Humans are not the only victims of Lyme disease, dogs can also be infected through tick bites and suffer similar symptoms of both acute and chronic infection. Dogs are at a higher risk of being infected than humans and of remaining undiagnosed as they often wander into tall grass or dense shrubbery where ticks like to lurk and it can be difficult to spot ticks in a dog’s fur. Unlike dogs, we are able to protect ourselves to some extent from tick bites by wearing appropriate clothing, using tick repellents, and checking ourselves and family members for ticks when returning from an outdoor excursion.
Many of those with dogs do not realise that their pet has been bitten until several days after exposure as an engorged tick often resembles a skin tag. Checking your dog’s coat for ticks, using a magnifying glass and comb is good practice, with specific areas such as the dog’s ears, between the toes, and in the dog’s ‘armpits’ the most likely trouble spots for ticks. Where a tick is found it should be carefully removed and stored in a jar or plastic container in the freezer should it need examining at a later date or to undergo a tick-test. Monitoring for Lyme disease symptoms in dogs means keeping an eye on your dog’s appetite, energy levels, any fever or chills, and even the onset of acute lameness or joint discomfort.
Suspecting Lyme Disease in Dogs
Ticks usually have to be in place for 24-48 hours for infection to be transmitted, so checking your dog’s coat regularly should avoid any problems. Where you suspect that your dog is infected with Lyme disease you should seek veterinary care for the dog immediately as prompt antibiotic treatment successfully resolves the majority of cases prior to any long-term damage occurring. Taking the removed and stored tick for analysis may help reveal the presence of infectious Borrelia bacteria and aid diagnosis of your dog’s symptoms. A Lyme disease test for dogs is available using similar methods to the standard tests for Lyme disease in humans, namely an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) followed by a Western Blot test should it be necessary. The two tests have a high degree of sensitivity and specificity when combined and novel recombinant tests for Lyme disease in dogs, and humans, are being developed currently.
Advances in testing mean that it is now possible to tell if antibodies to Borrelia bacteria (responsible for Lyme disease) are present due to natural exposure or the Lyme disease vaccine for dogs. In some areas up to 70% of dogs are thought to have been exposed at some time or other to the Lyme disease bacteria, with most simply fighting off the infection naturally and developing no symptoms or sign of disease. In other areas, exposure rates are low and dogs travelling to tick-endemic areas may be advised to obtain the Lyme disease vaccine for dogs. Most veterinarians will not treat a dog with antibiotics based on just a positive test for antibodies to Borrelia bacteria as this simply shows the presence of infection, not Lyme disease itself. A positive test result and symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs will usually warrant immediate treatment however.
Lyme Disease Vaccine for Dogs
The Lyme disease vaccine for dogs is not 100% effective and has been linked to problems such as hypersensitivity reactions, and even acute kidney failure (although this remains largely unsubstantiated). Many choose not to get their dog vaccinated for Lyme disease as short-course antibiotic treatment presents fewer risks than vaccination in many cases. Where antibiotics are not well tolerated however, it may be sensible to vaccinate your dog against Lyme disease in areas of high risk of tick bite.
It is important to bear in mind that a tick that bites a dog and goes unnoticed may simply drop off after three to eleven days and lurk in the corners of a room, in soft-furnishings, or in the dogs bed where it can then bite other pets and/or humans in the household. Ticks are also carriers of other diseases that can affect dogs, such as Canine ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis, all of which can be transmitted simultaneously after a tick bite. The sooner a tick is removed the lower the risk of infection being transmitted.
Avoiding Deer Ticks
Keeping grass short around the house, removing old log piles or leaf debris, trying to keep deer away from the property, and avoiding letting your dog ramble through tick-infested areas, where possible, are some of the best methods of protecting your dog against Lyme disease. Dogs can also be fitted with flea and tick collars to further aid prevention of tick bites and Lyme disease.