Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread through the bite of a Blacklegged or Deer tick. The Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria are picked up by the tick when they bite an infected deer or mouse. These spiral-shaped bacteria are then transmitted when the infected tick bites your dog. In most cases, the tick must be attached to your dog for at least 36 hours in order to transmit disease.
The B. burgdorferi bacteria live in the blood stream and are able to hide in folds of tissue, avoiding detection. They can cause major destruction in the body, attacking the joints and causing inflammation and pain, as well as more serious complications such as irreversible kidney failure and rarely heart and neurological complications. Lyme disease can be a FATAL disease.
Symptoms of Lyme disease can include lameness that sometimes shifts legs, hot and swollen joints, fever, lethargy and reluctance to eat. If you notice any of these symptoms please call River Road Veterinary Clinic immediately! We are located in an area endemic to Lyme disease. We diagnose it daily, and it is a serious and sometimes life-threatening disease.
There are various ways to protect your dog from Lyme disease. Using a tick preventative medication is very important. Frontline Plus, Activyl TickPlus (topical monthly medications), and Scalibor collars (lasting 6 months) are all medications that will help you control your dog’s exposure to the ticks that carry Lyme disease. It is also important to make a habit of checking your dog over thoroughly whenever he/she comes in from outside. Ticks can attach to anywhere on the body but many people find that they tend to migrate to the head and neck area. There is also a vaccination available for Lyme disease, and River Road Veterinary Clinic always encourages vaccinating your pet. The initial vaccine is boostered in 2-3 weeks and then given annually.
The first step in diagnosing Lyme disease is with a SNAP test. The SNAP test is run using 3 drops of blood, and tests for exposure to Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis (all tick-borne diseases),and Heartworm. It is run here at River Road Veterinary Clinic and results are ready in about 10 minutes. The 4DxSNAP test is sometimes referred to as a “Heartworm” test and is recommended annually. If your dog is diagnosed with Lyme disease on the SNAP test, there are a variety of additional tests that are routinely recommended.
Quantitative C6: A blood test that is sent out to the lab to tell us if your dog has an active Lyme infection, and how severe that infection is. This is done because the SNAP test indicates whether or not antibodies have been produced in response to the bacteria, indicating previous exposure, not necessarily an active infection.
Complete Blood Count and Chemistry Profile: Blood tests that we can run here or send out to the lab that let us measure your dog’s organ function and evaluate his/her red and white blood cells and clotting factors. The kidneys, red blood cells, and platelets can be affected by Lyme disease.
Urinalysis: A test done here using a small amount of urine that allows us to see if your dog is losing protein in his/her urine (indicating kidney disease) and how well the kidneys are working to concentrate urine. If we discover that your dog is losing protein through his/her urine a specialized urine test called a Urine Protein:Creatinine Ratio is sent to the lab to evaluate the extent of the protein loss and disease.
Lyme disease is treated with a 28 day course of a twice daily oral antibiotic, usually Doxycycline. Most dogs respond very quickly to treatment and have a very good long-term prognosis if treated early. If no additional tests are performed, we recommend treating all Lyme positive dogs with antibiotics, even if they are not showing symptoms. In some severe cases an anti-inflammatory pain medication is also prescribed. The majority of dogs infected with Lyme disease do not show symptoms. Some dogs will remain asymptomatic, and others will exhibit symptoms at a seemingly random point later in their lives.
It is important to remember that Lyme disease can be treated, but not necessarily cured. Most dogs will continue to test positive on a SNAP test even after treatment with an antibiotic. Sometimes flare-ups occur and multiple treatments are necessary. A repeat SNAP test is recommended 6 months after initial treatment with the antibiotic. If your dog is still positive at that time an additional course of antibiotics is recommended.
If you find a tick on your dog it should be removed immediately. You can remove an embedded tick at home by grasping it as close to the skin as possible (with tweezers, your fingers, or a specialized tick removal tool) and pulling firmly straight back. It is NOT necessary to remove the head of the tick if you believe it is still in your dog. You do not need to do anything to treat the wound, but you may use hydrogen peroxide and antibiotic ointment if you wish. Some degree of redness and swelling around the area is normal. Watch for signs of infection such as a malodorous smell, discharge, increasing redness and painful swelling. It takes at least 3 weeks from the time of infection to detect Lyme disease on the SNAP test.