Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs: A Nasty Tick Bite!

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lyme disease symptoms of dogs ear gets cleaned by vet picking off tickLyme disease in dogs is a tick-borne disease caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. Infection is passed between hosts by biting ticks, typically the Deer tick or black-legged tick. From dangers to prevention, read on to learn more about Lyme disease in dogs.

What is Lyme Disease in Dogs AKA Borreliosis?

This disease can affect most mammals, including humans and dogs. Symptoms of Lyme disease often develop months after the inciting tick bite.

Most common signs include a shifting lameness, lack of energy, and a poor appetite. Unfortunately, later developing complications include kidney failure.

When diagnosed and treated early, Lyme disease responds to a long course of antibiotics. Whilst making a diagnosis can be tricky, there is some good news. Only around 5 – 10 % of dogs infected by Borrelia go on to develop the illness we know as Lyme disease in dogs.

All Caused by the Little Black-Legged Tick!

With the black-legged tick there would be no Lyme disease. This is because these ticks act as the go-between that transfer the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi between hosts.

Ticks thrive in certain environments, typically where there is a mixture of shade, humidity, and warmth. This includes woodland, scrubland, and untidy yards. In addition, certain geographical locations are known tick hotspots.

Ticks like warm to hot weather, which is when the population is most active. However, ticks have been known to attach in all weathers, except for when there’s snow on the ground. This means it’s not safe to assume the dog is safe from Lyme disease just because the temperature has cooled.

It’s Not Zoonotic But it Can Still Hurt You! Is Lymes Disease in Dogs Contagious?

Lyme disease is a tick-borne infection that can affect both dogs and humans. However, the disease needs a go-between or vector in order to pass between victims. Therefore an infected dog poses little or no risk to their owner.

lyme disease dogs, humans, and other animals chart cycle

Humans pick up Lyme disease when they are bitten by a tick infected by Borrelia. So when exercising a dog in a known tick hotspot, it’s possible you could both become infected. But this is by the bite of two unrelated ticks that happen to be infected with Borrelia, rather than the dog passing infection to a person directly.

If you see or develop a bull’s eye rash on the skin then be suspicious of Lyme disease and see a physician right away.

Lyme Disease Symptoms in Dogs

The clinical signs of Lyme disease in dogs can be vague. This is due to a long delay between the infecting tick bite and symptoms developing which makes it difficult to make the connection. For example, if the dog gets a tick bite in the summer but becomes sick at Christmas it’s hard to make the link.

Infected dogs often have flu-like symptoms. The dog may lack energy, walk stiffly, and have a poor appetite. Borrelia burgdorferi stimulates the immune system and causes general inflammation, which can affect any tissue in the body. Other symptoms include swollen lymph nodes.

Most commonly Lyme borreliosis affects the joints causing joint pain. Symptoms of this include a shifting lameness and a gait described as the “Dog walking on eggshells.”  It is often this stiffness that first draws the owner’s attention and takes the dog to see a veterinarian.

Even when canine Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics some dogs go on to develop a condition called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome. This is where the dog has waxing and waning episodes of lethargy and lameness. This form of chronic Lyme disease can take months or a year or two to clear up.

lethargic pup as one of the symptoms of lyme disease in dogs

What is Lyme Nephritis?

Unfortunately, Lyme infection can have serious consequences. The large antibodies and immunoglobulins produced by the body to fight the Borrelia burgdorferi can become trapped within the kidney.

This damages the delicate renal filtering mechanism and leads to kidney failure. These late-stage Lyme disease symptoms can develop months or years later after the dog appears to have recovered from the infection.

When a dog is diagnosed with Lyme disease, every 6 – 12 months the veterinarian will screen the patient for signs of kidney disease. Initially, this is a simple urine dipstick test, which shows if further blood tests are necessary.

Is it Fatal to Dogs? What About Humans?

Lyme disease is a debilitating condition which affects the dog’s quality of life. Untreated, the antibodies produced to fight Lyme borreliosis damage the kidneys leading to kidney disease and renal failure.

In humans the symptoms of Lyme disease are subtly different. Signs such as a bull’s eye rash make the condition easier to spot and therefore treatment is started earlier.

However, when humans don’t get a diagnosis and correct treatment, further complications such as Lyme nephritis and Lyme carditis can develop, and are best avoided.

Can this Dangerous Disease be Treated?

Once diagnosed, Borrelia infection can be treated with antibiotics.

The first choice medication is doxycycline from the tetracycline family of antibiotics. This needs to be given daily for three to four weeks. Extending the course beyond this is of little benefit.

One drawback is the doxycycline can cause tooth discoloration in growing pups. Thus, a second choice antibiotic is sometimes used from the penicillin family.

Lyme nephritis cannot be cured and treatment aims to support the remaining renal function. This is done through a combination of a special kidney diet and drugs that help protect the kidneys from further damage.

lymes disease in dogs cured with medication

Prevention is Key! So, Talk to Your Veterinarian

The symptoms of Lyme disease and damage done to the body are not pleasant. Although a treatment is available, sometimes it takes months or years to make a full recovery. With this in mind, it’s clear that prevention rather than cure if preferable.

Top of the list when it comes to protecting your dog are:

  • Using an acaracide product regularly to kill ticks
  • A daily tick check and removing those you see on the dog before they feed
  • In areas where Lyme disease is endemic, your veterinarian can administer the Lyme vaccine to protect the dog.

Ticks thrive in a damp shady environment, such as leaf litter or tangled woodland. You can help reduce the opportunity for ticks to thrive by clearing untidy yards and avoiding areas that are known tick hotspots when it’s the tick season.

Common Question on the Lyme Disease Dogs’ Facts!

What is Lyme Disease?

Why do I need to Vaccinated my dog

What Happens if I don’t Vaccinate my dog for Lyme Disease?

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