Lyme Disease In Dogs: What You Need To Know
Youve probably heard of Lyme disease. You or someone you know may have even tested positive for it, but did you know that your furry friend is just as at-risk for exposure to this dangerous disease as you are, maybe even more so? Fortunately, cats are not at risk for acquiring Lyme disease, but as we now know, their canine counterparts certainly are.
Research indicates that in 2016 and 2017, 1 in 8 dogs in Roanoke County tested positive for Lyme disease. In 2018, 1 in 9 dogs in Roanoke County tested positive, an improvement from previous years. It may seem hopeful that perhaps the tick population in our area is now less than what it was in previous years, however we strongly believe fewer dogs have tested positive for Lyme disease because of increased efforts to prevent disease transmission, like vaccination and year-round flea/tick prevention. So what exactly is Lyme disease and how can you protect your dog? Well answer these questions and more in this blog post!
What is Lyme disease and how is it transmitted?
How does Lyme disease differ in humans and in dogs?
Over 90% of infected humans show signs of Lyme disease and the initial signs of the disease in humans are typically the classic bulls eye lesion and flu-like symptoms. In dogs, on the other hand, clinical signs of Lyme disease are observed in only about 5-15% of infected cases. When early signs do occur, they typically occur about two months after infection.
What are signs of Lyme disease in dogs?
Why Should I Worry About Ticks Biting My Pet
The majority of the time, tick bites will not harm your pet. Rarely, bacterial infections or abscesses will develop at the site of a bite. This is more likely to occur if a tick has been improperly removed, with part of the tick being left in the skin. However, the main reason for wanting to prevent tick bites in dogs is that they have the potential to act as vectors of infectious disease.
Most Of The Tick Control Products We Use Don’t Repel Ticks
There are many good options for flea and tick preventatives on the market. There’s the Lyme vaccine. There’s the more old-school route of tick collars. And there are perhaps the most commonly used monthly topical and oral options.
If you’re one of the countless pet owners who gives their dog a chewable medication or squirts a preventative oil on their skin, you might be surprised to learn that neither of those tick control tactics actually repel the little bloodsuckers from your dog’s body.
“Owners come to us and say, ‘Well, you know, we’re using this flea and stuff, but we still see ticks on our dog,'” recalls Bloom, who practices veterinary medicine in a heavily wooded section of New Jersey. “Most of these flea and tick products will not actually repel the tick, will not keep the tick from walking onto your dog, and will not keep the tick from biting your dog. What they’ll do is they’ll kill the tick after the tick has bitten.”
And it turns out, that’s perfectly fine.
“If a tick bites your dog, it can transmit the bacteria, but only if it stays attached,” Bloom elaborates. “If the tick is killed with less than 24 hours attachment to your dog, it won’t transmit disease.”
If you’re concerned about ticks hitching a ride into your house, though, there are some products that do physically repel ticks a tick collar, for example. But Goldstein argues that’s not always in your family’s best interest.
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Diagnosis Of Lyme Disease In Humans
In human medicine, diagnosis of Lyme disease centers on:
Treatment is indicated only when all 3 criteria have been documented.
Most Dogs Dont Get Lyme Disease Symptoms Even When They Have Lyme Disease
In 2006, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania infected beagles with Lyme disease.
None of the adult dogs showed any signs of Lyme disease even though they had Lyme disease.
The only dogs in the group that showed any signs of Lyme disease were the puppies and after four days of on and off symptoms, every puppy showed no signs of Lyme disease.
This is likely because puppies have immature immune systems. So while Lyme is common, the disease isnt.
But what about dogs who already test positive for Lyme?
Meryl Littman was the lead researcher and explains 95% of exposed dogs dont get sick, but they become Lyme antibody-positive on tests, which may scare people into thinking they need to be treated.
In fact, 70% 90% of dogs in some areas of New England test positive for Lyme. About 40% of dogs in Pennsylvania test positive.
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Questions To Ask Your Veterinarian
If your dog has a positive Lyme test but no symptoms of the disease or protein in the urine, ask your veterinarian why he or she is recommending treatment. Experts currently recommend against antibiotic therapy under these circumstances because the dogs immune system is holding the bacteria in check and antibiotics are unable to eliminate the infection.
Dogs who have contracted Lyme disease do not develop prolonged, protective immunity and can be reinfected at a later date. Talk to your veterinarian about how best to prevent future infections. Options include measures to prevent the ticks that carry Lyme disease from biting your dog and Lyme vaccination.
