Lyme Disease in Dogs

Lyme disease is a concern for animals along with humans in our region. The disease manifests itself very differently between people and dogs. In dogs, we do not usually see signs of Lyme for weeks to months after infection. Typically, you will notice lameness and lethargy in your pet. Very rarely we can see neurologic signs or have issues with the heart. In addition, the kidneys can be damaged if the infection is left untreated and becomes latent in the body.

How is Lyme Transmitted?

In the Northeast, Lyme disease is contracted by dogs bitten by a deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). Deer ticks can carry Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria responsible for causing Lyme disease. Ticks must stay attached for 48 hours for the bacteria to move from the tick into your pet’s body.

Three stages of the deer tick: The larva (bottom right)nymph (bottom left), and adult female (top).(

Ticks can become infected with the Borrelia bacteria as larvae or nymphs, and nymphs and adults are both capable of transferring the bacteria to people or pets. Larvae usually are infected with Borrelia from small hosts, such as the white-footed mouse. Nymphs may also be exposed feeding from mice or a larger host such as a deer or dog. Typically, ticks feed from hosts in the spring and fall, making these the most likely time of year to find deer ticks on your dog.

How do you test for Lyme?

We screen dogs for Lyme disease with a laboratory test that can determine whether or not a dog has antibodies against the bacteria that causes the disease. This screening test does not indicate whether the infection is current or happened years earlier, it only indicates that the dog has been exposed to Borrelia bacteria sometime during its life.

If your dog is positive for Lyme on our in-house test, we may recommend performing a confirmatory test at an outside laboratory. This test is better at indicating whether or not a dog identified with exposure to Lyme is currently fighting infection. We will often recheck this test six months later to ensure that treatment has been effective at reducing the number of bacteria in your dog’s system. We may also recommend additional lab work to investigate how well the kidneys are functioning.

Can Lyme be treated in dogs?

Lyme can typically be treated in dogs with a long course of antibiotics. Doxycycline is the most commonly used antibiotic in treating Lyme. It has few side effects in dogs and is relatively inexpensive. In addition, we will often prescribe your pet a pain relief medication to help with your pet’s lameness. In general, the treatment will eradicate most but not all of the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. If your pet has kidney damage from the Lyme infection, there may be additional medications and screenings that we would recommend.

Is there a way to prevent Lyme disease?

The best way to protect your dog from Lyme disease is to prevent ticks from biting him or her. Using a monthly flea and tick preventive such as Advantix or Vectra usually gives good protection. These products will typically kill the tick or cause it to drop off the dog before it has been attached for 48 hours.

In addition, there are several vaccinations available for Lyme disease in dogs. Dogs should receive two vaccines within 3 weeks the first time they are vaccinated against this disease. After the first shot series, the vaccine will need to be boostered yearly.

Should I vaccinate my Lyme positive dog?

There are conflicting opinions about vaccinating dogs that have already been exposed to Lyme. A positive in house Lyme test indicates that the dog has some immunity to the disease from its previous exposure and may be able to fight off future infections with no treatment. However, we do not know how much immunity this animal has, nor can we predict when the immunity will wane. We do know that Lyme positive dogs live in an environment where they may be exposed to the disease at a later date. We also know that the vaccine is safe in Lyme positive dogs, although all vaccinations have the possibility of causing reactions. At Ridge Runner, we recommend vaccination of Lyme positive dogs.

If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to call us at 223-2596.


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