Lyme Disease in Dogs

Lyme disease (borreliosis) can occur in dogs, cats and humans. It is very rare that it is found in cats so we will concentrate on the canine variety. It is spread by ticks and is caused by Borrellia burgdorferi , a type of bacteria called spirochete. It is one of the most common tick transmitted diseases but only causes symptoms in 5 – 10% of affected dogs as most are able to resist the bacteria.. The tick usually has to be attached to the dog for 2-3 days before infection will occur. It is therefore important that ticks are removed as soon as possible after they are noticed.

When the infection by the bacteria leads to disease in dogs the most often seen feature is recurrent lameness due to inflamation of the joints.  The lameness may only last a few days and returns either days or weeks later in the same or a different leg. The lameness may be accompanied by a lack of apetite and depression. In more serious cases it can lead to kidney damage or more rarely, heart disease. Where kidney damage occurs  symptoms might include vomitting, diarrhoea, lack of appetite, weight loss , increased urination and thirst. Certain breeds are more prone to have serious cases and these include Labrador and Golden Retrievers, Shetland Sheepdogs and Burmese Mountain dogs. Young dogs also seem more susceptible than older dogs.

Things to look out for to detect Lyme Disease include

  • An arched back with a stiff walk
  • Swelling and pain in one or more joints
  • Fatigue and reluctance to move
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite and depression
  • Sensitive when touched
  • Superficial lymph nodes close to the site of the infecting tick bite.

The disease can usually be treated with a lengthy course of antibiotics and anti inflammatory medication, but in severe cases where it has led to kidney disease or heart problems then the dog will likely need to be admitted to hospital for more intensive treatment. Although the antibiotics work in most cases, they don’t always totally eliminate the infection and it can return at a later date.

Canine Lyme disease is not common in Essex. The cases we have seen at Cherrydown have been in dogs that have been to high risk areas such as the New Forest, rural South West and Scotland. There is no vaccine available in the UK. If you are travelling to high risk areas or are concerned about the risks, a good quality tick control is advised. These are generally POM-V medications, so please feel free to contact us to discuss options. Also, check your dog thoroughly for ticks, especially in wildlife areas where there are or may be deer or rodents. You can check for ticks by running your hand through your dog’s coat and you should also check under the ears, the head, neck, feet and underbelly. Please also see our blog on ticks and tick removal wich can be accessed by clicking here.

If you are at all worried about removing a tick, our nurses are happy to assist and can also advise on preventative treatments.

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