Testing For Kidney Disease
Tests to diagnose kidney disease include complete blood count, serum biochemistry, and urinalysis. These blood tests will determine if your pet is anemic, determine white blood cell counts, measure blood urea nitrogen, creatinine, and electrolytes. A urinalysis is essential for the proper interpretation of the urea and creatinine values in the serum biochemistry profile and may also provide important clues to the possible underlying cause of kidney disease. A urinalysis will also determine the specific gravity, pH, presence of blood in the urine, and the amount of protein in the urine. An evaluation of the urine sediment will determine the presence of red blood cells, white blood cells, bacteria, crystalline material, and cellular casts all of which provide information to determine the underlying cause of kidney disease in your pet. Further diagnostic tests may be recommended based on the results of these initial screening tests.
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History Of Dogs Living Through Lyme Disease
In the past, it may have been difficult for dogs to surviveLyme disease due to the inability to diagnose the disease. Now, there arenumerous tests for vets to use to determine whether or not your pooch has Lymedisease. Fortunately, this means that fewer dogs die from Lyme disease now.
To prevent Lyme disease, you can have your dog vaccinatedand use flea and tick preventatives. If your dog does contract Lyme disease,however, they are likely to exhibit the symptoms listed above. These symptomsare caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium in the bite of an infectedtick.
Since ticks can live in many outdoor settings, it isimportant to be diligent about prevention and removal of any ticks. It takes morethan two days for ticks to transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease to theirhosts, so if you think your pet may have been exposed to ticks, you should checkthem out and remove any ticks that you do find.
Luckily for dogs, modern medicine has made diagnosing andtreating Lyme disease much easier than it was just a couple decades ago. Withdifferent treatments available, more dogs make a full recovery after contractingthe disease, but it can also cause further health complications.
How Does Lyme Disease Affect Dogs
Humans infected with Lyme disease often develop a bulls-eye rash, but this is not typically observed in infected dogs. Lyme disease targets the joints, causing chronic arthritis. The most common clinical sign in dogs is sudden lameness, but other symptoms may also be observed:
Severe cases may progress to kidney failure and death.
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How Is Lyme Disease Diagnosed
Dogs with lameness, swollen joints, and fever are suspected of having Lyme disease. However, other diseases may also cause these symptoms. There are a few blood tests that may be used for confirmation. The first is an antibody test, that your veterinarian can perform in the clinic setting using a special test kit. This test detects the presence of antibodies created by exposure to the organism. A test can be falsely negative if the dog is infected, but has not yet formed antibodies, or if it never forms enough antibodies to cause a positive reaction. It is recommended to test no earlier than 4 weeks after a tick bite. Some dogs that have been infected for long periods of time may no longer have enough antibodies present to be detected by the test. Therefore, a positive test is meaningful, but a negative is not. A follow up test called a QC6 test can be done to assess the numerical antibody level as confirmation.
Other tests including PCR , ELISA , joint fluid analysis, and culture can also be done with varying degrees of sensitivity, but are done less commonly. General blood and urine tests are also often done to assess kidney function and look for loss of protein in the urine. See handout Testing for Lyme Disease in Dogs for further information.
Transmission Of Lyme Disease
Although B burgdorferi are transmitted through the bite of infected ticks, ticks do not, themselves, cause the disease.6 Ticks are vectors only. The infection cycle usually starts when a tick larva obtains its first blood meal from an infected reservoir host, typically a white-footed mouse in the east or a western gray squirrel in the west.1 Other reservoir hosts for B burgdorferi include shrews, voles, chipmunks, and deer.1,6 However, if the tick did not become infected while in the larval stage, it can still become infected through subsequent blood meals as a nymph or adult.2 Ticks of all 3 life stageslarvae, nymphs, and adults feed on multiple species of animals, including squirrels, deer , reptiles, amphibians, and birds. The ticks need to have a new host at each stage of their life before they can transmit B burgdorferi to a dog. If one host is reduced or missing , the infection rate goes down.3 Conversely, in years when reservoir species are abundant, the infection rate goes up.
After infection with B burgdorferi, Ixodes species ticks of all 3 life stages are capable of transmitting the bacteria. After the bacteria are inside the ticks, regardless of the tick life stage, the bacteria persist through each molt of the tick .1,3,4 Within Lyme diseaseendemic areas, the incidence of B burgdorferi infection in ticks can reach as high as 50% of nymphs and adult ticks.4,6
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Lyme Borreliosis Is A Disease To Preventnot To Treat
The reasons are clear:
- Cost of treatment and post treatment monitoring can be significant for the pet owner.
- Antimicrobial treatment, regardless of the drug used, is not expected to clear bacteria from tissue, and therapy is not entirely free of adverse consequences.
- Health consequences of long-term infection, particularly dogs subject to re-infection, are unknown.
- Natural immunity to B burgdorferi is short-lived and does not provide significant or sustained protection for pets re-exposed to infected ticks.
How Do You Prevent Lyme Disease In Dogs
To prevent Lyme disease in dogs, try to avoid tick-infested areas, especially during peak season. When you come in from the outdoors, check your dogs body and carefully remove any ticks with tweezers.
