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Veterinarians: Dog Owners and Lyme Disease Symptoms

hsah-lyme-disease-dogs
April 20, 2017

When clients with dogs live in an area with an established tick population, their pet is at risk of becoming infected with Lyme disease. The following provides information that will help clients to better understand this tick-borne infection.

Lyme Disease in Dogs

Cause of Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria found in the bloodstream. While the disease affects both people and dogs, the infection is not spread between the two but can only be transmitted through the bite of an infected tick.

Clinical Signs of Lyme Disease

One of the most notable indications that a person has become infected with Lyme disease is a characteristic “bulls-eye” rash that develops at the site of the bite. Because the rash is very noticeable, a diagnosis can be made in the earliest stage of the disease.

Detecting Lyme disease in animals, however, is more difficult:

  • The distinctive “bulls-eye” rash does not appear
  • Common symptoms of the disease may be delayed or missing altogether
  • Symptoms are so similar to other diseases that some signs go unrecognized.

The most common indication that a dog has Lyme disease occurs with a sudden onset of painful lameness. Additional symptoms may include:

  • One or more swollen joints that hurt when touched
  • High fever
  • Chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Limping
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss.

In some dogs, lameness:

  • Is the animal’s only visible sign of infection?
  • Will only last for a few days
  • May turn chronic, lasting for months
  • May cease, but then recur
  • May shift from one leg to another.

By the time the disease symptoms appear in some dogs, the infection has already spread throughout the animal’s body. Additional problems that stem from the infection and which are usually fatal include:

  • Kidney problems
  • Acute cardiac syndrome.

Testing for Lyme Disease

The risk of mortality is one reason why you should encourage your clients to have their dogs tested if they show any of the symptoms of Lyme disease. Inform them that testing is not painful, and the results are definitive.

Which of these tests are you offering?

  • Antibody tests
  • Blood test that detects the presence of antibodies that occur following exposure to the disease
  • This test can give a false negative report even if the animal was exposed to the disease if:
    • ▪The blood is tested before the animal forms antibodies
    • ▪The dog doesn’t form enough antibodies
    • ▪The infection occurred so long ago that the number of antibodies can no longer be detected.
  • Polymerase chain reaction test
    • DNA test
    • While blood is used to test, the sample may give a false negative report if the animal doesn’t have bacteria in its blood
    • Preferred test samples are taken from the synovial fluid of an affected joint.

Vaccinating Dogs for Lyme Disease

A vaccine for Lyme disease is available, but is only recommended for animals traveling or living in areas that present a high risk of tick exposure and widespread Lyme disease.

Are your clients aware the following Lyme disease vaccination regime is available?

  • Vaccine along with puppy shots
  • Annually revaccinate to maintain immunity
  • Vaccinate any animals with an unknown medical history
  • Test to check for antibodies that indicate exposure to the disease
    • A positive result, especially in animals exhibiting signs of disease, may determine the need for treatment
    • A positive result in an animal that does not show signs of disease may also require a course of therapy
  • Animals that test positive should still be vaccinated, but the choice of vaccines will differ.

Treatment of Dogs with Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is treated through the use of antibiotics administered for a course of 2 to 4 weeks. Make your clients aware that this lengthy course of treatment usually works, but some animals may have to be switched to another antibiotic. Your clients may not realize that animals that become re-infected if bitten by another tick or who experience the return of the initial infection may require a different antibiotic.

Lyme disease is a serious and debilitating illness. When an animal’s risk of exposure to the infection is related to the living area, it is especially important that clients understand what to watch for, as well as what to expect should their pet become infected with the disease.

Your Henry Schein Animal Health representative can provide additional information on testing for Lyme disease. Contact us at: 855-SCHEIN1(724-3461).

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