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Lyme Disease in Dogs: Is It Dangerous?


Lyme Disease in Dogs: Is It Dangerous?

If you have ever been camping with a scout troop, you have probably heard an adult tell you to check for ticks when you hit the showers. Ticks are tiny little bugs that affix themselves to the skin of humans and animals and drink their blood.

They are the vampires of the woods, and while their bite won’t cause immortality or a blood-thirst, it does have the potential to cause serious health problems.

There are a few diseases communicable by tick bites, but none quite as dangerous and debilitating as Lyme disease. The condition has an onset period of a couple of weeks and can cause serious illness if left unrecognized and untreated. Cases of the disease have been on the rise.

In the last 12 years, it has risen by 80 percent. While it used to only be a threat in the Midwest and Northeast portions of the United States, instances of the disease have been on the rise in southern states such as Florida and Georgia.

With all these rising occurrences, people need to be mindful of not only their possible encounters with these ticks but also their pets. Lyme disease in dogs can have severe and sometimes fatal consequences if the warning signs are missed. What does Lyme disease do and how do you know if your dog has it?

Below you will find some of the answers to these and other questions about the condition.


What Is Lyme Disease and How Is It Transmitted?

Lyme disease is an infection caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. It is spread by the bite of the black-legged tick, or deer tick, as it is commonly known. Deer ticks are not always easy to spot on your skin and are even more difficult to find on your dog.

They can range in size from a single grain of sand to a poppy seed all the way up to an apple seed depending on the age of the tick. When they feed, they fill with blood and get larger.

For a tick to successfully transmit Lyme disease, it has to be attached to you or your dog for a pretty significant amount of time, typically, 48 hours. Therefore, it is critical that after spending a day in areas where deer ticks might be prevalent (marshes, high grassy fields, woods, etc.), give yourself and your dog a thorough examination to be sure you aren’t carrying any of these undesirables.

Pay particular attention to the warmer areas of the body including underarms and legs, at the groin area and in the ears and hair. It won’t be as common to see a tick sitting out on the forearm. It much prefers darker, warmer places so it can feed in peace.

If you can catch a tick and successfully remove it before the two-day period, the chance of it transmitting Lyme disease is virtually non-existent. However, it is still a good idea to keep an eye on out for the symptoms that may follow infection, just in case.


What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs?

In humans, the most significant symptom of Lyme disease is a red rash that develops at the site of the bite. The rash appears within days of the bite and is accompanied by flu-like symptoms.

In dogs, this is a little different. No rash typically occurs in dogs, and if there is, chances are you may not see it depending on the site of the bite and the type of fur your dog has. If you know a tick has bitten your dog and you see the following signs and symptoms, it is well worth it to pay a visit to the veterinarian.

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargic
  • Fever
  • Stiffness or discomfort
  • Lameness in one or more limbs
  • Sensitive to touch

Tell the vet your dog has been exposed to the disease so the proper blood tests can be performed. Be aware, however, that a Lyme test is not always positive. If your dog was exposed recently, there might not be enough antibodies in the blood to signal an infection.

If your dog was exposed in the past and enough time has gone by, there may also not be enough antibodies in the blood for the test to be positive. Therefore, it is possible for a dog to have Lyme disease and not have a positive test.

Your vet will decide on whether treatment for the disease should commence or if you should wait until the symptoms progress or the test is positive. In most cases, if you are positive a tick bit your dog, a veterinarian will decide to treat over waiting. The risks of not treating are significant, including permanent kidney damage and possible death.

How Is Lyme Disease Treated in Dogs?

Luckily for your precious pooch, treatment of Lyme disease is pretty well tolerated. It usually consists of a regimen of oral antibiotics and in some cases pain medication to help with any discomfort. Common medicines used to treat the disease in dogs are Doxycycline or Amoxicillin.

It is important to note that your dog may not experience the clinical onset of symptoms for months following infection. Unlike humans, dogs don’t immediately react to the bacteria. Therefore, if you remove a tick from your dog, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that lethargy and lameness may set in months in the future.

Because the treatment is typically so well-tolerated and non-invasive, it’s a good idea to tell your vet immediately after your dog has been exposed to a tick. Your vet may well have you come back in for a test in a few months, even if symptoms never materialize.

Lyme Disease in Dogs – What Effect Does Lyme Disease Have on the Body?

Lyme disease has a similar effect in dogs and humans. The bacteria are drawn to the joints of the body. It causes severe inflammation and pain, making it difficult to move appendages. In dogs, this results in lameness that can seemingly shift from one leg to another, or in some instances, a complete inability to stand up and walk. Humans, the joint swelling and pain are much like that experienced with arthritis, and in fact, Lyme disease can cause arthritis to set in at a much earlier age.

In dogs, as in humans, there can be severe complications if the disease is left unchecked and untreated. The bacteria may begin to affect the kidneys and cause them to fail. Signs of kidney failure include sudden onset of vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, increased urination and lack of appetite. While Lyme disease doesn’t typically cause kidney problems, it is critical that you are aware that the possibility exists.

What Is the Prognosis After My Dog Is Infected?

If your dog has been infected and treated for the disease, a full recovery is typical. In fact, there are typically no lasting effects in most cases of Lyme disease in dogs. You and your pooch can be back to your normal lives after a round or two of antibiotics.

Are There Prevention Measures to Help Keep My Dog Safe From Lyme Disease?

Prevention is one of the most critical elements in keeping dogs and humans from getting the disease. Some specific preventative medications and methods can be employed to prevent ticks from attaching to dogs. Some examples are:

  • Oral medicines administered at regular intervals
  • Injections administered at regular intervals
  • Collars

While collars used to be the end-all, be-all in flea and tick treatment, these days oral treatment has become the most suggested and successful way to protect your dog. These medications sometimes come in variations that repel fleas as well as ticks. They work by making your dog’s skin unappetizing to these tiny critters. If you have more than one dog, they should all be on the same tick regimen so that one pooch isn’t more appealing than the others.

When you take your dog with you on walks through wooded or marshy areas that are known to house these ticks, be sure to check both of you thoroughly immediately after the exposure. If you find a tick, the best thing to do is call your veterinarian so it can be safely removed.

Removing the tick is relatively pain-free; however, it can be difficult to completely extract based on where it’s located and how long it’s been there. Ticks that are full are easier to dislodge. However, the fuller they are the longer they’ve been feeding.

It is essential to know the signs, symptoms, and treatment for Lyme disease in dogs. While the disease is usually not deadly, it can still cause considerable pain and discomfort in a short amount of time. It is best to speak to your veterinarian about preventative treatment to minimize your dog’s chances of having to deal with any tick bite.

Ticks aren’t great for humans either, so make sure you check yourself and your pet after possible exposure. Lyme disease doesn’t mean you have to stop doing an activity you enjoy with your dog; it just means you need be more informed about it.



Featured Image: CC0 Public Domain via Canva



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