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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)




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.




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.


Comments  6

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  • Lyme disease kills
    10/08/2014 05:49pm

    Our 5 year old boxer Miley was hit by a car 2 years ago. This was what we thought caused her left knee to become sore whenever we would go hiking or on long walks. We gave her aspirin and message before she would get out of bed the morning after, then she would not be gimpy. Vet said she had knee problems from birth and would need surgery later. Never thought it was anything then. Skip to now 2014, Sept. We did a normal all over wood romp, jump as boxers do. What we thought was scratches from sticker bushes was the next morning 50 tiny ticks. Oh my goodness. Dipped her. Life was good until next week. Dog down, lame, aspirin and message not effective. Had to squirt water in her mouth and rush to vet. Blood test showed Lyme Disease. Not arthritis as was hoped for. Kidneys were shutting down by her BUN/Creatnine. Weekend on IV fluids and medicine. Brought home very happy jumpy boxer with the knowledge that we will be on a renal diet for what we hoped for a short time. Antibiotics and other by mouth meds. Yeah good luck with a boxer and pills. A repeat blood test next week did not show improvement at all. Her kidneys are damaged, glomerulonephritis. We will have our baby, 5year old boxer, Miley just a few months, instead of years. Please to readers, get the animals Lyme disease checked, I am a hospice nurse and did not plan on being one to my family at anytime soon.

  • 10/09/2014 10:40am

    I too am devistated by a Lyme diagnosis! I live in northern Illinois Mchenry County. We had been saving for 2 knee surgeries for our golden. She has been gimmpy and not as active. I just thought it was from laying around and getting stiff. It was when she was shaking, and my husband says he didnt eat dinner that I knew something was wrong. I never expected to be dealing with this. I check my dogs for ticks almost daily , they never roam and I keep the lawn mowed and sprayed they can only got 25 ft from my back door. I even had her shaved back in June for the heat and to be able to see ticks. We are just started day 2 of the meds. I am using peanut butter to get them down. Boiled chicken, and rice boiled in the water. She does not seem to like the kidney diet canned food. My biggest concern is getting her to eat!!! I have never been a fan of extra vacinations, but I definatlely will regret forever not haveing done it!!!

  • 10/09/2014 12:19pm

    start with the Lyme test. We did not have a choice. Our wacky, crazy boxer just went limp. Vet said he does not see this level of kidney damage often. The meds and food are "palliative" at best. She can't be vaccinated cause of the kidney damage, though we would not vaccinate either due to that can cause same damage. agh! If their is no kidney damage then let the dog eat what you eat. I found so much on home meals for dogs just we can't due to the protein is to high. She will eat the canned food like candy. She also likes it when I add warm water to her crunchies like gravy. I so hope you do not lose that puppy. Our vet said if Miley doesn't eat at all, then like in humans it is time for her to see our Lord. :(

  • 11/29/2014 11:30pm

    Please do not blame yourself for this because you did not get the shot for you dog. I got my dog the vaccine and he had frontline on and still got the Lyme disease. Just wanted you to know this before you get the shot that it is also not a for sure thing.

  • 01/07/2015 01:36pm

    Look into Colloidal Silver. It is an anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-biotic. Western Doctors will laugh about Colloidal Silver, but look it up and research about how it has helped people and pets.

  • Mysterious death. Help.
    01/07/2015 04:52pm

    Over New Years our 4 year old goldendoodle Rubio died unexpectedly and the autopsy came back inconclusive. So I am desperately trying to make sense of what happened and get closure. It dawned on me that he could have had lyme disease or Addisons. Or maybe he had a reaction to the Frontline or Comfortis medication that we had started up again two months prior.

    We were out of town so Rubio was boarded at a dog ranch next to our farm. We had taken him there multiple times in the past. Rubio loved the family and the ranch with the other dogs. He loved to run in their fields just like on our farm.

    The owner of the dog ranch said he appeared to have low energy which was very uncommon for our dog. I had noticed over the course of probably the last few months that his energy wasn't that of a puppy anymore but I just thought he was finally mellowing out. He had been eating well, didn't have any bowl problems, vomit, or other signs of distress. Just more chill. Recently he had become even more affectionate than before. And he had started to wake us up in the middle of the night to go outside to pee which he hadn't done since he was a young puppy 3.5 years ago. The last month or so he seemed to have a back leg twitch every so often (like maybe once a week over the period of about a month before going to the dog ranch).

    At he dog ranch he wasn't eating for two days so they called in their vet tech (it was New Year's Day). He was, however, drinking a lot of water. His gums and nose were pink like normal, they palpated his body for any pain or obvious signs of trouble. At 10pm New Year's night Rubio walked outside with the tech to go pee. He never had diarrhea or vomit. So he appeared 'okay' to wait to go to the vet in the morning. When the owner went to get him at 7am on January 2nd he was dead.

    The autopsy results showed no sign of anything anywhere. His stomach appeared a bit inflamed which is why the vet thought maybe he had been vomiting, but we were told time and again that he hadn't vomited or had diarrhea, and had he, she would have taken him to an emergency clinic.

    So what do you think? Lyme or something else?

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