All Things Dog

The Facts About Canine Lyme Disease

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The first diagnosis of Lyme Disease was made in a resident of Lyme, Connecticut in 1975. Over the decades, the seriousness of this debilitating tick-borne disease has made many people weary of wandering outdoors during seasons when ticks are active. If you live in the Northeast or upper Midwest states, there’s a good chance you know someone who has had a Lyme Disease diagnosis. A decade after being diagnosed in people, Lyme Disease was first recognized as a condition that also affects dogs.

What exactly is Lyme Disease?

Lyme Disease is an infectious disease that is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which is found in several varieties of ticks, but is mostly associated with the common deer tick. The disease is transmitted when a tick carrying the bacteria bites a dog—or human—and feasts on the host’s blood. It should be noted that not all deer ticks carry the disease, and not all bites from infected deer ticks successfully transmit the disease. For the bacteria to be passed into a dog, the tick must have been attached to the dog for about 48 hours. So if a tick is removed from a dog shortly after he is bitten, there’s a good chance the dog will not contract the disease. However, deer ticks are extremely tiny and are difficult to see, especially when covered by a dog’s fur. Your vet is trained to spot and remove ticks. If you happen to notice a tick on your dog and want to attempt to remove it, use small tweezers and carefully grasp the tick where it is making contact with the dog’s skin. Then gently lift the tick away. If you suspect that it’s a deer tick, take your dog—and the tick—to the vet for examination.

What are the symptoms?

Lyme Disease isn’t easy to diagnose, especially in senior dogs, because the initial symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions, such as arthritis. Lyme Disease symptoms include limping—which can shift from one leg to another—swelling of lymph nodes, lethargy, loss of appetite, and fever. Initially, the affected dog may simply experience mild joint and muscle discomfort in his limb(s). However, the pain can become severe over time, and multiple joints can be involved Even with treatment, Lyme Disease can cause permanent joint damage. There have also been reports of severe progressive kidney disease linked to Lyme Disease.

Is there treatment for Lyme Disease?

Lyme Disease is generally treated with antibiotics. In many cases, affected dogs respond well to those meds. However, if treatment is halted too soon, the dog may get a relapse. Even in dogs that show full recovery, the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease may still be present in their bodies, even though the dog no longer displays the symptoms of the disease. Senior dogs with severe cases of arthritis—in addition to Lyme Disease—and those dogs that are severely affected may also be treated with pain relievers.

How can Lyme Disease be prevented?

Since Lyme Disease is serious and can be debilitating, dog owners want to take measures to prevent their pets from contracting the disease. Here are a few things you can do to help minimize your dog’s chance of getting Lyme Disease.

  • Avoid areas that are likely to be tick infested. During the seasons when ticks are active, try to avoid taking your dog into heavily wooded areas or other places where large deer populations live.
  • Spray your immediate home/lawn area with an appropriate insecticide. If you decide to use an anti-tick spray, make sure it’s safe for dogs.
  • Vaccinate your dog. If you live in a high-risk region, ask your vet about the latest generation of Lyme Disease vaccinations. He may recommend one that he deems effective.
  • Use a topical anti-tick insecticide. There are currently several brands of topical insecticides on the market. They generally help in two ways:
    (1) By repelling ticks, and (2) By killing ticks that manage to attach themselves to dogs. Ask your vet about the brands he recommends. Please note that most flea and tick collars are not effective against the ticks that cause Lyme Disease. Only collars with amitraz have been shown to kill the ticks that spread this disease.

If you live in—or your dog has visited—a Lyme Disease hot spot and suspect that he is suffering from this condition, do not hesitate to take him to the veterinarian for an examination.

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