Lyme Disease in Dogs

This article was published in The Union Newspaper in June 2018 as a part of their “Paws and Claws” featured section. Dr. Janeway has a monthly article where she answers questions from the general public about their pets. Questions can be submitted via the clinic email, Facebook page or this website.

Dear Dr. Janeway,

My dog Buster was just diagnosed with Lyme disease. Will this cause him problems for his whole life? He is not showing any symptoms yet.
Buster’s owner

Hi Buster’s owner,
Unfortunately, the answer to your question is not straightforward. If he is not showing clinical signs, there is a chance that he is one of the 90% of dogs exposed to Lyme that will never show any clinical signs of Lyme disease. Let’s visit the cause of Lyme disease, how to determine if a dog is infected, consequence of Lyme infection and treatment options.
Lyme disease (named for the Connecticut town of Lyme) is caused by a spirochete organism called Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme is transmitted when a carrier tick has been attached to a host (dog or other mammal) for at least 48 hours. This 48 hour timeframe is why most veterinary approved tick preventatives cause ticks to detach long before 48 hours. Luckily, of all the dogs that are infected with Lyme 90% will only be exposed and will not develop any signs of illness. These exposed dogs will still form antibodies to Borrelia burgdorferi, and those antibodies will persist in the blood for years. Since the test for Lyme measures antibodies, it is difficult to distinguish the 90% of dogs with only exposure to Lyme carrying ticks from dogs with a true infection. Therefore, if a dog tests positive for Lyme we need to consider further testing in combination with clinical signs before a diagnosis is made.
Dogs with true infection may show signs of painful swollen joints, shifting leg lameness, arthritis and fever that may develop weeks to months after exposure to a Lyme carrying tick. Another possible sequalae of Lyme infection is a serious kidney problem called glomerulonephritis. This kidney problem causes protein loss through the kidneys that can be partially managed with medications but cannot be cured. A thorough physical exam, possibly x rays and blood work are needed to support the diagnosis of Lyme disease.
Lyme is usually treated with a month of antibiotics. The antibiotics may be required periodically during flare-ups since the organism is never fully cleared from the body. Other medications and monitoring tests will also be recommended to monitor kidney function and to help aid in confirming the diagnosis.
The best preventative for Lyme disease is a veterinary approved flea and tick preventative. Simply brushing your pet or removing the adult ticks will not remove the nymph or larvae ticks that transmit Lyme and are the size or smaller than a poppy seed! There are many effective brands available, the one we use at Brighton Greens Vet is called Bravecto. The awesome thing about Bravecto is that is lasts for 3 months, and I have had zero complaints about its effectiveness. Lastly, there is also a Lyme vaccine available, the vaccine may be an option for pets with high exposure to ticks.
Buster’s owner- sorry the answer was not clear cut, but it sounds like Buster needs more testing and a thorough physical exam to determine if any treatment is necessary.

Dr. Robin Janeway is an owner of Brighton Greens Veterinary Hospital in Grass Valley (near the fairgrounds). Your question can be the topic for next months article! Visit our facebook page to submit your questions.