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Lyme Disease In Dogs – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Updated on November 9, 2013

Lyme disease is a tick-borne infection that is caused by a bacteria/spirochete belonging to the Borrelia burgdorferi family. It is one of the most common tick-borne diseases in the world. Lyme disease in dogs can be easily identified by the presence of recurrent lameness which is caused by joints inflammation. Depression and decreased appetite may also be noticed. Lyme disease can also result in severe complications such as kidney damage, and on rare occasions, nervous system irregularities or cardiac diseases.

Studies show that younger dogs are at greater risk to Lyme disease as compared to adult dogs. Kidney disorders caused by Lyme disease iscommonly observed in golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, and Bernese Mountain dogs. The disease has a presence throughout Europe and the United States, but is most widespread in the Atlantic seaboard, the upper Midwestern states, and the Pacific coastal states.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs

Recurrent lameness may be seen in several dogs affected by Lyme disease. It is caused due to joints inflammation. Other affected dogs may suffer from acute lameness that continues for just 3 to 4 days. It can however recur many weeks afterwards, with lameness of the same leg, or it may affect the other limbs.

The condition is also referred to as ‘shifting-leg lameness,’ and can be identified with the below listed signs and symptoms:

  • Lameness that affects one leg. After that leg regains normal functionality, another limb may get affected in the later future.
  • There may be warmth and swelling in one or more joints.
  • The affected dog may whine in pain when the swollen joint is touched.

Lyme disease in dogs may also sometimes cause kidney abnormalities. Untreated cases can result in development of glomerulonephritis which is characterized by inflammation and subsequent malfunction of the glomeruli, i.e., the blood filtering component of the kidneys.

With the passage of time, the kidneys may ultimately fail leading to the onset of varied symptoms such as:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of weight
  • Deficient or reduced appetite
  • Accumulation of fluids in the abdomen and in different tissues, particularly below the skin and in legs.
  • Frequent thirst and urination

Other symptoms related to Lyme disease in dogs are as follows:

  • Increased sensitivity to touch
  • Stiffness in walking along with an arched back
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Shallow lymph nodes occurring near the tick-bite infection site may experience swelling
  • Inflammation of the joints may be accompanied by lowered appetite, fever, and depression.
  • On rare occasions, nervous system anomalies
  • Heart abnormalities, which may involve complete cardiac blockage, are also quite rare

Causes of Lyme Disease in Dogs

Lyme disease in dogs is caused the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. The pathogen gets transmitted via the bites of hard-shelled, slow-feeding deer ticks. The infection however occurs only after a tick infected with the bacteria remains attached to the skin of a dog for a minimum of 18 hours.

Diagnosis of Lyme Disease in Dogs

  • The vet will fully analyze the medical history of the affected dog. He/she will verify the occurrence of events and symptoms, as well as check for events that may have worsened the condition. Such an examination will allow the vet to gauge if there is secondary damage to any organs.
  • The skin condition in the area with the tick bite is examined. The wound is checked for severity levels as well as for any remnants of the tick.
  • A urinalysis, along with a complete blood profile that includes a complete blood count and a chemical blood profile will be carried out. Such tests will ascertain the occurrence of bacteria and other pathogens in the dog’s bloodstream. Fluid drawn out from the inflamed joints may also be analyzed.
  • As Lyme disease in dogs is associated with lameness or arthritis, the vet will also distinguish and check if it is caused by the presence of other inflammatory arthritic disorders like osteochondrosis dissecans, trauma, etc., or due to some underlying immune disorder. X-rays of the affected joints will help in determining the extent of bone damage, if any.

Treatment of Lyme Disease in Dogs

  • Lyme disease in dogs can be treated at home with different kinds of antibiotics. Severe cases may require a stay at the clinic till the symptoms improve.
  • Sudden or acute joint inflammation associated with Lyme disease in dogs typically resolves 3 to 5 days after antibiotic therapy.
  • Activity of affected dogs has to be limited. They need to be kept dry and warm. Pain killers should be avoided unless advised by the vet.
  • Treatment can take around 4 weeks. It is however important to note that the symptoms may not completely disappear in some dogs. Chronic joint pain may persist even after complete elimination of the bacteria.

Lyme disease in dogs can be prevented by avoiding areas known to have abundant tick population. Groom the dog on a regular basis.Consult your vet and use collars, sprays, or topical products that repel or kill ticks. The vet may also recommend a vaccine that is suitable for your dog.


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