Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that can be transmitted to dogs, as well as humans and other animals through a bite from an infected tick.
It can cause health problems and serious illness in dogs, but it can also be tricky to get a diagnosis.
So if you’re curious to learn more about Lyme disease, how to spot it, and how to prevent it, then keep reading.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, so the illness is often also referred to as ‘Borreliosis’. The bacteria are carried by ticks and transmitted through their bite.
Ticks are usually found in areas with long grass, woodlands, and around marshes. They latch onto your dog’s fur and skin as they walk past.
The bacteria are found in the saliva of the infected tick, and the tick needs to be attached to your pet for 24-48 hours to transmit the infection.
When your dog is bitten and the tick takes a blood meal, the bacteria enter your dog’s bloodstream and multiply around the site of the bite.
This is why the symptoms of Lyme disease are so varied – because the bacteria can travel to any part of the body including the heart, kidneys, joints, and nervous system.
Not all ticks carry Lyme disease, and it’s more common in certain areas. Your local veterinarian will be able to guide you on Lyme disease in your area.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs
As the bacteria travel through your dog’s bloodstream, they can have wide and varied effects, and, commonly, no two cases of Lyme disease are the same. It can be tricky to spot the symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs, as they can also be vague and intermittent. It can take several weeks or even months for the symptoms of Lyme disease to develop, and some dogs don’t show any signs at all. Dogs do not typically get the typical bull's eye skin lesion around a tick bite that is commonly associated with Lyme disease in humans.
The most common symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs are -
- Swollen joints
- Decreased appetite
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Drinking or urinating more frequently
- Neurological symptoms
How is Lyme Disease Diagnosed?
Making a diagnosis of Lyme disease can be very tricky, as the symptoms are often vague and could also be a sign of many other health problems. Your vet will ask you about your pet’s flea and tick prevention and take a thorough history and examination.
There are blood tests available to help diagnose Lyme disease; they are looking for antibodies in your dog’s blood which can be detected 3-5 weeks after infection. It’s important to know that these tests aren’t always 100% reliable, and sometimes need to be repeated. It can take some time to get a diagnosis of Lyme disease for your dog, and it’s often a diagnosis of exclusion. Other blood tests to assess your dog's kidney function are also important as the illness can cause kidney damage.
Treating Lyme Disease in Dogs
As Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, the main part of treatment is antibiotics. The antibiotic of choice is usually Doxycycline, and your pet will be prescribed a long course lasting several weeks. You should always ensure you finish the course and return to the vet for follow-up checks and blood tests to ensure the treatment has worked.
Some dogs also need anti-inflammatory medication and pain relief, particularly if they have joint problems. Any kidney problems will also need to be treated.
Most dogs make a good recovery from Lyme disease, but it’s important to monitor for the return of symptoms as relapses can occur. In rare cases where Lyme disease is severe or causes complications, dogs may need to be hospitalized for treatment.
Prevent Lyme Disease in Dogs
Preventing ticks from attaching to your dog is key to preventing Lyme Disease. It’s also important to find out whether Lyme disease is endemic in the area you live in and walk your dog.
There are some steps you can take to protect your pet:
- Use routine flea and tick prevention – your vet will go through the different options and help you find the most suitable program for your pet
- Inspect your dog after a walk, especially if you have been through woodland or long grass. Ticks usually like to attack around the head, neck, and legs
- Remove ticks as soon as you find them – your vet can show you the correct technique to ensure you remove the whole tick, and there are tools available to make this easier
- Avoid long grass and marsh areas in the warmer months when ticks are more prevalent
In conclusion, Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by Borrelia, and it’s transmitted to dogs through the bite of an infected tick. It can cause a range of vague and intermittent symptoms in dogs and can be tricky to spot and diagnose. But once diagnosed it can be treated easily with antibiotics. The best way to prevent Lyme disease is using flea and tick prevention using regular treatments available from your vet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can pets catch Lyme disease?
Yes. Pets, like humans, can contract Lyme disease from the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, carried by ticks and transmitted through their bite.
How do I remove a tick from my dog?
Your vet can show you the correct technique to ensure you remove the whole tick. If the head is left behind it can become infected. There are tick remover tools available to make this easier.
Can I catch Lyme disease from my dog?
No, Lyme disease is not contagious. It can only be contracted through the bite of an infected tick.