Lyme is a bacterial disease that is usually transmitted by the bite of the Black-Legged (aka Deer) tick. In dogs the disease is transmitted about 48 hours after the tick attaches, which is why fast-kill flea products (those that kill in less than 48 hours) are most successful in helping to prevent infection. Signs of disease show up 2-5 months after the tick has transmitted the disease.
Obvious signs of infection include fever, joint pain (which may show up as a lameness that shifts from one leg to another or difficulty getting up,) lethargy, depression or poor appetite. Blood abnormalities can include trouble clotting & elevated white blood cell counts. Most dogs either have subtle signs or no apparent signs at all, so it is very important that they be blood tested yearly. Dogs that test positive usually continue to test positive, even after treatment.
We treat all newly diagnosed dogs for Lyme with antibiotics. Dogs presenting with signs need additional testing & may require other medications. Rarely, a form of Lymes can affect the kidneys. This most commonly occurs in retriever-type breeds and is fatal. The prognosis with treatment for all others is excellent.
While Lyme Disease is treatable, dogs CAN be re-infected. With each re-infection, the chances of developing signs increases. But it can be prevented with a combination of proper, timely vaccination and year-round use of fast kill Flea/Tick products.
The other big take-home point is that if your dog tests positive for Lyme, there are infected ticks in your area and YOU need to take proper precautions to avoid being infected. The disease is much worse in people, so check yourself for those little ticks after being outside. And don’t think that winter will protect you … the most successful month for Deer Ticks is January!