Lyme disease in dogs is one of the most common, yet serious diseases, experienced by domestic pets.
The disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi which is often carried on ticks. The most common source of infection is when dogs are bitten by a tick while out on a walk. While not all tick bites result in Lyme disease, most cases of Lyme disease are as a result of tick bites.
Due to the tick-borne aspect of the disease it is most commonly experienced in warmer weather, and in dogs who are allowed to roam in the countryside. This is in contrast to those which receive the majority of their exercise in parks, gardens or beaches.
Areas with a heavy population of deer or rodents are also more likely to suffer from outbreaks of Lyme disease.
Lyme Disease Symptoms
The symptoms of Lyme disease can be worryingly diverse. Many dogs are infected by the bacteria but show no clinical signs; it has been estimated that less than 10% of infected dogs actually suffer from the disease. Debates are ongoing as to whether infected dogs with no clinical signs should receive any form of treatment.
In general the most common symptom of Lyme disease in dogs is persistent lameness, caused by swelling of the joints. The animals typically express pain if the joints are touched. In many cases this lameness only lasts for a few days before seemingly recovering by itself. Soon afterward a different leg may be found to be affected. This is known as “shifting-leg” lameness to vets and is one of the most commonly-observed signs of a Lyme disease infection.
Secondary to this lameness, a variety of other symptoms may be observed. Depression, fever and general fatigue are not uncommon, as is pain in the joints, especially when touched.
Rather more seriously it appears that some breeds in particular are prone to suffering kidney problems as a result of a Lyme disease infection.
Lyme Disease Diagnosis
There are two forms of diagnosis used for Lyme disease in dogs. Firstly, clinical signs such as the lameness are considered critical to identifying affected dogs.
Secondly, blood tests can confirm the presence of anti-bodies in the body. Note however that just because a test comes back positive, this may only demonstrate that your dog has encountered the bacteria in the past. What it won’t do is necessarily provide an indication of when your dog was infected, and whether or not clinical signs are being displayed.
Lyme Disease Treatment
The effectiveness of treatments for Lyme disease can be greatly affected by how soon after infection they are provided. Dogs that have been left to cope alone with Lyme disease for some time may not respond as quickly, nor as successfully, as more recently diagnosed animals. For this reason it is critical to seek veterinary help as soon as you suspect your dog may be suffering from Lyme disease.
The most effective form of Lyme disease treatment is antibiotics, which will assist your dog in fighting off the infection. These antibiotics will need to be issued by your veterinarian. Generally, except in extreme cases, treatment can occur at home rather than requiring in-patient care facilities.
Sadly, in cases where the bacterial infection level is high, such as when a dog has been left undiagnosed for an extended period of time, long term damage may be evident. Even in cases where the originating infection has been eradicated, some unfortunate dogs display long term joint pain many months or even years later.
Prevention of Lyme Disease in Dogs
Just as important as treatment of Lyme disease is its prevention in the first place. Here the caring pet owner has a number of options.
Firstly, in areas where Lyme disease is known to be prevalent, vaccinations exist against the disease. These jabs tend to be especially important in certain areas of the USA, where heavy deer populations result in considerable numbers of infected dogs each year.
It is important to state here that there are numerous different forms of the bacteria which causes the disease. As a result, it is still possible for a vaccinated dog to develop the disease, if the bacteria experienced is different enough from those vaccinated against. As a result, while vaccinating your dog can still greatly reduce the odds of contracting Lyme disease, it certainly isn’t a guaranteed solution.
A second option is to avoid Lyme disease-prone areas, especially in the summer months. Doing so will minimize the chances of either you or your dog coming into contact with disease-causing ticks.
Alongside this strategy dog owners should take care to check their pets for ticks whenever returning from a walk. The process, especially on larger dogs, can take considerable time but is well worthwhile. Be certain to check all areas of your pet, including the ears and all around the paws.
The good news is that being bitten by a tick – even if it carried the parasite – doesn’t necessarily guarantee that your dog will become infected. In reality, vets have found that it normally takes 24-48 hours after being bitten that the bacteria may start to make their way into a dog’s body.
In this way, by checking your dog at least once a day, and carefully removing any ticks found you will significantly reduce the chances of your pet developing Lyme disease.
Lastly consider one of the commercially-available spot-on tick treatments. These treatments make your dog less appealing to ticks, and so encourages them to drop off again should they be unlucky to try and attach themselves to your pooch.
Life Expectancy of Dogs with Lyme Disease
Generally speaking, when treated by a veterinary surgeon, Lyme disease is unlikely to be fatal, though as discussed some long-term implications can arise. The real risk with Lyme disease is kidney disease can result, whereby your dog’s health can rapidly deteriorate.