Whining About Lyme

Ticks have been in the news lately, so this blog is going to address the possible issues associated with ticks bites and our canine friends. Lyme disease was first noted in the 1970’s and got its name because the first few cases occurred in Lyme, Connecticut.

Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria (called Borrelia burgdorferi) that is transmitted through a tick bite. Once the tick bites and passes the bacteria into the bloodstream, the bacteria reproduces and travels to different parts of the body causing problems in specific organs and body joints. The fact that Lyme disease can affect so many parts of the body often leads to confusion and misdiagnosis of the illness in humans.

In dogs, Lyme disease causes quite a few symptoms. The symptoms most commonly seen with Lyme disease are fever, lack of energy, decreased appetite and problems with the body joints, such as lameness (which can go from one limb to the next), generalized stiffness and joint pain, and swelling of the joints. Lyme disease can also affect the kidneys, heart and brain. The symptoms can subside and recur later which can make diagnosis difficult. The symptoms of Lyme disease also occur in more commonly found illnesses, so it is usually not on the top of the list of possibilities in sick dogs.

There are 2 blood tests available to test for Lyme disease. The first test is an antibody test. Infectious organisms, such as the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, have proteins attached to the surface of the cell. These proteins are called antigens. When the immune system detects these foreign invaders, the body produces antibodies to help destroy the disease. This test tells us that the dog has been exposed to Lyme disease because there are antibodies present in the bloodstream. Unfortunately, false negatives can happen with this test because a dog could be infected recently, but not enough antibodies have formed. Dogs who have been infected for a long time might no longer have enough antibodies in their bloodstream to show a positive result.

The second blood test is called a PCR test. This is a DNA test that checks for the presence of the bacteria itself. This test is very sensitive and specific for the bacteria. However, false negatives can occur because the bacteria might be present in a body joint but not in the bloodstream. So in both test types, a positive result is meaningful in dogs who are showing clinical signs. However, a negative test result does NOT mean the dog is free of the bacteria causing Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria, so treatment is achieved with the use of antibiotics. Typically the treatment requires several weeks of antibiotics, and sometimes the use of multiple types of antibiotics are needed. Pain relief medication is also used to help with joint pain and joint stiffness.

The best thing you can do for your dog is to prevent exposure to Lyme disease! This means keeping ticks away from your pet. Prevention is ALWAYS the best medicine. There are once monthly oral medications or topical products that will kill the tick before it becomes a problem. Please speak with any of our staff about the best option for your pet. The disease is a painful, debilitating illness so help prevent your dog from whining about Lyme disease!

Written by Cambrian Animal Hospital