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Lyme Disease in Dogs

Lyme Borreliosis in Dogs

 

Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases in the world. It is caused by a spirochete (bacteria) species of the Borrelia burgdorferi group. Dominant clinical feature in dogs is recurrent lameness due to inflammation of the joints. There may also be a lack of appetite and depression. More serious complications include damage to the kidney, and rarely heart or nervous system disease.

 

Kidney disease appears to be more prevalent in Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and Bernese Mountain dogs. Experimentally, young dogs appear to be more susceptible to Lyme disease than adult dogs. Transmission of the disease has been reported in dogs throughout the United States and Europe, but is most prevalent in the upper Midwestern states, the Atlantic seaboard, and the Pacific coastal states.

 

Symptoms and Types

 

Many dogs with Lyme disease have recurrent lameness of the limbs due to inflammation of the joints. Others, meanwhile, may develop acute lameness, which lasts for only three to four days but recurs days to weeks later, with lameness in the same leg, or in other legs. Better known as “shifting-leg lameness,” this condition is characterized by lameness in one leg, with a return to normal function, and another leg is then involved; one or more joints may be swollen and warm; a pain response is elicited by feeling the joint; responds well to antibiotic treatment.

 

Some dogs may also develop kidney problems. If left untreated, it may lead to glomerulonephritis, which causes inflammation and accompanying dysfunction of the kidney's glomeruli (essentially, a blood filter). Eventually, total kidney failure sets in and the dog begins to exhibit such signs as vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, weight loss, increased urination and thirst, fluid buildup in the abdomen and fluid buildup in the tissues, especially the legs and under the skin.

 

Other symptoms associated with Lyme disease include:

 

  • Stiff walk with an arched back
  • Sensitive to touch
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever, lack of appetite, and depression may accompany inflammation of the joints
  • Superficial lymph nodes close to the site of the infecting tick bite may be swollen
  • Heart abnormalities are reported, but rare; they include complete heart block
  • Nervous system complications (rare)

 

Causes

 

Borrelia burgdorferi, which is the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease, is transmitted by slow-feeding, hard-shelled deer ticks. However, infection typically occurs after the Borrelia-carrying tick has been attached to the dog for at least 18 hours.

 

Diagnosis

 

You will need to give a thorough history of your dog's health, including a background history of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition. The history you provide may give your veterinarian clues as to which organs are being affected secondarily. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis. Your veterinarian will use these tests to look for the presence of bacteria, parasites, and fungi in the bloodstream. Fluid from the affected joints may also be drawn for analysis.

 

The condition of the skin near the tick-bite site will be an important indicator of your dog's health as well, such as whether the wound is still open, or whether there are any fragments of the tick's body left in the wound.

 

 

There are many causes for arthritis, and your veterinarian will focus on differentiating arthritis initiated by Lyme disease from other inflammatory arthritic disorders, such as trauma, or osteochondrosis dissecans (a condition found in large, fast growing breeds of puppies). Immune-mediated diseases will also be considered as a possible cause of the symptoms, and an X-ray of the painful joints will allow your doctor to examine the bones for damage or disorder.

 

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