Year-round tick control helps in prevention. You can also ask your vet about tick-preventive products. These products kill ticks on your dogs body before they have a chance to spread an infection. Vaccines can also help prevent Lyme disease in dogs, but vets warn against them unless you live in an area that is prone to ticks.
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How Is Lyme Disease Diagnosed And Treated In Dogs
There’s no single test that can distinguish clinical canine Lyme disease from a simple Borrelia burgdorferi infection.
Diagnosis of Lyme disease in dogs depends on:
- Exposure to ticks and Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria
- Signs or symptoms consistent with Lyme disease
- Consideration of other potential diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Response to treatment
In humans, Lyme disease is treated with various oral or intravenous antibiotics, depending on the stage of the disease and what symptoms a person has developed.
But in dogs, Lyme disease is almost always treated with oral doxycycline for about four weeks. The treatment may be extended if symptoms persist.
Dogs with Lyme nephropathy may require additional treatments, including:
Preventing Lyme Disease In Dogs
Since Lyme disease can cause irreversible damage before its detected, and it can be spread by tick bites even if you give your dog a tick preventative, its a good idea to try and prevent your dog from catching Lyme disease to begin with.
While you cant keep your dog from getting ticks on them in the same way you can protect yourself in the woods through long sleeves and long pants, its hard to give your dog the same protection. Its very easy for ticks to hop onto your dog from the surrounding grass and bury themselves in your dogs fur.
Preventing Lyme disease in dogs involves checking them regularly for tick infestation and doing a thorough inspection for ticks on your dog after any tromp through areas which might be invested with ticks, such as a wooded hiking trail. It takes ticks a little while to settle in and bite the dog, so you have a chance to catch them and pick them off before they latch on if you look.
Here are some tips that you can use to help prevent your dog from getting ticks:
Staying vigilant against ticks is a big part of preventing Lyme disease in both your dog and yourself.
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How Long Can A Dog Live With Lyme Disease
Most dogs with acute or subacute Lyme disease will live just as long as dogs without the disease. Once the initial symptoms are cleared up by antibiotics, the bacteria may still be present in the body but in such small concentrations that it wont cause any ill effects. Overall, there is no decrease in either life expectancy or quality of life for dogs with these forms of Lyme disease.
Chronic Lyme and Lyme nephritis are still poorly researched conditions, and its not known exactly how they impact life expectancy. These forms of the disease ultimately cause kidney failure, which is the primary cause of death for many dogs with Lyme. Once diagnosed with kidney failure, dogs can live for up to four years, though many succumb to the disease within months or even weeks.
Lyme nephritis, in particular, is a painful condition, and the kidney damage it causes requires costly ongoing treatment and testing. Many owners of dogs with Lyme nephritis opt to euthanize rather than prolong the dogs suffering.
Facts Every Dog Owner Should Know About Lyme Disease
May 1, 2019
Each year, Avets internal medicine department treats a number of dogs with Lyme disease in the spring, summer, and fall months. Lyme disease can cause significant illness and death if infection is not prevented. Do you know how to protect your furry friend from this warm-weather threat?
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What Causes Lyme Disease
Most people believe that ticks cause Lyme disease, but this is only partly true. Lyme disease is caused by bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, which is picked up by deer ticks when they feed on infected animals. When a tick carrying the bacteria finishes its feeding which may be you or your dog bacteria from the ticks saliva gets left behind, entering its new host.
How To Help Protect Your Pet
Using a tick preventive can help protect your dog from disease-carrying ticks. Tick prevention products that both kill and repel the parasite should be considered, because if a tick is repelled, it cant bite and transmit diseases, like Lyme disease, to your dog in the first place. Effective tick control products can be found at the vet or over the counter at pet stores and online retailers.
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Lyme Disease: What Dog Lovers Need To Know
You probably know Lyme Disease is carried by ticks. Those nasty little parasites look for a warm body to attach to and feed on. Some of those ticks are infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease Borrelia Burgdorferi.
However, you might not know that your dog can test positive for Lyme disease and not actually have it. Strange, right? But its true. According to Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, testing positive simply means your pet tested positive for the antibodies but only about 5% of dogs actually develop the illness.
Thats good news for dog lovers!
Yet, you should be aware of the symptoms of Lyme Disease in dogs just in case your pet is one of that 5 %. Its also a good idea to discuss the pros and cons of the Lyme vaccine youre your veterinarian.
The other thing youll want to know is that some dogs will show fever and lameness within 2-3 days and with others…it can take MONTHS before your dog shows any signs. In other words, you can pick 10 ticks off your dog in August and it can be Halloween before your dog starts showing signs of the illness. If you find ticks and your dog shows any signs of lethargy or lameness, go to vet immediately. Acute forms of Lyme are much easier to treat.