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Lyme Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment & Recovery

One of the most common tick-transmitted diseases in the world is Lyme disease. Today, our Waxhaw vets explain the causes, symptoms and treatment of Lyme disease in dogs.

What is Lyme disease in dogs?

Lyme disease is also referred to as Lyme borreliosis, a bacterial illness that certain species of infected ticks can transmit to humans, dogs and other animals.

Since ticks don’t fly or jump, they make contact with their host by lurking on the tips of long grass or bush, then quickly grabbing onto your dog when he walks by. He then crawls on to his body to look for a place to bite.

An infected tick carries the spiral-shaped bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, then bites a dog or person, transmitting the virus through the bloodstream.

Lyme disease in dogs, Providence Animal Hospital, Waxhaw Vets

Once it’s entered the bloodstream, the bacteria can reach different parts of the body and result in problems with specific areas or organs, including joints, as well as general illness. The disease can be transmitted after a tick has been attached to a dog for 24 to 48 hours.

Where are ticks carrying Lyme disease found?

Though Lyme disease occurs in every state, risk of infection varies. The vast majority of cases (95%) are from the Upper Midwest, the Northeast, and the Pacific case, though recent changes in deforestation, and migrating bird and deer populations have impacted these statistics. Ticks are most often found in farm fields, wooded areas, shrubs and long grass.

What are symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs?

When it comes to Lyme disease, dogs are often asymptomatic (meaning they’re able to carry the disease without showing symptoms). However, here are some common signs of Lyme disease in dogs:

  • Fever
  • Swollen joints
  • Lack of appetite and depression
  • General discomfort or malaise
  • Generalized stiffness
  • Lameness due to inflamed joints
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Difficulty breathing (a veterinary medical emergency)

If your dog is displaying symptoms of Lyme disease, contact your vet to schedule an examination. Left untreated, signs of Lyme disease in dogs can progress to kidney failure and even be fatal in severe cases. Serious neurological impacts and cardiac effects may also take place due to untreated Lyme disease.

How is Lyme disease diagnosed in dogs?

If your vet suspects that your dog may have Lyme disease, they will take your dog’s full medical history and complete several tests which may include blood tests (Quant C6 tests and C6 test(, x-rays, fecal exam and urine analysis. Fluid may also be drawn from affected joints to be analyzed.

How is Lyme disease treated in dogs?

Treatment for Lyme disease in dogs usually involves a course of antibiotics which will last for 4 weeks or longer (the antibiotic Doxycycline is typically a first-choice option). If your pooch seems to be experiencing a lot of pain, your vet may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to help alleviate joint pain.

Can my dog recover from Lyme disease?

Provided the disease is detected and treated effectively early enough, with the course of antibiotics signs of Lyme disease typically resolve within the first 3 days.

However, the organism that causes Lyme disease is very good at hiding and while treatment is typically successful in eliminating clinical signs, dogs that test positive for Lyme disease will remain positive for years, if not forever. If your dog tests positive but is not sick, your veterinarian will tell you whether they recommend treating at that time.

Though most dogs infected with Lyme disease will develop arthritis, the “silent killer” is the Lyme organism and antibodies produced after exposure, which can damage the filter in the kidneys. The impact of this form of the disease on the kidneys can easily go unnoticed until it is too late. If your vet determines that the kidneys have been affected, this can be treated and monitored before severe renal problems arise.

Preventing Lyme Disease in Dogs

Whenever your dog has been walking through areas where ticks may hide, it’s a good idea to check your pet (and yourself) for ticks once you arrive home. Removing ticks isn’t as simple as you might think. If you spot a tick on your pooch, contact your veterinarian for instructions on how to safely remove the tick from your dog’s skin.

We also recommend checking your own body for ticks. Lyme disease is much more severe in humans than in dogs. If you discover a tick has latched onto your skin, contact your doctor for advice on removing the tick.

It’s important to note that your dog does not pose a risk to you or your family; however you are at risk if you spend time in the same outdoor environment as your dog and are around infected ticks.

Also, keep up on tick prevention and parasite prevention year-round, and speak with your vet about vaccinating your dog against Lyme. Avoid brushing against shrubs or walking through long grass while on walks, and check your dog every day for ticks.

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.

If you think your dog may have Lyme disease, contact your vet to book a physical exam for your dog. If your pet is experiencing a medical emergency outside your regular vet's hours, contact us. Our veterinarians at Providence South Animal Hospital in Waxhaw have experience in diagnosing a wide range of conditions and illnesses. 

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