Can dogs get Lyme disease?

April 13, 2012

Lyme disease is a bacterial illness that is caused by three kinds of bacteria – the spirochete, Borrelia borgdorferi and Borellia afzelii. Ticks are the vector of this disease. Infected deer ticks carry the bacteria in their stomach and when they bite humans and animals, the bacteria will be transmitted and infect the body. As ticks are one of the external parasites that infest a dog it is highly probable that a dog can be infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Similar to humans, dogs can get Lyme disease too.

Ticks are small ectoparasites that live on blood of humans and animals. Ticks are vectors of a number of diseases that includes Colorado tick fever, Q fever, tularemia and Lyme disease. Lyme disease is considered to be the most common among these diseases. Although not all ticks are infected, a high concentration of the disease is noted in California, in the upper regions of Mississippi, in the northeastern states and in some southern states of US.

There are three stages in a tick’s life – the larva, the nymph and the adult stage. Ticks are rather extraordinary parasites as it will only have one blood meal for each stage. Each stage will require a different host. A tick would feed on the blood of an infected animal commonly a deer or a white footed mouse which are considered to be the main reservoir of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. The tick will be infected and will be able to transmit the bacteria to humans and animals. It is during the nymphal stage that the tick will be able to transmit the bacteria. A tick has to be attached to the host for 48 hours to be able to transmit the Borelia burgdorferi bacteria.

In humans, the telltale sign of the disease is the classic rash of expanding ring that is very similar to a bull’s eye due to the alternating dark and light rings. This rash will appear a few days after the person is bitten by an infected tick. The person will have flu-like symptoms. Unchecked and untreated, the fever, sore throat, muscle pains can be gone in a few days but more serious problems can surface a few months later. In dogs, an untreated Lyme disease can be the cause of the pet’s death. Lyme disease in canines is hard to diagnose because of the deceiving symptoms. In some cases, the dog would be really sick but would bounce back after a day. The hallmark of this disease is the inflammation of the joints. The dog may be favoring a sore leg and appear to be stiff but not really sick to cause the owners to worry. However, the dog would be sick again in the ensuing days. The dog will develop high fever, would have swollen lymph nodes. Because of the swollen joints, the dog will suffer from excruciating pain. Movement will be hampered. Loss of appetite and kidney failure would eventually result to the death of the dog.

The symptoms of canine Lyme disease can mimic the symptoms of other diseases. Thus it would be best to take the pet to a veterinary facility for the proper diagnosis. A vet would commonly perform a physical exam to look for the clinical signs. A blood test may be necessary to determine the presence of the bacteria that causes the disease. Canine Lyme disease is commonly treated with antibiotics for three to four weeks. The dog should show sign of recovery a few days after the treatment was started. This disease can be prevented if the tick is removed at once before it can transmit the disease. However, this can be quite difficult given the very small size of the parasite. Vaccination against the disease is considered to the most effective preventive method.

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