Lyme disease is an infectious, tick-borne disease that affects both animals and humans. Lyme disease is transmitted by the deer tick, and is also referred to as borreliosis because it is caused by a spiral-shaped bacteria called borrelia burgdorferi. The signs and symptoms of lyme disease in dogs are different than those seen in humans. Although most dogs will never show any signs of the lyme disease infection, it can cause chronic joint disease in man's best friend.
Because the borrelia burgdorferi organism is well-suited to live in the canine body, a majority of dogs host the bacteria without ever actually getting sick. Dogs with an active lyme disease infection often don't show any symptoms for two to five months after being bit from an infected tick. The most typical symptoms of lyme disease in dogs include swollen joints and arthritis, sudden lameness and swollen lymph nodes. Other common symptoms are lethargy, appetite loss, depression and a fever that runs between 39.4 and 40.6 degrees Celsius.
An untreated lyme disease infection can cause severe progressive kidney disease, which is a type of kidney failure that is difficult to treat and frequently results in death. Lyme disease also can affect the cardiovascular system in dogs and cause serious heart problems. Some dogs suffering from a lyme disease infection will develop nervous system issues. Neurological and heart problems are rare, however, because dogs with the infection typically respond quickly to the proper antibiotic treatment.
The most serious long-term effect of Lyme disease is known as "glomerular disease." This disease is a type of kidney damage that occurs when the dog's immune system is forced to be constantly active while trying to remove the borrelia burgdorferi. A dog with an active lyme disease infection should undergo routine urinalysis to check for significant protein loss. Dogs suffering from glomerular disease typically take a special kidney disease medication prescribed by a vet.
A dog exhibiting any signs of lyme disease should be tested by a veterinarian as soon as possible. The most common diagnostic tool is the "C6 test," a blood test that checks to see if the dog's body has created an antibody against the C6 peptide triggered by the borrelia burgdorgeri bacteria. However, this test can only tell if the dog has been exposed to lyme disease, and not whether the dog is suffering from an active infection. An accurate lyme disease diagnosis is based on the results of the test combined with the dog's history of deer tick exposure and the manifestation of common symptoms.
Lyme disease in dogs is typically treated with a 14- to 30-day course of either a tetracycline- or a penicillin-based antibiotic. The most commonly prescribed antibiotic is doxycycline, which is an inexpensive medication with minimal side effects. Not only does doxycycline help kill the bacteria, but it also helps relieve joint pain and fever. Amoxicillin is another effective, inexpensive antibiotic that has few side effects. Antibiotic treatment is most effective during the early days of lyme disease infection.