What is Lyme Disease?
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Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs
Clinical symptoms of Lyme disease may take 2-5 months to appear. The symptoms are similar to symptoms seen with many other diseases and can occur in waves, appearing and disappearing every few weeks or months. Symptoms seen with Lyme disease include:
- Generalized pain
- Walking tenderly
- Recurring lameness
- Shifting-limping (different legs are affected on different days)
- Swollen joints
- Lack of appetite
- Swollen lymph nodes
Causes of Lyme Disease in Dogs
Borrelia burgdorferi is the causative agent of Lyme disease. The bacteria is most commonly transmitted by the bite of the small dark brown deer tick (Ixodes scapularis or Ixodes pacificus). The tick must be attached to (biting and feeding on) the dog for at least 12-18 hours to cause infection. All dogs are susceptible, though young dogs may be at greater risk for developing disease.
Diagnosis of Lyme Disease in Dogs
If your pet is displaying symptoms of Lyme disease, you should visit the veterinarian immediately. The longer infection goes untreated, the more damage can occur to the body.
Your veterinarian will begin by taking a history of your pet’s behaviors and a description of the symptoms and when they began. He will also want to know if you have seen ticks on your pet or have visited any wooded areas or traveled to endemic areas. A physical exam will look for fever, swollen lymph nodes, swollen joints, lameness, limping or generalized body pain.
Since the symptoms of Lyme disease are similar to symptoms seen with other more common diseases, the veterinarian may try to rule out other diseases before conducting tests for Lyme disease. Other similar looking cases include immune-mediated disease, trauma, or arthritic disorders. An x-ray will help detect injuries to the spine or joints or other abnormalities that may cause symptoms. Blood analysis and urinalysis can help to rule out other causes of symptoms.Antibody Test
If Lyme disease is suspected, an antibody test can detect the presence of antibodies to the bacteria. A positive test is not definitive for several reasons: A recently bitten pet will not yet have formed antibodies, animals with suppressed immune systems may never form antibodies, and only 10% of dogs with antibody will develop disease.PCR Analysis
The most definitive test for Lyme disease diagnosis is a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis that tests for the bacterial DNA in the synovial fluid (fluid from the joints).
Treatment of Lyme Disease in Dogs
Treatment for Lyme disease is a 2-4 week course of antibiotics, usually tetracycline or a penicillin. If symptoms do not resolve within 3-5 days of antibiotic treatment, a different antibiotic may be administered. If symptoms do not resolve, it is assumed there is another cause of disease symptoms and the veterinarian will want to look further into the pet’s condition.
Your veterinarian will decide whether or not to prescribe pain medication. It is important to keep the pet quiet and calm while recovering. Lameness and incoordination from Lyme disease can lead to a fall or other injury. Rest and sleep will aid in healing. Keep children and other pets away during sleep time until the medication regimen is complete.
Treatment with antibiotics when disease is caught early has good prognosis. A follow up appointment may be required to evaluate effectiveness of antibiotic treatment. Long term joint pain is seen in some animals after treatment. Infection may recur in some animals and an additional antibiotic treatment may be required.
Recovery of Lyme Disease in Dogs
You pet can contract Lyme disease any time they are exposed to the deer tick, even if they have already been infected and treated in the past. Lyme disease can be prevented by not allowing your pet to roam in wooded areas or areas of tall grass. Grooming you pet each day after being outdoors will allow you to notice any ticks on the fur or skin.
If a tick is crawling on your pet, remove it with a tissue and put it in a jar or kill it. To remove a tick that is attached, grasp your pets skin under the tick head with tweezers or your fingernails and pull straight out (try to get some skin with the tick to be sure you don’t leave the head behind).
A variety of sprays, collars and topical products can be used regularly to prevent ticks from crawling onto your pet. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations and only use the products according to your veterinarian and packaging instructions.
Vaccination is recommended for pets that live in or travel to endemic areas. The vaccine is given twice at 2-3 weeks intervals and is boosted annually. Vaccination does not prevent disease but does lower the risk of infection.