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Lyme Disease in Dogs

Lyme disease, caused by a spirochete (bacteria) species of the Borrelia burgdorferi group, is one of the most common diseases in the world to be transmitted by ticks. Unlike in humans, the disease doesn’t cause a rash in dogs, but cause other symptoms like lameness, due to inflammation of the joints, depression, and lack of appetite. In more serious cases, the disease can also cause damage to the kidneys, and in rare cases, problems with the heart and nervous system as well.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease

Many dogs suffering from Lyme disease experience recurrent lameness of their limbs due to their joints becoming inflamed. Other dogs on the other hand, might experience acute lameness which will last for only about three to four days, but will flare up again days or even weeks later, with the same leg becoming lame, or other legs.

Some dogs develop kidney problems which, if not treated in time, will result in glomerulonephritis, which causes the kidneys to become inflamed, and the blood filter in the kidney, to not function properly. Total kidney failure will set in at some point, and the dog will show signs of vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, lack of appetite, thirst, and an increase in urination, fluid buildup in the abdomen, as well as fluid build up in the tissues, especially under the skin and in the legs.

Other symptoms of the disease include:

  • Sensitive to touch
  • Stiff walk with an arched back
  • Possibly swelling to the superficial lymph nodes close to the site of the tick bite
  • Lack of appetite, depression, and fever
  • Although rare, nervous system problems, and heart abnormalities as well, including complete heart block

Treatment of Lyme Disease

Unless the dog is severely sick, it will be treated as an outpatient if diagnosed with Lyme disease. An antibiotic will be prescribed, and the dog should be kept warm and dry, and prevented from being too active, until the symptoms have improved. Treatment usually lasts for about four weeks, and the vet will probably recommend a few diet changes as well. Dog owners are advised to not give their per pain killers, unless their vet has recommended them.

Unfortunately, some animals do not fully recover from the disease, and may experience joint pain even after the disease has been completely eliminated from their system.

Diagnosis of Lyme Disease

Your vet will require an in-depth history of your dog’s health, as well as a history of other symptoms and incidents which could have possibly triggered his condition. The information you provide for your vet could give him/her hints as to which organs could be affected. Your vet will also conduct a complete blood profile, including a complete blood count, a chemical blood profile, as well as a urinalysis. These tests will show your vet whether parasites, bacteria, and fungi are present in the bloodstream. Fluid may be drawn from affected joints as well, for analysis.

Your vet will also consider immune-mediated diseases to be the cause of your dog’s symptoms, and the painful joints will be x-rayed too, to allow the vet to check the bones for damage or disorder.

Areas and Breeds Affected by Lyme Disease

Lyme disease occurs all over the world, and seems to affect young dogs more than adult dogs. Kidney problems seem to occur more often in Golden Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Labrador Retrievers. Lyme disease can affect all breeds, although dogs which are at higher risk of being exposed to ticks, such as hunting dogs and those used for other outdoor activities, are more susceptible.

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