Is your dog at risk for Lyme disease? This all-too-common disease can have long-term effects, both for you and for your pet. Make sure you know what the risks are, and how you can avoid them.

What Is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a disease carried by ticks and transferred to an animal when the tick bites. Borrelia, a type of bacteria belonging to the Spirochete group, is responsible for the disease.
When a dog gets Lyme disease, their joints become inflamed and they may become chronically lame. When left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to kidney damage and even damage to the heart and nervous system.

Lyme disease has traditionally been seen in small pocket areas in Ontario, but those areas are expanding, making it a growing threat in the GTA. The high danger areas in Ontario are Eastern Ontario, south of the 401, Niagara and Brampton, but pets living outside of those areas are also at risk. In the United States, deer ticks who carry the disease are common in New Jersey and New York.

Which Ticks Carry Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is most commonly carried by the Ixodes family of ticks (also known as Deer ticks or Black-Legged ticks). These ticks are hard to spot, because they are quite tiny when young, making it hard to protect your dog from bites. While this is the most common type of tick to carry the disease, research has now shown that several common types of ticks can transmit the disease. This is why tick preventative medications are so important.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease

In people, Lyme disease will create a “bull’s-eye” rash. However, in animals this rash is not present. Instead, pet owners need to look for other symptoms if their pets have been exposed to an area where ticks are common.

Recurrent lameness of the limbs is the most common symptoms of Lyme disease. This might be one limb only, or it may affect one leg, then a new leg a few days later, a condition called “shifting-leg lameness.” The joint may be sensitive to the touch or sometimes swollen and warm, and the dog may walk with a stiff, arched back.

If a dog develops kidney problems from the disease, the condition becomes even more serious. If the patient is not treated immediately it may develop into full kidney failure. Signs of kidney failure include vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, weight loss, increased thirst accompanied by urination, and buildup of fluid in the abdomen and limbs.

Spotting Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is often left undiagnosed in animals because of the way symptoms develop. Since dogs do not develop the rash, and the inflammation symptoms can develop weeks after the tick bites the dog, it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint Lyme disease as the cause. In fact, some dogs may have the disease for over a year before they show visible symptoms. By this time, the disease has progressed quite significantly, and treating it becomes more complicated.

If an owner or veterinarian suspects Lyme disease, it must be diagnosed using two separate blood tests. The first, an antibody test, detects the antibodies a dog’s body generates when exposed to the spirochete. The second test is a DNA test using the fluid from an affected joint.

Treating Lyme Disease

Once a dog has been diagnosed with Lyme disease, a lengthy treatment with antibiotics is necessary. Unlike other infections, Lyme disease is not easy to cure. If the infection has been in the dog’s body for a while, it will require several rounds of antibiotics, and often the need to switch from one to another is required for the treatment to be truly effective.

Danger to Owners

Lyme disease in a dog is not necessarily dangerous to the dog’s owners. You cannot catch Lyme disease from your dog. However, there is a danger to humans when a dog is carrying ticks.

When ticks become engorged and full, they will fall off the host animal. Later, when they need to eat again, they will seek a new host, they don’t care if their host is human or animal.

Also, your dog can easily transmit a tick to your home, and you, even if the tick did not actually bite the dog. It may just hitch a ride on the animal’s fur, then make itself at home in your home. Because of this risk, both to you and your dog, you need to make tick prevention a high priority in your household, especially if your pets spend a lot of time outside.

Preventing Ticks Is Not Hard

Preventing Lyme disease and other tick-transmitted diseases means preventing tick bites. This is not as hard as you might think. First, avoid letting your dog roam where ticks are common. Wooded and grassy areas are common places where you might see ticks. Next, if your dog is outdoors for a long time, inspect him for ticks daily, removing any by hand. Finally, and most importantly, talk to your veterinarian about tick preventative products and they can recommend the most appropriate option for your pet.

If you feel that your dog is at high risk for Lyme disease there is a vaccination available. This vaccine is especially important in areas where Lyme disease is common, but it should always be used in conjunction with tick prevention, because ticks can carry other diseases as well. Also, the Lyme disease vaccine does not protect you, as the owner, from ticks your dog may bring into your home.

Lyme disease is life-changing disease for both you and your pet. Do what you can to avoid it, and know what the symptoms are, so you can protect all members of your family.