Lyme disease is a common tick- transmitted disease in the veterinary community among the dog population. A Lyme disease infection is spread by Borrelia burgdorferi, which is a spirochete type bacterium. This bacterium is carried by deer ticks, which are found mostly in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states. Unfortunately, the eastern portion of Pennsylvania has become a high risk area for Lyme disease, but the disease has been reported in most parts of Pennsylvania.
Dogs become infected with Lyme disease when they are bitten by an infected tick, and has been feeding for at least 24-72 hours. Clinical illness can develop in dogs 2-5 months after a tick bite. Clinical signs can be vague but include shifting leg lameness, lethargy, inappetence, and a fever. However, some dogs may show very mild clinical signs, which may not be detectable by owners.
When a Veterinarian is diagnosing Lyme disease, four aspects are considered:
- History of tick exposure
- Known signs and symptoms
- Test results
- Prompt response to treatment
Blood tests called 4Dx or 3Dx are available to assist in the diagnosis of Lyme disease. These blood tests detect antibodies made by the dog in response to infection. However, dogs can show positive test results from previous exposure to the disease, but may not be actively infected. An additional blood test, called the C6 antibody test can distinguish between antibodies from a vaccinated pet or one that fought off the infection versus one that is actively infected with Lyme disease.
In the early stages of the disease it can be easily treated with a course of antibiotics. However, if Lyme disease is not promptly recognized and treated, more serious complications can occur. This could include: damage to the kidneys, and potentially, heart or nervous system disease (these complications are rare). Unfortunately, at this stage response to treatment is not likely and pets have an overall guarded prognosis. Although, when Lyme disease is promptly recognized and treated, it holds a good overall prognosis.
Prevention is key in controlling Lyme disease. Tick control and vaccination are the most important aspects of prevention. Using routine tick preventatives will inhibit ticks from attaching to your pet, which is essential to controlling Lyme disease. It is important to remember that many dogs may never completely rid themselves of the bacteria despite antibiotic therapy, which makes prevention vital.