Lyme Disease and Your Dog

A large part of our practice area happens to be at high risk for Lyme disease in dogs as well as humans (as far as we know now, Lyme disease does not make cats ill).   Lyme disease is transmitted to dogs through tick bites.  We offer and encourage annual testing for your dog, and each day, we identify several dogs that have been exposed to Lyme disease.  The good news is that clinical disease develops in only 5-10% of dogs that are exposed to Lyme.

The bad news is that each week, we see at least one dog that is clinically ill with Lyme.  These dogs often have a high fever, swollen lymph nodes or joints, and are very lame on one or more leg.  Some are so sore that they cannot even walk.  Interestingly, they tend to be lame in the leg closest to where the tick bit them. When we see a dog that we suspect is clinically ill with Lyme, we perform a blood test in our in house lab and have the results within a few minutes.  Positive dogs can be successfully treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, and are normally better within just a few days.  Antibiotics need to be given for at least 28 days.

A more serious, uncommon form of the disease is known as Lyme nephropathy.  In these dogs, immune complexes of the Lyme organism are deposited in the kidneys, resulting in damage that is often irreversible. These dogs often suddenly stop eating and show vomiting, weight loss, and lethargy. This form of the disease more commonly affects young, large breed dogs such as Labs, Golden Retrievers, and Bulldogs.  Sadly, most of these dogs die even with aggressive care.

Fortunately, we have a vaccine that is very effective in preventing clinical disease.  It is given to dogs initially as a series of 2 vaccines, given 3 – 4 weeks apart, and then boostered annually.  The vaccine works by preventing the transmission of the disease from the tick to dog and can help even Lyme positive dogs from becoming re-infected.  We recommend Lyme vaccination for the majority of the dogs that are in our care.

Tick prevention is also an important part of Lyme disease prevention. There are a variety of products that are at least partially effective in reducing the attachment of ticks to your dog, and we can help you choose the one best for you and your pets.  It is important to note that the tick must be attached for several hours before it can infect your dog with the disease.

Lyme disease in humans is also quite common in our area, and you may want to visit for more information on Lyme disease in people.  Direct transmission of Lyme from infected dogs to people does not occur, but dogs can bring infected ticks into the house that can then infect people through attachment and biting.

One more thing: remember, it is Lyme disease (named after the town in Connecticut where it was first identified) not Lyme’s disease.