollen lymph nodes
There is only one cause of Lyme disease in dogs. That is for a Lyme disease carrying tick to bite and transmit the disease to your dog. Any type of tick can carry Lyme disease. It was previously thought that only the deer tick carried the disease, but it is now known that many species carry Lyme disease.
Lyme Disease in Dogs
10 ways to prevent and treat it
Diagnosing Lyme Disease In Dogs
Diagnosis is done usually by your veterinarian taking a complete history of your dog and by running some basic blood work. Your history would indicate physical symptoms and possibly exposure to a tick bite, if it were in fact noticed.
However, simple diagnosis isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are two types of blood tests for Lyme disease. One is a type of antibody test which detects presence of your dog’s antibodies that have formed in reaction to the Lyme disease. If it is positive, then it means your dog has Lyme. The second test, called a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, looks for specific DNA.
The problem with both of these tests is that false negative test results can occur in dogs who are suffering from Lyme. Veterinarians are aware of this and often use medical history and other resources to draw a conclusion of Lyme Disease in dogs.
How to Prevent Lyme Disease in Dogs
The treatment can include antibiotics for several weeks. This will generally resolve most symptoms, but they can recur. Doxycycline is commonly prescribed, but many different antibiotics are also effective. Your vet may also prescribe a pain reliever if your dog seems to be experiencing any pain or stiffness.
1. Treat Year Round
Tick season is not a ‘season.’ Year-round diligence is important. Many people skip treating in the winter months thinking that it saves them the expense. Ticks don’t die out in the winter. It is not a seasonal disease!
2. Know Where Lyme is Located Near You
Lyme is everywhere! It is true that Lyme disease used to be located in certain areas of the country. It has spread. CDC warns that it is now located in every state and there is no place that is safe from Lyme disease.
3. Understand Your Flea & Tick Repellent
Most people do not understand that their monthly flea and tick repellent, whether it be orally taken or dropped on the back, does nothing to repel ticks. It will kill the tick after it has bitten your dog, and only reduces the chance your dog will get Lyme disease.
The best option is to have your dog vaccinated and use a monthly flea and tick repellant too. The vaccine will protect your dog against the disease. It requires a yearly booster.
4. Watch for Symptoms
While there is value to watching for symptoms of Lyme disease, if you start to see them in your dog, it is a little too late. Your dog will already be suffering the effects of the illness.
Humans, often get a bulls-eye rash indicating the infection, and can get treatment right away. This wards off the devastating illness. However, you will not likely see a rash on your fur-covered friend and by the time you see symptoms, the disease will be in full course.
Symptoms that are common to Lyme disease are joint pain, limping, fever, depression and loss of appetite. If you notice any of these signs or suspect your dog may have been exposed to Lyme disease call your vet right away.
5. Find Ticks Where They Hide
Ticks are often found in wooded areas, high grass, and tall bushes. When you are looking on your dog for ticks it can be difficult because ticks like to hide. Ticks also like blood. This is why you can usually find them on more vascular areas of your dog where you can see the blood vessels close to the surface.
6. How to Remove a Tick
The best way to remove a tick is with a pair of tweezers or a tick remover. If you can, wear gloves and using sterile tweezers grab the tick near the head and pull straight back and remove. This may take patience and help from a friend. There can be one or many, and it can take time to be sure they are all removed.
Be sure to kill all the ticks that are removed. If you have a cut on your finger or hand, and you squish the tick and get blood on your open wound, there is a risk of transmission of Lyme disease to you. It's best to wear gloves while removing the tick, and submerse it in rubbing alcohol to kill it instead of squishing it with your fingers.
For more detailed information on removing a tick, check out our video guide and detailed article on the subject.
7. Discuss Treatment Options
Just as there is a problem with an overuse of antibiotics in humans there is also the same problem in pets. Overuse of antibiotics in general has led to more difficult strains of antibiotic resistant diseases.
Veterinarians are known to not use any antibiotics for Lyme disease in dogs if there are no clinical symptoms but a positive blood test. Your vet will discuss these options with you. If your dog is showing symptoms, the usual course of doxycycline or similar antibiotic is prescribed for about 4 weeks. If symptoms return, an addition course may be required.
8. Know Your Breed
Some breeds are affected more than others by Lyme disease. These breeds or mixes of these breeds should be treated immediately if they test positive for Lyme or are suspected of having Lyme disease.
Lyme disease can cause serious complications and destroy the kidneys. Kidney complications are found in Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Shetland Sheepdogs and Burmese Mountain dogs.
These breeds should be seen by the veterinarian for treatment immediately. Doxycycline or another antibiotic should be started as soon as possible.
9. Get Treatment Fast
It’s often hard to realize that your dog has Lyme Disease and by then they may have had it for some time. Don’t delay treatment. Once you suspect Lyme Disease in dogs or see any symptoms, contact your vet. Early treatment works best.
Lyme is still a type of bacterium, so it can be controlled by antibiotics. Even with early treatment it often takes a long course of treatment, up to four weeks. If your dog has had Lyme for a long time, it may take more than one treatment. Your veterinarian may change to a stronger antibiotic if necessary.
10. Protect Your Property
Learn how to create a tick-safe zone around your property. You can reduce tick habitats in your yard by keeping it mowed and raked. Also, you should clear away all the tall grasses and brush from your yard. You can also have a professional company spray your yard for fleas and ticks. There are also products on the market that you can find to do it yourself.