The infectious, tick-borne Lyme disease, also known as borreliosis, was first recognized in dogs in 1985. Lyme disease in dogs is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacteria also known as spirochete. The bacteria is transmitted by hard-shelled, slow-feeding deer ticks. The infection occurs after the tick has been attached to your dog for about 18 hours.
The disease is transmitted to your dog through the bite of a tick. Once the Lyme disease organism reaches the bloodstream it localizes in the joints and spreads to other parts of your dog’s body. The most common type of tick that carries Lyme disease is the deer tick.
The Life Cycle of the Deer Tick
Since the deer tick is the cause for Lyme disease in dogs, dog owners may be interested to learn about its life cycle.
The deer tick has stages throughout its life cycle. It begins with the eggs hatching into larvae. The larva then feeds on mammals such as small rodents. The larva will become infected with B. Burgdorferi if the rodent it used as a food source is infected. The larva later becomes a nymph, then an adult, and feeds on other animals such as dogs, deer and even humans, ultimately transmitting Lyme disease.
Dogs can get Lyme disease if bitten by an infected nymph or adult deer tick. Other times, deer ticks can go through their stages of life not being infected. Adult ticks that feed off of an infected dog or other animal can then transmit Lyme disease to its next food source.
How is Lyme Disease in Dogs Diagnosed?
If your dog shows any of the symptoms related to Lyme disease contact your veterinarian immediately. The veterinarian will conduct two blood tests on your dog to confirm if Lyme disease is present.
The first blood test is called the antibody test. This test will detect the presence of antibodies created by exposure to the organism. The second blood test is called the polymerase chain reaction, which your veterinarian might refer to as a PCR test. This is a sensitive and very specific DNA test that detects spirochete in your dog’s blood cells. These two types of blood tests are the most reliable.
However, there are kits on the market today that allow veterinarians the opportunity to test for Lyme antibody without having to send blood samples to the laboratory. Veterinarians consider criteria such as symptoms, your dog’s history and exposure to ticks and a positive antibody test to be important in establishing the diagnoses.
Treatment and Prognosis for Dogs with Lyme Disease
The most common treatment recommended by veterinarians is the use of antibiotics. Effective antibiotics include amoxicillin, doxycycline and ceftriaxone. According to Doctors Foster and Smith, “Corticosteroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs are sometimes used for treatment of Lyme disease in dogs”.
Antibiotic treatment lasts about three to four weeks or longer, depending on veterinarian instructions. You will notice an improvement in your dog within just a few days of starting treatment. Dogs that experience recurring episodes of Lyme disease remain highly responsive to antibiotic treatment. Due to the excellent response to antibiotics, dogs who have Lyme disease have a good prognosis when treated as soon as symptoms show.
Prevention of Lyme Disease
Dog Owners need to focus on doing their best to prevent their dog from getting Lyme disease.
The first step is limiting your dog’s exposure to ticks. This doesn’t mean you should keep your dog inside at all times, or, even limit his play time outdoors. You definitely want your dog to live a full life and enjoy the outdoors. Instead you will want to focus on controlling the tick population in your yard. There are a variety of tick repellents that can be used that will keep ticks away.
By providing your dog with a safe tick-free environment it limits their exposure to the deer-tick and reduces his risk to contracting Lyme disease.
Daily Grooming and Inspection
Another option for prevention of Lyme disease in dogs is to groom him and inspect his skin on a daily basis. This is a time consuming task, but many dog owners enjoy the bonding time with their dog.
If you choose this option you will want to use a fine toothed comb or your finger tips and brush in the opposite direction of the hair growth in order to expose the skin. You will want to make sure you cover your dog’s entire body and check in between his toes as well. If you find a tick you will want to contact the veterinarian office immediately. They will most-likely advise you to go to the office so they can remove the tick.
At times, some veterinarians will recommend that you remove the tick immediately and provide you with careful instructions for the procedure over the telephone.
How to Remove a Tick from Your Dog
General instructions for safely removing a tick from your dog require you to have a pair of gloves, antiseptic, isopropyl alcohol and a commercial tick remover or a pair of clean tweezers.
Instructions for when you use tweezers:
- Step 1 – Carefully apply isopropyl alcohol on the tick by using a cotton swab. This will immediately kill the tick. Then begin removing the tick using a pair of tweezers. You will want to grasp the tick with the tip of the tweezers as close to your dog’s skin as possible. Also be careful to avoid contact with the tick, since Lyme disease can be transmitted to people as well.
- Step 2 – Once you have a grasp of the tick, pull in a straight, outward direction.
- Sept 3 – Inspect the tick after removal. Be sure that you have removed the entire tick from your dog’s skin. Also inspect your dog’s skin, as any remains of the tick can cause infection.
Instructions for when you use a tick remover:
- Step 1 – Carefully press the tick remover against your dog’s skin where the tick is located.
- Step 2 – Take the remover and slide the notch underneath the tick.
- Step 3 – At this point the tick should be caught in the smaller end of the notch. Continue sliding the remover until the tick is pulled free.
In both options of tick removal procedures you will always want to end with cleaning the area with antiseptic or keeping the tick in a zip lock bag or small bottle for up to six months. This is just in case your dog begins to have symptoms of Lyme disease, you can bring the tick to the veterinarian for further testing and inspection.
Lyme Disease Vaccination
Although dog owners may take every precaution to protect their dogs from these pesky deer-ticks, they can be waiting around the corner at the local park or in your neighborhood.
If you take your dog for a walk or he assists you on hunting trips in the woods, it is best to speak to your veterinarian regarding a vaccination. At this time there is only one vaccination for Lyme disease in dogs. The vaccination is referred to as Borrelia burgdorferi Bacterin. This vaccination is usually used for dog’s that live close-by areas that have an uncontrollable deer-tick population.
The vaccination has proven to reduce cases of Lyme disease in dogs by about 1%. The vaccination is considered effective and safe. The vaccine is currently given at two-to three-week intervals. It is necessary to revaccinate your dog annually.
Whether the vaccination is best suited for your dog or not will be determined by the veterinarian.
Maintaining Regular Check-Ups
Not all dogs will show clinical signs and symptoms of Lyme disease. There are times when a dog is infected with Lyme disease and he does not have any outward noticeable changes.
This is why it is essential for dog owners to keep all of their dog’s regular check-ups with the veterinarian. The veterinarian will be able to conduct a thorough physical exam on your dog to assure your dog is healthy. During the exam the veterinarian will closely examine every major body organ and system. The veterinarian will inspect the eyes, ears, mouth, digestive system, respiratory system, hair coat, skin and musculoskeletal system.
In addition, your dog’s urine, blood and feces will be tested in order to determine more details about your dog’s health. During the examination the veterinarian will also discuss your dog’s diet, health history and behavior. Your dog’s lifestyle will play a key part in determining if the Lyme disease vaccination will be best suited and beneficial for your dog.
Check with your local community to see if you live in a high deer-tick populated area. This fact will lead you to the steps you need to take to protect your dog from Lyme disease. Always discuss prevention options with the veterinarian to find the best course of action for your individual case. If you live in an area that is high risk for your dog to get Lyme disease, you may want to take a variety of precautions such as tick repellent and getting your dog vaccinated. If your dog lives a lifestyle of being mainly indoors, perhaps grooming and other options will be best suited.
Lyme disease in dogs is becoming a common situation that veterinarians are well aware of and prepared to provide the best treatment available.