Lyme Disease in Dogs
Lyme disease is caused by an infection with the Lyme bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi). The bacteria lives in infected deer ticks, and it is transmitted to the unfortunate host by the bite of the infected tick. Transmission of the bacteria from the tick to the host may only take several hours of attachment.
How is Lyme Diagnosed in Dogs?
A rapid, in hospital test for Lyme antibodies is performed at the clinic with several drops of blood. This test is part of the recommended annual screening that includes heartworm screening, anaplasma testing, and ehrlichiosis screening. Anaplasma and ehrlichia are also bacteria that are transmitted by ticks. Antibodies are proteins that are produced by the body in response to the Lyme bacteria. In response to Lyme infection C6 antibodies are produced. The presence of C6 antibody means that your pet has been exposed to the bacteria, and that there is still Lyme bacteria in the system. While a positive result confirms that the bacteria is present, it does not mean that your pet has Lyme disease. Many positive dogs have no symptoms at the time they have a positive test. A specific measurement of the amount of C6 protein can be performed. At this time, the clinical significance of the C6 titer is uncertain. It is possible that higher titers are more significant, but we do not have proof of this.
What are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease?
In general, dogs that are testing positive for Lyme do not have any symptoms of disease at the time of diagnosis, and most are never sick from their infection. Positive dogs need to be monitored very closely for signs of disease. Dogs that are sick commonly exhibit some of the following symptoms; joint swelling, lameness, fever, and lethargy. More rare but serious symptoms include neurologic signs, heart problems, and kidney disease. Although it is a rare complication from Lyme, we worry the most about the development of kidney disease.
What is the Treatment for Lyme Disease?
If your dog is sick with the most typical symptoms of Lyme disease, the treatment involves antibiotics and other supportive care as needed. Lyme related kidney problems are much more severe, and the treatment plan is much more complicated. Once the kidney changes take place they are not reversible.
Patients that test positive for Lyme and have no apparent symptoms may be candidates for antibiotics. This decision to use antibiotics is made on a case by case basis. Unfortunately, treatment with antibiotics is not a guarantee that the bacteria will be eliminated. Additional testing of positive dogs will be recommended. We recommend a urinalysis in all positive patients. We start with a simple test for protein, and we may need to follow up with a more specialized protein test. If there is protein in the urine, we may recommend additional blood testing and treatment. In some cases, a more specific measurement of the amount of C6 antibody that is present may be helpful. Whether or not antibiotics are used, whether your dog has symptoms, or whether additional blood testing is performed, it is important that all positive dogs have a urine test done for protein as long as they continue to test positive.
What is the Prognosis?
Dogs that have joint issues related to Lyme infection typically respond very well to antibiotics. On the other hand, Lyme related kidney failure has a very guarded prognosis. Therefore, because of the serious implications of Lyme related kidney problems, the emphasis is on preventing disease, monitoring for disease, and following positive dogs very closely.
How to Prevent Lyme Disease.
Tick prevention is the key to controlling exposure to Lyme bacteria. Avoiding tick infested areas, checking daily for ticks, and using a veterinary approved topical and/or oral product for tick control are very important. Remove any ticks immediately, and avoid using your bare hands or squeezing the tick. An added measure of control is vaccinating your dog for Lyme disease. We typically recommend pet wellness checks and vaccination, although this is decided on a case by case basis with your Veterinarian. Vaccinating positive dogs is also a decision that will be based on a careful consideration of each situation.