Lyme Disease was first recognized in 1975, following an outbreak of what appeared to be acute arthritis in several rural communities in Southeastern Connecticut, including the town of Old Lyme.
This bacterial infection affects the nerves and joints. The disease in dogs is most commonly characterized by the sudden onset of lameness. Infact, lameness is often the only sign of infection. Lameness may last only a few days, but in some cases it becomes chronic and persists or recurs for months. Kidney problems are the next most common sign, an acute cardiac syndrome is quite rare and both of these syndromes are usually fatal. Fever, muscle soreness, weakness, loss of appetite, and joints that are swollen and painful to the touch are other possible symptoms.
Lyme disease is caused by the spirochete bacteria Borrelia burfdorferi. The spirochete is acquired through the bite of an infected tick. Lyme disease is now regarded as the most common tick-borne illness in the United States.
The white footed mouse is the principal reservoir for the spirochete, however, birds can also harbor it. The white tailed deer supports the tick, but not the spirochete. Lyme disease is spread primarily during tick season, May through August, peaking in the month of July. Ticks can be active any time the temperature is over 32 degrees F (0 degrees C).
Most dogs exposed to Lyme disease do not become ill. Serological blood tests will indicate whether a dog has been exposed to the disease. Dogs may not test positive until a few weeks after exposure. New serologic tests can distinguish between dogs with vaccine immunity and dogs with natural exposure. A rising antibody titer in the absence of recent vaccination, however indicates active infection. Western Blot and ELISA blood tests are now both used to detect exposure. Many dogs who test positive for Lyme disease will also have other tick-borne diseases, such as ehrlichiosis and babesiosis.
X-rays of swollen joints show fluid without degenerative joint changes. Synovial fluid analysis (in which a needle is inserted into a joint to remove fluid for examination) may show spirochetes.
Antibiotics are given for a minimum of 2-4 weeks. Amoxicillin and doxycycline are among the most effective.
NOTE: Do not use matches or cigarettes to "make the tick back out". These techniques will most likely lead to burning your dog.
The best way to remove a tick is to take a pair of tweezers or forceps, grab as close to the ticks head as possible, and gently pull it out. Your goal is to get the entire parasite in one try. For extra protection after removing the tick, dab the area with a topical antiseptic like Betadine Solution or an antibiotic ointment. When you remove a tick, it is normal for a small, pimple-size bump to be left behind. This bump will go away in 2-3 days. If the bump doesn't go away, or it grows bigger, have a vet examine the area.
Dispose of any removed tick with caution. The best method is to put them in a jar with a bit of alcohol, seal the jar and either save it for a vet examination (if the dog produces Lyme type symptoms) or throw it away. Do not put ticks in the sink, as they may be able to cling to the pipes and crawl back out.
Keep grass and weeds trimmed below ankle height, as ticks will position themselves off the ground on vegetation. Remove brushy cover and rock piles, secure trash can lids, relocate wood piles and bird feeders away from the home. These steps will reduce the instance of tick carrying rodents being attracted to your property. Stick to trails while on hikes and avoid the longer grasses where ticks tend to hide.
Ticks must attach themselves for 5-20 hours before they are capable of transmitting infection. Accordingly, a daily inspection with removal of ticks will prevent many dogs from being infected. Ticks like being warm and protected, so pay special attention to the areas under your pet's legs and in or around the ears.
Treating a yard with tick control agents will help reduce the occurrence of Lyme disease. Frontline, Advantix, and Advantage all help to control flea and tick infestations.
There is a vaccine to prevent Lyme disease in dogs. If you are in an area with a high instance of this disease, the vaccination may be advisable.
Please contact your veterinarian if you suspect your pet may be infected with Lyme disease.
Show Sources & Contributors +
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Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM