Lyme Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment & Recovery

Lyme Disease is one of the world’s most common tick-transmitted diseases. Today, our Charlotte vets explain the causes, symptoms and treatment of Lyme disease in dogs. 


What is Lyme disease in dogs?

Also known as Lyme borreliosis, Lyme disease is a bacterial illness transmitted by a certain species of infected ticks. Dogs, humans and other animals are at risk.

Ticks need to make contact with their host by waiting on the tips of bush or long grass, then quickly grabbing onto your dog when he strolls by.

Since ticks don’t jump or fly, they have limited opportunities for transportation but can still effectively land a bite by crawling onto your pup’s body.

Lyme Disease in Dogs, Charlotte Vets

Along with sucking blood, these parasites also transmit disease, as they carry the spiral-shaped bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. When the tick bites a dog or person, the virus is transmitted via the bloodstream.

Once these bacteria have entered the bloodstream, they head to different parts of the body and can cause problems with specific organs or areas, such as joints, or general illness. A tick would need to be attached to a dog for approximately 24 to 48 hours for the disease to be transmitted.

Where are ticks carrying Lyme disease found?

Risk of infection varies, though Lyme disease is found in every state. Most cases (95%) are from the Pacific, Northeast and Upper Midwest, though as deer and bird populations have migrated and deforestation has occurred, these statistics have changed. Ticks are most often found in long grass, wooded areas, shrubs and farm fields.

What are symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs?

Dogs are often asymptomatic and are able to carry Lyme disease without showing symptoms. However, some common symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs include:

  • Generalized stiffness
  • Difficulty breathing (veterinary medical emergency)
  • Inflamed joints, leading to lameness
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • General malaise or discomfort
  • Depression
  • Lack of appetite
  • Swollen joints
  • Fever

Contact your vet to book an examination if your dog is showing signs of Lyme disease, especially if your pooch is having trouble breathing, as this is an emergency.

If not treated quickly and effectively, symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs can advance, causing kidney failure and even turning fatal in severe cases. Serious cardiac effects and neurological conditions may result from untreated Lyme disease.

How is Lyme disease diagnosed in dogs?

If your dog is suspected to have Lyme disease, your vet will perform a thorough physical examination and request your dog’s full medical history. Several diagnostic tests, including blood tests (C6 test and Quant C6 tests), fecal exam, urine analysis and x-rays may be taken. The veterinarian may also draw fluid from your pet’s affected joints to analyze.

How is Lyme disease treated in dogs?

Typically, your vet will prescribe a course of antibiotics to treat your dog’s Lyme disease. This course will likely last for four weeks or longer. The antibiotic Doxycycline is usually a first-choice option. If your pooch seems to be in a great deal of discomfort or pain, anti-inflammatory medication may also be prescribed to alleviate joint pain.

Can my dog recover from Lyme disease?

If Lyme disease is detected early and treated effectively, with a course of antibiotics symptoms of Lyme disease usually resolve within the first three days.

However, the organism that causes Lyme disease is great at hiding. While treatment can usually successfully get rid of clinical signs of the condition, dogs that test positive for Lyme disease will remain positive for years, if not for the rest of their lives.

If your dog tests positive but is not ill, your vet will let you know what they recommend regarding treatment at that time.

Though arthritis becomes an issue for most dogs infected with Lyme disease, the Lyme organism and antibodies produced after exposure usually prove to be the “silent killer” as the kidneys’ filter becomes damaged.

The impact of this form of Lyme disease on the kidneys may easily go unnoticed until the condition has progressed significantly. If your vet finds that your dog’s kidneys have been impacted, this can be treated and monitored before severe renal issues crop up.

Preventing Lyme disease in Dogs

Areas that ticks hide in are rife with opportunity for infection, so it’s a great idea to check your pet (and yourself) for ticks after arriving home, though removing ticks isn’t as easy as you might think. If you see a tick on your dog, contact your veterinarian for instructions on how to safely remove it from your dog’s skin.

Since humans suffer more severely from Lyme disease than dogs do, we also highly recommend checking your own body for ticks. If you discover one of the parasites has made its way onto your skin, contact your doctor for advice on how to remove it.

Though your infected dog does not pose a risk for you and your family, you will also be at risk if you spend time in the same location outdoors as your dog and have been in the vicinity of infected ticks.

It’s also worth it to keep up on tick prevention and parasite prevention year-round. Talk to your vet about vaccinating your dog against Lyme, and avoid strolling through long grass or walking by shrubs while on your walks. Check your dog daily 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.

Do you suspect your dog may have Lyme disease or another tick-transmitted infection? Our Charlotte vets at Providence Animal Hospital are experienced in treating a number of conditions and illnesses. Book an appointment today. 

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