What is Lyme disease?
The bacteria, which cause Lyme disease in dogs and humans, is carried by a specific tick species. Lyme disease is very difficult to diagnose because of the long incubation period and vague, arthritic, flu-like symptoms that may accompany it. As the disease progresses, Lyme-causing bacteria damage many different organs including the liver, heart, nervous system and kidneys. Infective ticks, as small as the head of a pin, may inhabit urban and rural lawns and gardens, as well as fields and forests. Cool, wet weather in the spring and fall increases your pet’s risk of contracting Lyme disease.
How is it spread? A bite from a tick, most commonly the black-legged deer tick, transmits the bacteria to dogs. Wooded, dense areas are common locations for these ticks. When it’s attached to a host (you or your dog), ticks can spread Lyme disease through their saliva. It is not spread from person to person or from dog to human.
What are the symptoms? A rash may appear around the tick bite soon after infection; however, it may not be noticeable if your dog has a lot of fur. Other symptoms include fever, lethargy, swollen lymph nodes, loss of appetite, and limping. Some infected dogs don’t show any symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose. The disease can cause kidney inflammation, and it can damage the heart and nervous system in its later stages. Blood tests are most commonly used to diagnose the disease.
How is it treated? Antibiotics can help treat dogs. Additional medications can help with pain and inflammation. Treatment can take months or longer, and it’s most successful when it’s started within a few weeks of infection. It’s possible for the bacteria to remain in the body long-term, leading to periodic flare-ups.
How likely is it that my dog will get Lyme disease if I find a tick on him? Studies suggest that while more than 75% of dogs in tick endemic areas will be exposed to infected ticks, only about 5% of of those exposed to infected ticks actually develop clinical signs that might be attributable to Lyme disease.