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Lyme disease in dogs

Brown little dog in the garden advice
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Can dogs get Lyme disease? Unfortunately, the answer is yes, but with quick and effective treatment your dog can make a full recovery. So here’s what you need to know about Lyme Disease

By Ashley Murphy

What is Lyme disease in dogs?

Lyme disease is a common infection caused by a bacteria called spirochete. It’s transmitted by ticks,  which are small spider-like parasites that latch onto the outside of a dog's body. Once the bacteria get into a dog's bloodstream, the disease is carried throughout your dog's body and usually localised around the joints.

According to a study carried out by the University of Bristol, up to a third of dogs will be hosting some kind of tick and only 3% will be carrying the bacteria that lead to Lyme disease. Of those infected, only ten percent will manifest symptoms.

What are the symptoms of lime disease dogs?

Because the bacteria usually settles around your dog’s joints, the most common symptoms are stiffness and arthritis.  It may be focused around one of the joints, but it can also affect multiple limbs; sometimes it even switches legs, leading to what is known as “shifting-leg lameness.” The lameness can last between 3-4 days but then recurs days or weeks later.

Lyme disease can also cause glomerulonephritis, which is an inflammation of the kidneys. If this happens your dog is likely to suffer from vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of appetite. You may also notice weight loss, and increased urination and thirst.

Others things to look out for are an arched back and a stiff walk, as well as sensitivity to touch and breathing difficulties. Some dogs also experience heart problems and complications with the nervous system, although both symptoms are quite rare.

How will the vet know if my dog has Lyme disease?

If your vet suspects Lyme disease they will need to run a few diagnostic tests. Don't worry - these are all harmless. They’ll most likely take blood and urine samples to identify the disease and the most suitable type of treatment. Due to the antibodies in your dog's system, some of these tests can't identify the bacteria in the blood. If this happens but your vet still suspects Lyme disease, they can order a  polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. This is a much more sensitive DNA test that takes fluid from any swollen joints.

Do all dogs with Lyme disease need treatment?

Given that only 10% of infected dogs show any symptoms, some veterinarians suggest that treatment isn’t always necessary for healthy looking dogs. A recent article on Petmed suggests that experts recommend against using antibiotics as they may interfere with your dog's natural immune system. However, if you're vet does suggest medication, they are likely to prescribe doxycycline, amoxicillin, or erythromycin. All three are fairly straightforward and administered twice daily at 12-hour intervals. You should see a marked improvement within a few days. If not, or if your dog's condition worsens, then contact your vet immediately. For more serious cases, a longer course of antibiotics may be required. As the disease can adapt and return, or be transmitted again by a fresh tick bite, your dog may require a combination of medicines to completely eradicate the disease.

What can I do to stop my dog from getting Lyme disease?

Dr. Erika de Papp is a specialist in internal medicine at the Angell Animal Medical Center. She writes that ticks need to be attached to your dog for at least 48 hours before they can become infected. She recommends daily tick checks, and especially if you've just returned from a walk in wooded or rural areas. She also advises using parasiticides like Frontline and Advantix. There are many other options to chose from but remember to always read the labels and consult your vet for more advice.

Vaccination is another option. Initial injections are followed by a booster vaccine within 2-4 weeks. Your dog may also require an annual booster shot. But get your dog tested first. According to the experts at Vetstreet, not all dog's are suitable for the vaccine. Much depends on the dog's age and medical history. Again, this is something you should discuss with your local vet.

Can I get Lyme disease from my dog?

You can, but only if an infected tick crawls off your dog and bites you. That’s why it’s really important to regularly check for ticks. Other than that, Lyne disease is a Zoonotic disease; this means it can't be directly transmitted between your dog and you.

Lyme disease in dogs can lead to some unpleasant symptoms. In the worst cases, it can be fatal. However, with a combination of prevention and effective treatment, it is easily managed and most dogs will make a full recovery.