Hi stranger! Signing up for MypetMD is easy, free and puts the most relevant content at your fingertips.

Get Instant Access To

  • 24/7 alerts for pet-related recalls

  • Your own library of articles, blogs, and favorite pet names

  • Tools designed to keep your pets happy and healthy



or Connect with Facebook

By joining petMD, you agree to the Privacy Policy.

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.

 

Treatment

 

If the diagnosis is Lyme disease, your dog will be treated as an outpatient, unless its health condition is severe. There are a number of antibiotics from which to choose. It is important that you keep your dog warm and dry, and you will need to control its activity until the clinical signs have improved. The recommended period for treatment is four weeks. Your veterinarian is unlikely to recommend dietary changes. Do not use pain medications unless they have been recommended by your veterinarian.

 

Unfortunately, symptoms do not always completely resolve in some animals. In fact, long-term joint pain may continue even after the bacteria has been fully eradicated from your dog's system. 

 

Living and Management

 

Improvement in sudden (acute) inflammation of the joints caused by Borrelia should be seen within three to five days of antibiotic treatment. If there is no improvement within three to five days, your veterinarian will want to consider a different diagnosis.

 

Prevention

 

If possible, avoid allowing your dog to roam in tick-infested environments where Lyme borreliosis is common. In addition to grooming your dog daily and removing ticks by hand, your veterinarian can recommend a variety of sprays, collars, and spot-on topical products to kill and repel ticks (some can accomplish this naturally). Such products should only be used under a veterinarian's supervision and only according to the label's directions. In addition there are vaccines available for dogs; talk to your veterinarian about its availability and whether it is right for your dog.

 

Comments  3

Leave Comment
  • 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. :(

Common dog Questions

  • Q: How should I introduce my puppy to her crate?

    View Answers
  • Q: What other general feeding recommendations are important for puppies?

    View Answers
  • Q: Should I get a mixed breed or purebred puppy?

    View Answers
View All

Featured Breed

Miya

Japanese Chin

Featuring Miya
Small, lively and lovable, this Oriental toy dog has a distinctive expression and a happy, bouncy gait. The entire look of the Japanese Chin, in fact, is nothing short of Oriental aristocracy....

LEARN MORE