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Do You Know the Facts About Canine Lyme Disease?

Image of a dog in the wilderness.

If your dog shows signs of stiffness or begins limping, you may assume that arthritis is to blame. Unfortunately, joint pain can also be a sign of canine Lyme disease. Learning the facts about this tick-borne disease can help you ensure that your pet receives prompt treatment.

How is Lyme Disease Transmitted?

People and animals develop Lyme disease after being bitten by a deer tick infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. Lyme disease is only transmitted to a person or animal if the tick remains on their body for approximately 48 hours. Although most people exposed to the bacteria develop Lyme disease, only 5 percent of dogs ever show symptoms.

What Are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease symptoms typically appear about two to five months after your dog has been bitten by a tick. Pain and swelling due to joint inflammation is common. Your dog may start to walk stiffly or may not like being touched. He or she may favor one leg, but you might notice that the lame leg seems to vary depending on the day. Lameness can get better, only to begin again a week or two later.

A fever and loss of appetite can also occur if your dog has Lyme disease. Not surprisingly, infected dogs don't have a lot of energy and may be less active than usual. In some cases, dogs infected by the bacteria can develop kidney disease, although this complication is more likely if your dog is a golden or Labrador retriever, Bernese mountain dog or Shetland sheepdog.

How is Lyme Disease Diagnosed?

Since the symptoms of Lyme disease are similar to a variety of joint disorders, including degenerative arthritis, your dog's veterinarian will probably order a blood test if he or she suspects that your dog is affected. Many dogs have been exposed to Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, but unless there are symptoms, there is no need to start treatment. In addition to blood tests, the veterinarian may recommend urine and fecal tests and X-rays of the joints.

What is the Treatment for Lyme Disease?

Antibiotics are very effective in treating Lyme disease. Your dog's veterinarian may also prescribe a pain medication to reduce inflammation in the joints. Antibiotics usually help improve symptoms within a few days after your dog starts taking them.

How Can I Reduce the Chance That My Dog Will Get Lyme Disease?

Reducing your dog's exposure to ticks is the key to preventing Lyme disease. Examine your furry friend for ticks after trips outside, particularly if those trips involved a run in the woods or fields. Use monthly topical products that repel ticks. If you use a tick control product on your dog and a tick bites it, the tick will die before it can transmit the bacteria. Your veterinarian may also suggest a Lyme disease vaccination, which can reduce the chance that your dog will develop the disease if bitten. These vaccinations are usually only recommended if you live in an area with a high incidence of Lyme disease.

If your dog shows signs of lameness or any other of the symptoms of Lyme disease, give us a call. We perform a thorough examination to put your mind at ease and start treatment immediately, if needed.

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  • "Dr. Nicoletti and the St. Kitts Veterinary Clinic staff are great people, kind and compassionate friends who love our pets as much as we do. Our cats -- and your pets -- will be in good hands if you need to visit St. Kitts."
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