One of the more insidious illnesses that people can get from parasites (specifically ticks) is the condition known as ‘Lyme disease’. The condition takes the form of a blood-borne bacterial infection that produces symptoms that gradually increase in their severity, causing the infected person a great deal of discomfort and annoyance. Lyme disease is almost always found in areas that have a large deer population (which the parasites feed upon) combined with plenty of forest with substantial brush that the parasites can hide in. Whilst the condition is not usually lethal, the symptoms can be incredibly debilitating if the condition is left untreated.
Can Dogs Get Lyme Disease If They Have Been Vaccinated?
Unfortunately, whilst there are vaccines available to combat Lyme disease, they are only effective against a limited number of strains of the illness, meaning that there is no protection offered against many of the others. For this reason, vets will only advise vaccinating dogs that may be especially at risk of coming into contact with the bacteria.
Dogs are also highly susceptible to becoming infected with Lyme disease, especially if they are used for activities that put them in close proximity to infected deer populations on a regular basis (such as hunting). Additionally, the condition can sometimes prove lethal to dogs, making it even more of a danger.
If you believe that your dog has Lyme disease, you should get them to a vet as soon as possible so that the condition can be dealt with. If left untreated, the symptoms can become gradually worse and, in rare cases, even result in the animal’s death.
Does My Dog Have Lyme Disease?
An infected dog will normally have a rash develop around the site where they were originally bitten by the tick, which resulted in the bacteria from an infected animal’s blood being pushed through the skin on the parasite’s jaws. The dog may then start to lose some degree of coordination and may have difficulty moving around due to stiffness in its muscles and joints. Muscular pain is also not unusual, accompanied by a noticeable level of lethargy and general loss of interest in food. Fever-like symptoms may also be exhibited, though these will be sporadic and hard to predict. In some cases, the dog may even experience kidney failure, which can lead to organ damage and death. To diagnose the problem, the vet will usually perform a blood test, which will reveal the presence of the Lyme disease bacteria within the dog’s body.
For more information on the condition and its characteristics, please consult our condition guide, Lyme Disease in Dogs .
How Can I Treat My Dog’s Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, meaning that the only way in which a vet can fight it is via the use of antibiotics. You should, however, bear in mind that the number of time the disease has been present in the dog can have a large influence on exactly how effective the antibiotics will be, with recently-infected dogs being the most responsive to treatment. The course of antibiotics will typically last for around a month, with the drugs being administered in the form of a pill, meaning that you will either have to convince the dog to eat them, or just crush them into its food. After the course of antibiotics is over, the dog should be completely free of Lyme disease. However, in a significant proportion of cases, the dog will still have the bacteria lingering in its system, necessitating a repeat course of drugs. A number of dogs may never be fully rid of the illness, though they may become asymptomatic, with the surviving bacteria having no further effect on them. Following treatment, you may have to provide the animal with some kind of probiotic agent in order to encourage the growth of friendly bacteria within its body that may have been wiped out by the antibiotics.
To discuss the condition with one of our in-house vets or to read accounts from dog owners who have had their pets infected even while they were vaccinated, consult our condition guide at Lyme Disease in Dogs .
How Is Lyme Disease Similar in Dogs, Humans and Other Animals?
The vast majority of animals that become infected with Lyme disease will do so via bites from a deer tick. These tiny parasites latch onto deer and drink their blood before being brushed off onto grass. They are then picked up by other creatures whose bloodstream they then tap into, releasing the bacteria into their new hosts’ bodies.
Although vaccines against Lyme disease are available for multiple animals, none are comprehensive, meaning that there are still many strains of the disease that will remain unaffected by the drug.
How Is Lyme Disease Different in Dogs, Humans and Other Animals?
Humans are much more likely to notice that they have been infected by Lyme disease in the initial stages due to the visibility of a rash on their bare skin. This means that the condition will be dealt with in its infancy, making it much easier to treat than when it is discovered in dogs, whose rash will have been obscured by their fur.
Whilst humans can take precautions to avoid being bitten by ticks carrying the bacteria (i.e. tucking trousers into boots or socks and making sure shirts are tucked in), dogs are much more vulnerable, meaning that they will have to be checked for ticks on a regular basis.
A Labrador retriever is frequently used for fetching game birds that have been shot by its owner. The dog frequently has to navigate areas of tall grass and high bushes where deer like to bed down to sleep. It is not unusual for ticks to become attached to its fur, but the owner can simply brush the majority off and is not unduly concerned as the dog is vaccinated. After inspecting the dog one day, the owner notices the red circular rash that is indicative of a Lyme disease infection and takes the animal to their vet. The vet performs a blood test and confirms that the dog is indeed infected, explaining that the strain present in the animal is immune to the vaccine. They provide a course of antibiotics to give to the dog and the owner continues the treatment over the course of a month. At their next appointment, the vet finds that whilst the dog is not entirely free of bacteria, they have become asymptomatic, allowing them to resume their normal routine. Fortunately, dogs cannot spread Lyme disease to humans, meaning that the owner will remain safe.