Lyme disease is a common tick-transmitted disease seen in people and pets across North America. Although Lyme disease in people often leads to chronic symptoms such as joint pain, Lyme disease in dogs is treatable. Here, our Las Vegas vets explain some causes, symptoms, and treatments for Lyme disease in dogs.

What is Lyme disease in dogs?

Lyme disease has been diagnosed in both dogs and people across all states, however, infection rates vary from one state to another.  In the US, the Upper Midwest, Pacific Coast and Northeast regions of the United States report the highest number of cases of Lyme disease in dogs.

Dogs contract Lyme disease through the bite of an infected tick. Ticks, including those carrying Lyme, are most often found in wooded and grassy areas including farm fields and forests. 

Ticks don't fly or jump, they find their prey by resting on the tips of grasses, shrubs, and leaves with their front legs outstretched waiting for direct contact with animals or people. As your pup brushes past, the tick simply grabs hold and latches on to your pet. 

Lyme disease is not contagious between dogs or between dogs and humans; however, an infected tick from one dog may spread the disease to another dog or a person.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs

Dogs frequently carry Lyme disease without displaying any symptoms (asymptomatic). However, other dogs can experience a variety of painful symptoms. If your dog has Lyme disease, he or she may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms.

  • Lameness
  • Stiffness
  • High fever
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Swollen inflamed joints
  • General lethargy or discomfort
  • Decreased appetite and depression 
  • Breathing difficulties

If your pooch is suffering from any of the symptoms listed above, contact your vet to book an examination.

If left untreated, the effects of Lyme disease in dogs can be severe, even fatal. If left untreated, the condition can cause kidney failure, severe heart problems, and neurological problems in dogs.

How Lyme Disease is Diagnosed in Dogs

If your veterinarian suspects that your dog has Lyme disease, he or she will review a complete medical history of your dog's health, discuss with you any instances when your dog may have come into contact with ticks, examine your pet's body for ticks, and then perform a number of tests, which may include blood tests (C6 Test and Quant C6 tests), urine analysis, fecal exam, and x-rays. If your dog has painful joints, your vet may take fluid from the affected joints to be analyzed.

How to Treat Lyme Disease in Dogs

The standard treatment for Lyme disease in dogs is a four-week course of an antibiotic called doxycycline. If your dog has particularly painful joints, the vet may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to help relieve his or her discomfort. In many cases, this treatment will alleviate the dog's Lyme disease symptoms; however, in some cases, the infection will persist and additional medication may be required.

Your dog's treatment may also include other therapies targeted specifically at any symptoms your dog may be experiencing.

Unfortunately, antibiotic treatment is not always 100% effective and is not always able to cure Lyme disease in dogs. Some dogs that are treated for months with doxycycline still show positive antibody levels in the future.  In spite of treatment, it is possible for the infection to hide in the body for years often resulting in future health problems. Early diagnosis and treatment may make treatment more effective.

The most serious chronic health problems caused by Lyme disease are kidney, heart, and neurologic problems, with irreversible kidney failure known as glomerulonephritis being the most common. Kidney failure can have a negative impact on a pet's quality of life and lifespan.

Lyme Disease Prevention in Dogs

One way to help prevent your dog from contracting Lyme disease is to keep your pet on a tick prevention medication year-round and speak to your vet about vaccinating your dog against Lyme.

Whenever your dog has been walking through areas where ticks may be hiding, it is a good idea to check your pet's skin when you get home. It's important to remove ticks as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

However, removing ticks isn't as simple as you might think. Please consult your veterinarian for instructions on how to properly remove ticks from your dog. (Your vet may request that you keep the tick for testing).

Remember - Lyme disease is much more severe in humans than it is in dogs! If you walk in areas with long grass or shrubs be sure to check your skin regularly for ticks. Contact your doctor for advice on removing ticks if you find one latched onto your skin. Lyme disease in humans can cause a host of painful chronic symptoms.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

To learn more about how to treat Lyme disease in dogs, or to book an appointment for your pooch, contact us today.