Lyme disease in dogs is caused by the same bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, as in humans, and the bacteria is spread by the same type of deer ticks. The symptoms usually include lameness, lymph node swelling in the limb affected and high fever. The symptoms of canine Lyme disease progress quickly – the lameness is barely noticeable in the beginning and, within three or four days, the dog cannot use the painful leg at all. Infected dogs may have hot, painful joints; they are reluctant to walk, because of the pain and when they do walk, they arch their back in an unnatural position to try and protect their joints. The diagnosis is not easy to establish, and, for most Lyme disease dogs, the blood test is not enough and the veterinarian has to evaluate the symptoms and the dog’s history as well. A special blood test is required for dogs who were previously vaccinated, in order to differentiate the infection from the response of the organism.
One of the major issues with canine Lyme disease is that in many cases there are no symptoms, and the dog looks perfectly healthy until the infection spreads and reaches the heart, the kidneys or the nervous system.
The treatment involves antibiotics, such as doxycycline, for a period of three to four weeks. If the condition is diagnosed correctly and in time, the recovery is quick, and most Lyme disease dogs will show an improvement after the first two or three days of treatment. However, the disease may return after several months, in which case the animal should re-start the antibiotic therapy, probably for a longer period of time. Aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used to keep the pain under control, but these have no effect on the causes of the disease. Also, Lyme disease in dogs may leave the joints painful long after the treatment is over, and some other damage may be non-reversible as well.
A vaccine has been developed for Lyme disease in dogs, but its use is somewhat controversial, and recommended only for animals who live in high-risk areas, so make sure you discuss this issue with the veterinarian. The best method of preventing the condition is to prevent the tick bite, by using insect repellant collars, or by checking the dog regularly and removing the insects when found. When you find a tick, use tweezers to remove it, pulling straight upwards. Do not attempt to take it off using the bare hands. When the dog has been in woods or long grass, brush and comb the fur regularly, and use shampoos that kill the insects. It’s a good idea to wear rubber gloves when performing these operation, since the tick can also transmit the same type of disease to humans.
Lyme disease in dogs is curable, but you must take the pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible. As with all disease, prevention is a better solution than treatment. Also, bear in mind that the disease is not contagious, it can only be spread by ticks, and not from an infected dog to another or from sick dogs to humans.