You may have heard about Lyme disease in people, but did you know that this disease can also affect your precious pooch? Our TotalBond Veterinary Hospital team compiled this list of frequently asked questions to help you better understand how Lyme disease may impact your pet. 

Question: How common is Lyme disease in dogs?

Answer: In 2019, the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) reported that 1 of 20 dogs in the United States, and 1 of 45 dogs in North Carolina, tested positive for Lyme disease. To look at how Lyme disease affects your county, or to see data for other years, check out the CAPC interactive map

Q: How does my dog get Lyme Disease?

A: Lyme disease is caused by the spiral-shaped bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, and transmitted by black-legged ticks. When a black-legged tick feeds on an infected rodent, bird, or lizard, the tick picks up the bacteria, and then transmits the bacteria when feeding on your dog.  

Q: What are Lyme disease signs in dogs?

A: In many cases, dogs who have been exposed to Lyme disease show no signs, but in some cases, dogs may exhibit:

  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Lameness that shifts from one leg or joint to another
  • Painful or swollen joints
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite

Infected dogs may also develop chronic lameness, kidney failure, heart abnormalities, or brain inflammation. 

Q: How is Lyme disease diagnosed in dogs?

A: If our veterinarians suspect your dog has Lyme disease, they may run several different tests:

  • Lyme antibody detection or quantification — These tests will indicate if your dog has been exposed to Borrelia burgdorferi, and how strongly the immune system has reacted to proteins on the bacteria. The tests can usually distinguish between an immune response to a Lyme disease vaccination, and a response to the actual bacteria, so vaccination should not create a false-positive result. Interpreting these tests can be complicated, especially in dogs who are not currently showing clinical Lyme disease signs, but in general, if these tests are positive, and your dog has signs consistent with Lyme disease, she likely has Lyme disease.
  • Blood chemistry and complete blood count — These tests look for a decrease in kidney or other other organ function, or abnormal numbers of red cells, white cells, or platelets, that would support a Lyme disease diagnosis, and guide the treatment plan.
  • Urinalysis — Our veterinary team will look for decreased urine concentration, protein presence, or other Lyme disease markers associated with kidney damage.
  • X-rays or joint taps — We may take X-rays of your dog’s joints, or evaluate her joint fluid, to help rule out other causes before attributing her lameness to Lyme disease.

Q: How is Lyme disease treated in dogs?

A: Our veterinarians will develop a specific treatment plan for your dog, based on the test results and her clinical signs. Dogs with symptomatic Lyme disease are frequently treated with antibiotics to eliminate the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, and their symptoms are managed using anti-inflammatory, immunosuppressive, kidney support, or pain management medications. Dogs suffering from kidney failure or chronic arthritis may require long-term treatment, and may suffer permanent consequences of the infection, despite antibiotic treatment, as the immune response to the bacteria also plays a role in these conditions.

Q: How can I prevent my dog from contracting Lyme disease?

A: Our veterinary team recommends that all dogs be vaccinated routinely for Lyme disease, as part of their preventive health care. We will administer two doses of the vaccination three to four weeks apart to build initial immunity, which we then will booster with a yearly vaccination. Treat your dog with an external parasite preventive that can kill and/or repel ticks, and check her for ticks routinely, especially after walking in heavily brushed areas. A black-legged tick needs at least 24 hours of attachment to your dog to transmit Lyme disease, so prompt detection and tick removal can decrease her risk of Lyme disease, as well as other tick-borne diseases. 

Q: Could my cat get Lyme disease?

A: Although some cats have tested positive for Borrelia burgdorferi exposure, little is understood whether the organism actually causes Lyme disease in cats, and currently, we do not routinely vaccinate or test cats for Lyme disease.

Q: Could I get Lyme disease from my dog?

A: Lyme disease also affects people, and is considered zoonotic (i.e., transmissible from animals to humans), but a tick carrying the bacteria must still bite the person. Thus, you cannot directly contract Lyme disease from your pet, but using a tick repellant, on your pet and yourself, and vigilantly checking for ticks after outdoor activities, is still wise. 

Whether you want your dog vaccinated for Lyme disease, need help deciding which external parasite preventive best decreases her risk, or would like to learn more about Lyme disease, our well-trained TotalBond Veterinary Hospital team is here to help, so give us a call.