Lyme disease has likely been around for centuries, but we have only started to understand more about the disease in the past 30 years.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infection caused by a species of bacteria called Borrelia. The bacteria is transmitted by ticks when they bite.
Lyme Disease in Humans vs. Dogs
It is important to understand that dog Lyme disease and human Lyme disease are very different.
Human Lyme Disease
Most people will develop the classic ‘target’ shaped skin rash at the bite, then develop flu-like symptoms. Human Lyme disease can cause serious long term illness with arthritis, potential heart problems, and neurological problems.
Dog Lyme Disease
Dogs differ from people in that many don’t become ill. If dogs do get sick, it may take weeks to months after infection. Some arthritis or joint pain may occur, as well as a fever. Long term illness in dogs may arise in the form of kidney disease. Additionally, heart and neurologic problems are very rare in dogs. Generally speaking, Lyme disease is more serious for humans than it is for dogs.
Lyme Disease Hotspots
Lyme disease is named after the Connecticut town of Lyme, where the illness was first noted. The northeast continues to be a hotspot for Lyme disease. It is also common in the Midwest. The South and areas of the West Coast can also see Lyme disease, but it is less common.
Signs & Symptoms
The most commonly noted symptoms include fever, lethargy, anorexia, and intermittent shifting leg lameness. The target rash is not common in dogs (as it is in humans).
Diagnosis & Treatment
If Lyme disease is suspected in your dog, a test at your veterinarian should confirm or rule out the disease.
Treating dog Lyme disease is fairly straightforward. The treatment is so safe, clinicians will often focus on treating just in case Lyme disease is a possible cause for the pet’s illness.
Treatment is generally a 2-4 weeks of antibiotics. If Lyme disease is the underlying cause, improvement is usually seen within 48 hours.
Eradication of the Borrelia bacteria is not the goal. Rather, your veterinarian will try to create what is called a premunitive state, where the organism is in the dog’s body latently but is not causing active infection.
The tick requires at least 48 hours of attachment on your dog in order to transmit Lyme disease. So if a tick is removed quickly, Lyme is unlikely.
Tick control is an important prevention, especially in hotspot regions. There are many effective tick control products available. These products either kill the tick or cause it to drop off prior to the 48 hours needed for transmission.
Lyme Disease Vaccination
There is a vaccination available for Lyme disease as well. The vaccine will prevent infection in dogs or puppies that have never been exposed. Annual boosters are needed to maintain effectiveness.
Lyme disease vaccination is a somewhat debated topic in veterinary medicine. Ultimately, talk to your vet about it and follow their recommendations.
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