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Lyme Disease in Dogs—Treatment & Symptoms to Watch For

Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness that affects dogs nationwide in the US. While Lyme disease in humans can result in chronic symptoms like joint pain, it is treatable in dogs. Today, our vets in Los Angeles provide further insight into this prevalent condition.

What is Lyme disease in dogs?

Lyme disease has been diagnosed in both dogs and people across all states; however, infection rates vary from one state to another. In the US, the Upper Midwest, Pacific Coast, and Northeast regions report the highest number of cases of Lyme disease in dogs.

Dogs contract Lyme disease through the bite of an infected tick. Ticks, including those carrying Lyme, are most often found in wooded and grassy areas, including farm fields and forests.

Ticks don't fly or jump; they find their prey by resting on the tips of grasses, shrubs, and leaves with their front legs outstretched, waiting for direct contact with animals or people. As your pup brushes past, the tick simply grabs hold and latches onto your pet.

Lyme disease is not contagious between dogs or between dogs and people; however, an infected tick from one dog could make its way to another dog or a person, spreading the disease.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs

Dogs often carry Lyme disease without showing any symptoms at all (asymptomatic). That said, other dogs can suffer from a range of painful symptoms. If your dog has contracted Lyme disease, they may show one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Lameness
  • Stiffness
  • High fever
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Swollen inflamed joints
  • General lethargy or discomfort
  • Decreased appetite and depression 
  • Breathing difficulties

If your dog is experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, please contact your vet to schedule an examination. If left untreated, Lyme disease in dogs can lead to serious or even life-threatening effects such as kidney failure, heart problems, and neurological issues.

How is Lyme disease in dogs diagnosed?

If your veterinarian suspects that your pet may have Lyme disease, they will first review your dog's complete medical history and discuss any possible exposure to ticks with you. Next, they will examine your pet for ticks and perform various tests, including blood tests (C6 Test and Quant C6 tests), urine analysis, fecal examination, and x-rays. If your dog is showing symptoms of painful joints, the vet may also draw fluid from the affected joints for analysis.

What is the most common treatment for Lyme disease in dogs?

Lyme disease treatment in dogs typically involves a course of a powerful antibiotic called doxycycline administered for at least four weeks.

If your dog is suffering from especially painful joints, the vet may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to help relieve your pup's pain. In many cases, this treatment will resolve any symptoms of Lyme disease the dog is experiencing.

However, in some cases, the infection will persist, and prolonged medication may be needed. Your dog's treatment may also include other therapies targeted specifically at any symptoms your dog may be experiencing.

Does Lyme disease in dogs have a cure?

Unfortunately, antibiotic treatment is not always 100% effective and may not cure Lyme disease in dogs. Some dogs may still test positive for antibodies even after months of doxycycline treatment. The infection can remain hidden in the body for years, leading to future health issues. Early diagnosis is crucial for more effective treatment.

Chronic health problems resulting from Lyme disease can be quite serious, including kidney, heart, or neurological issues. The most common is irreversible kidney failure, known as glomerulonephritis. Kidney failure can significantly impact a pet's quality of life and lifespan. If your dog is suffering from long-term effects of Lyme disease, your veterinarian may refer you to an internal medicine specialist for advanced diagnosis and treatment.

How can I protect my pup against Lyme disease?

One way to help prevent your dog from contracting Lyme disease is to keep your pet on a tick prevention medication year-round and speak to your vet about vaccinating your dog against Lyme.

Whenever your dog has been walking through areas where ticks may be hiding, it is a good idea to check your pet's skin when you get home. Removing ticks as quickly as possible is an important step in reducing the risk of disease transmission.

That said, removing ticks isn't as straightforward as you may think. Contact your vet for instructions on how to properly remove ticks from your dog. (Your vet may request that you keep the tick for testing).

Remember - Lyme disease is much more severe in humans than it is in dogs! If you walk in areas with long grass or shrubs, be sure to check your skin regularly for ticks. Contact your doctor for advice on removing ticks if you find one latched onto your skin. Lyme disease in humans can cause a host of painful chronic symptoms.

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 suspect your dog has Lyme disease, please contact our vets at Los Angeles to arrange an examination.

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