Lyme disease affects both dogs and people, and is often of interest to dog owners. The disease in humans and dogs varies quite a bit, but the cause is the same - it is caused by a bacterial infection passed by ticks.
In the United States, two species of black-legged ticks, the deer tick, and the Western black-legged tick, transmit the species of bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease, during feeding.
Transmission of the infection occurs at 24-48 hours of feeding. Immature deer ticks become infected with the bacteria by feeding on rodents. When these young ticks molt into adult ticks, they feed mainly on deer. Up to 50% of deer ticks carry Borellia burgdorferi bacteria in heavily infected areas.
Only 5-10% of dogs infected with Borellia burgdorferi will go on to develop clinical disease. Symptoms are expected to develop 2-5 months after infection. Classic acute canine Lyme disease manifests as fever, swollen lymph nodes, lethargy, loss of appetite, lameness or joint pain so severe that the dog refuses to walk. Chronic infection also is associated with lameness. Occasionally, chronically infected dogs develop a type of kidney failure.
Infected people often develop a classic rash around the tick bite site. This is not the case in dogs. People with chronic Lyme disease may also have heart rhythm disturbances or neurological symptoms. This is not seen in dogs. Dogs respond well to the 4-week antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease.
As always, prevention is best. Regular use of a tick-killing parasite preventative is every dog’s first and most important preventative step. Vaccination is successful and a smart choice for dogs who have extra life-style risk for contact with deer ticks. Vaccination won’t prevent infection, but it will reduce the illness to subclinical. Topical or oral monthly tick preventatives are especially important because ticks in our area carry more diseases than Lyme disease.
Feel free to call us at (262) 241-4884. We'd be glad to answer any questions, and help you choose the right product to protect your pet from Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.
Dr. Kelly Kasum is an associate veterinarian at East Towne Veterinary Clinic. Dr. Kelly has practiced general small animal medicine and surgery in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin.