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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 but only causes symptoms in 5-10% of affected dogs. It is caused by a spirochete (bacteria) species of the Borrelia burgdorferi group. When infection leads to disease in dogs, the dominant clinical feature 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 kidneys, and rarely, heart or nervous system disease.


Kidney disease appears to be more prevalent in Labrador retrieversgolden retrievers, Shetland sheepdogs, and Bernese Mountain dogs. Experimentally, young dogs appear to be more susceptible to Lyme disease than older 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.




Many dogs who develop Lyme disease have recurrent lameness due to inflammation of the joints. Sometimes the lameness lasts for only three to four days but recurs days to weeks later, either in the same leg or in other legs. This is known as “shifting-leg lameness.” One or more joints may be swollen, warm, and painful.


Some dogs may also develop kidney problems. Lyme disease sometimes leads to glomerulonephritis – inflammation and accompanying dysfunction of the kidney's glomeruli (essentially, a blood filter). Eventually, kidney failure may set in as the dog begins to exhibit such signs as vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, weight loss, increased urination and thirst, and abnormal fluid buildups.


Other symptoms associated with Lyme disease include:


  • Stiff walk with an arched back
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever, lack of appetite, and depression
  • Superficial lymph nodes close to the site of the infecting tick bite may be swollen
  • Heart abnormalities are reported, but rare
  • Nervous system complications (rare)




Borrelia burgdorferi, which is the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease, is transmitted by slow-feeding, hard-shelled deer ticks (Ixodes spp.).Infection typically occurs after the Borrelia-carrying tick has been attached to the dog for at 2-3 days.




You will need to give a thorough history of your dog's health, including a background of symptoms and possible incidents that might have precipitated them. The history you provide may give your veterinarian clues as to which organs are being affected. Your veterinarian may run some combination of blood chemistry tests, a complete blood cell count, a urinalysis, fecal examinations, X-rays, and tests specific to diagnosing Lyme disease (e.g., serology). Fluid from the affected joints may also be drawn for analysis.


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, degenerative joint disease, 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. An X-ray of the painful joints will allow your doctor to examine the bones for abnormalities.




If the diagnosis is Lyme disease, your dog will be treated as an outpatient unless their condition is unstable (e.g., severe kidney disease). Doxycycline is the most common antibiotic that is prescribed for Lyme disease, but others are also available and effective.  The recommended treatment length is usually four weeks, but longer courses may be necessary in some cases. Your veterinarian may also prescribe an anti-inflammatory (pain reliever) if your dog is especially uncomfortable.


Unfortunately, antibiotic treatment does not always completely eliminate infection with Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. Symptoms may resolve but then return at a later date, and the development of kidney disease in the future is always a worry.




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 reevaluate your dog.




If possible, avoid allowing your dog to roam in tick-infested environments where Lyme disease is common. Check your dog’s coat and skin daily and remove ticks by hand. Your veterinarian can also recommend a variety of sprays, collars, and spot-on topical products that kill and repel ticks. Such products should be used under a veterinarian's supervision and according to the label's directions. Lyme vaccines are available, but their use is somewhat controversial. Talk to your veterinarian to see if Lyme vaccination is right for your dog.



Comments  11

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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?

  • 06/21/2015 05:46pm

    OMG I am so sorry about Rubio. I was looking at this site because my 11 yr old Golden just died exactly the same way and you described the exact same behavior and leg shake. He was fine one day he just suddenly sat down on a hike then was slower on again off again but would recover. We had to leave town for a few days and 48 hrs after we left he died exactly the same way. Unfortunately I do not know what of. I am thinking spleen. He has a full x-ray a few week earlier because the vet thought arthritis but he came back and told us he "has joints of a puppy". He refused to eat a week or so back for only a few hours but then rebounded, he was looking good and begging for peanut butter when I left. Everything down to the fact that I got up at midnight each night with him for a pee and drink. My dad mentioned Lyme today, he had it when he was around 3 and it resolved with meds, I should have had him tested here, we are in WA so they don't look for it but he got it originally in MA. Maybe it was Lyme and it caused kidney failure I don't know and I am still in shock over his death 2 weeks later. I'm so sorry no answers but exact same story.

  • 09/12/2015 02:59am

    I'm so sorry for your loss. My Lexi, 7yr old English bulldog, passed away suddenly on 1/6/14 from renal failure so I share your pain with the unknown. I research everything from making sure she had the best food, best vet and homeopathic vet in the area, best heartworm & tick prevention (homeopathic & scientific), only the necessary vaccines (never over vaccinated), and so on. Yet I still missed something and I can't help wonder where did I go wrong!?! One minute she was fine and within 2 weeks and $10,000.00 later she didn't make it. I can't help but think it had something to do with the Lyme vaccination she received 3 months prior. I didn't want to use Frontline bc of the horrific side effects it has had on English Bulldogs that I know ( http://www.gofundme.com/j6ag88 ). If you click on that link you will see Chief who recently passed from his ongoing battle from his terrible side effects from Frontline. I'm not sure if any of this helps but I just wanted you to know that you are not alone. Also on a side note, even though you felt safe leaving Rubio at his boarding facility, staff members make mistakes and to avoid bad press those mistakes are often hidden by "half-truths". Good luck on your journey of finding answers and may Rubio enjoy the rainbow bridge.

  • 09/13/2015 02:43am

    Dear Lexie Girl,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I was just thinking of Rubio today; wondering, yet again, what I could have done to help him. it could have been renal that did it.

    Thank you again.


  • Lyme Vaccine for Dogs
    06/18/2015 07:16am

    Lyme Disease Vaccine for dogs - I chose not to get the vaccine as all 3 of my dogs obtained Lyme 2x after being vaccinated. we have a fenced in small yard and they are only leash walked. The dogs can no longer take walks like they used to (on leash) and one of my dogs needs to be carried up and down stairs due to the damage from the Lyme. I did switch vets, for other reasons, and the new vet explained that the vaccine is similar to the flu vaccine for humans. It does not necessarily prevent you from getting the flu (Lyme) - it helps prevent you from dying from the flu (Lyme). I have been diligent about maintaining their vaccines and I keep them shaved during tick season. Yet here we go again, Lyme in one of my dogs. Good luck to all and keep up with the Lyme Vaccine.

  • Lyme disease
    07/07/2015 04:19pm

    We have a 7 year old lab, who has been on frontline since we got her. In 2014, I said to our vet that it did not seem like frontline was working, because we where picking ticks off her. She assured me it was working. The fall of 2014 she switched our lab to the chewables. Fast forward to June 2015 test came back positive for Lyme disease. We are so upset. What's the point of spending all this money on preventive medicine . You try to do the for are fury family member. And she still gets sick.

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