Based on previous posts, you likely know that I’m a grammar freak. Well, here’s a news flash folks … when it comes to certain diseases or professions, I want you to pronounce them correctly too! It is not LYMES disease. It’s LYME disease.

Even veterinarians say this incorrectly, and I’m too embarrassed to correct them when they say it. (This is the second runner-upper for Justine Lee’s Top 5 Veterinary Pet Peeves, with the first being the inability for medical people to spell "vomiting" correctly on medical records — just one "t" please.)

So what exactly is Lyme disease? Lyme disease is a very serious illness caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi. It is most commonly spread by deer ticks, although other ticks can also carry and spread the disease. That’s why your veterinarian harps on flea and tick preventative during the spring and summer months. Personally, I use these products on my pets until a hard frost occurs.

Lyme disease was named after Old Lyme, CT, where it was originally discovered. This disease most commonly affects dogs, especially those that are outdoors (e.g., hunting dogs, working dogs, etc.). Lyme disease isn’t found in all states. It’s most commonly found in the northeast states — Connecticut, Massachusetts, etc. — and the states around the Mississippi — Minnesota, etc.

Clinical signs of Lyme disease include:

  • Shifting leg lameness
  • Fever
  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy/depression
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Walking "on eggshells"
  • Joint swelling

Left untreated, Lyme disease can progress to Lyme nephropathy. This nephropathy, also called protein-losing nephropathy (PLN), is a life-threatening, debilitating illness where the kidneys lose too much protein and end up failing.

Clinical signs of PLN include:

  • Chronic weight loss
  • Excessive urination
  • Constant thirst
  • Anorexia
  • Dilute urine
  • Pale gums (secondary to anemia)
  • Vomiting
  • Chronic kidney failure

Having practiced in Massachusetts and Minnesota, both Lyme-endemic states, I know how devastating it can be, and have seen PLN predominately in certain breeds of dogs: Labrador retrievers and Golden retrievers.

That said, because there are numerous other diseases, such as other tick-borne diseases (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichia, etc.), immune-mediated diseases, other infections, and even cancer that can resemble the signs of Lyme disease, it is important to seek veterinary attention for a further workup.

When in doubt, keep your dog protected and on a flea and tick preventative. As for cats? I don’t normally worry about Lyme disease in cats. Since cats are such fastidious groomers, they rarely let the tick stay on long enough to transmit Lyme disease! (It typically takes 18-24 hours of tick attachment for the spirochete to transfer over to a dog).

Talk to your veterinarian about the best preventative (e.g., flea and tick topical spot on, flea and tick prescription collars, tick-picking parties, etc.) for your dog. As there is a Lyme vaccine available, it might be worth considering if your dog tends to be completely covered by ticks all summer. When in doubt, never skimp on flea and tick medication; it may just save your dog’s life!

Dr. Justine Lee

Image: JPagetRFphotos / via Shutterstock