Just like in humans, dogs can be infected with Lyme disease. The correct term for this infection is actually Borreliosis, named after the bacteria- Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacteria is transmitted by an infected Ixodes tick (also known as a black-legged tick or deer tick). The infected tick can transmit this bacteria to humans, mammals, and birds. The transmission occurs at the end of the tick’s blood meal (after 48 hours) when it regurgitates (Ew!).
If a dog becomes infected with Borrelia, they can develop Lyme arthritis (warm, swollen, painful joints, fever, and inflamed lymph nodes) or Lyme nephropathy (kidney failure, dehydration, and hypertension).
Risk factors for Lyme disease are tick exposure in endemic areas. According to the CDC, endemic areas for Lyme are Northeast and mid-Atlantic, from northeastern Virginia to Maine. Therefore, it is recommended for dogs in those areas to be vaccinated for Lyme.
So where does that leave us in North Carolina? Here at Animal Ark, we screen for Lyme disease yearly with a test called a 4Dx snap test. You may not even know this, but it is included in your dog’s yearly heartworm test. The 4Dx screens for not only Heartworms and Lyme disease, but two other tick-borne diseases called Ehrlichia and Anaplasma.
While we occasionally have patients that test positive for Lyme disease on this test, we rarely have dogs that are showing clinical signs of an active infection (fever, joint pain, lethargy, etc.). This is because the 4Dx only tells us that your dog has antibodies against Lyme circulating in their system- meaning they may have been exposed to the bacteria in the past. It does not tell us whether they have an active infection present. If you or your vet are concerned that there is an active infection, a more specific test can be run called a Lyme Quant C6 Test.
If it is determined that there is an active infection, Doxycycline is the main course of treatment. However, if the disease is advanced and causing joint pain or kidney issues, pain medications or hospitalization may be necessary.
To prevent the infection of Lyme disease, there is a vaccine available. However, in my opinion, the best prevention is a monthly tick preventative. As mentioned before, there are several other tick-borne diseases that can infect your dog. Most tick preventatives can protect against these, where the Lyme vaccine will only protect against Lyme disease. If you are concerned your dog may have a tick-borne disease or you have questions about preventative, please give us a call and we would be happy to talk you through your options.
Written by: Dr. Burtnett