"Lyme disease in dogs
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"Lyme disease in dogs

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Health & Safety

Lyme disease or Lyme borreliosis is transmitted by parasitic ticks, and is the main reason behind why picking up ticks when out walking with your dog can potentially prove to be a serious problem. Lyme disease is present all over the world, and any animal, including humans, can potentially catch the condition from ticks and infected tick bites. However, Lyme disease itself cannot usually be transmitted or passed between an affected animal and others, and so the condition is not contagious between animals and people living within the same home.

Lyme disease does not automatically go hand in hand with picking up a tick, but it is certainly something that all dog owners should be aware of and able to identify. Fast removal of ticks from the skin and avoiding walking in areas where ticks are known to be present can help to limit the chances of the disease developing in the first place, and it is also important to be able to identify the symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs at the early stages in order to seek treatment promptly.

Read on to learn more about Lyme disease, its transmission, and what to do about it.

Ticks and Lyme disease

Lyme disease is carried and transmitted by ticks, parasitic blood-sucking arachnids that latch on to exposed skin and consume the blood of their host, before detaching and dropping away once full. Ticks are every bit as unpleasant as this description indicates, and every dog owner should take steps to avoid their dogs picking up ticks when out walking, plus know how to remove them. This article provides further guidance on identifying ticks and removing them from your pet’s skin safely and effectively.

The cause of Lyme disease in dogs

Various strains of the Borrelia bacteria are responsible for Lyme disease, and this is carried and passed on to a host by common ticks. The chances of contracting the condition are greatly increased if a tick remains attached to the skin for 18 hours or longer, or if the tick is removed incorrectly, leading to the tick’s probe breaking off under the skin of the dog. Open wounds left by ticks and any localised infections caused by a tick bite are also at higher risk of becoming infected with Lyme disease.

Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs

Lyme disease manifests with a wide range of potential symptoms, and not all affected dogs will display all of them. Also, some symptoms may come and go, which is why it is important to keep a record of any ticks found on and removed from your dog in order to shed some light on any later symptoms or problems that develop.

During the initial stages of the disease, a localised infection may well be present, around the area of the tick bite itself. If you manage to catch this infection during the early stages, it is important to take your dog to the vet right away in order to begin treatment for the condition promptly.

Around 80% of dogs that later go on to develop full-blown Lyme disease will develop a localised infection first, although in some cases this may not be apparent or may be absent altogether, and so do not rule out the presence of Lyme disease simply due to the absence of a localised infection or rash.

As the condition develops, the Borrelia bacteria spread throughout the bloodstream, potentially leading to the appearance of sore spots, rashes or infections remote from the initial site of the bite and infection. This can take anything from a few days to a few weeks to develop in dogs.

During the later stages of the disease and in cases of advanced infection, your dog will potentially display a wide range of additional symptoms that are hard to miss. Again, these can take weeks, or in some cases months to appear, so it is important to remain vigilant.

Some of the later stage symptoms to keep a lookout for include:

  • Recurrent lameness without explanation, often appearing to affect different legs at different times
  • Swollen, hot or painful joints
  • Breathing difficulties
  • A stiff gait, often accompanied by an arched back
  • High fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • General unwellness and depression, often accompanied by a range of apparently unconnected physical symptoms

Diagnosing and treating Lyme disease in dogs

Take your dog along to the vet at the first sign of any problems, and be sure to mention any tick bites that you may be aware of, even if your vet does not ask about them. The full veterinary history of your dog will be examined, and your vet will usually take some blood and urine samples for analysis. In some cases, your vet may also take samples of the skin around any infected spots or bites, and will possibly draw fluid from around inflamed joints for additional testing.

Depending on the progression of the condition and how badly the dog has been affected by it, treatment for Lyme disease may be undertaken on an outpatient basis. A range of antibiotics may be used to treat the condition and kill the bacteria that is causing the infection, and this can take several weeks to fully eradicate the sources of the infection and halt its progression.

The prognosis for dogs with Lyme disease

Generally, dogs will begin to show signs of recovery from Lyme disease within a few days of beginning treatment, including the easing of generalised symptoms and a reduction in any associated pain. In extreme cases, it is not always possible to fully reverse the effects of Lyme disease in dogs, and damage to the joints, kidneys and other organs caused by the infection can go on to cause further or ongoing problems.

Left unchecked or untreated, Lyme disease can be incredibly painful and debilitating for your dog, and can lead to the gradual shut down of the internal organs and a slow and painful death. While Lyme disease does clear up on its own in some rare cases, in order to safeguard your pet’s long-term health and wellness, prompt and inclusive veterinary treatment is essential.

Don’t waste time before seeking treatment if you suspect that your dog may have contracted the condition, or if they show any signs of inflammation or infection around the site of a tick bite, or if any part of the tick remains within the skin after removal.

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