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Lyme Disease Kidney Failure

lyme disease kidney failure dogsLyme disease kidney failure is not thought to occur in humans except in rare cases where a patient has undergone a kidney transplant and is suffering infection with Lyme disease, or where a co-infection, with Ehrlichiosis for example, is a contributing factor. Lyme disease kidney failure is an issue in some dogs however, with different breeds of dogs particular susceptible to renal problems it seems. Canine Lyme disease nephritis happens when the infectious spirochaetes of Lyme disease bacteria spread to the kidneys of a dog and leads to impaired kidney function. Acute problems including kidney failure may occur which is fatal unless immediate medical help is given.

Lyme Disease Kidney Failure Symptoms

Symptoms of Lyme disease kidney failure in dogs are similar to the symptoms of canine Lyme disease nephritis and distinguishing between the two is difficult. Observing the severity and timing of symptoms can help differentiate the two conditions which will allow more appropriate treatment to be given. Canine Lyme disease nephritis commonly causes lethargy, weight-loss, refusal to eat, vomiting, increased drinking and urination, and swelling of the legs in those dogs affected. Where such symptoms persist for more than two days it is extremely important to have your dog assessed by a qualified veterinarian to rule out kidney disease or access life-saving treatment for your dog.

Diagnosing Kidney Failure in Dogs

In the vet’s office your dog will likely have a blood sample taken to determine the presence of Lyme disease antibodies. This will hopefully allow the veterinarian to decide whether kidney failure is due to infection and if this is treatable with antibiotics. Urine tests will also likely be done and a renal function test to check how well the dog’s kidneys are carrying out their usual actions. The kidneys play a vital role in maintaining the water balance of the body, with key minerals reabsorbed in the kidneys. When renal problems occur this can cause issues with sodium and potassium balance, as well as affecting magnesium levels and the function of other body systems. Excretion of toxins, and proteins, may also be impaired leading to acute damage of the kidney itself and other organs.

Treatment of Lyme disease kidney failure in dogs may include dietary changes, alterations in water intake, antihistamine treatment, the use of ACE inhibitors, and supplementation with minerals and vitamins to compensate for renal dysfunction. Intravenous medications, hydration, and nutrition may be required although the treatment will depend on the severity of the dog’s condition and other health issues.

Glomerulonephritis in Dogs

A study by Dambach (et al, 1997) found a distinctive renal lesion in a number of dogs with Lyme disease which was not a feature of kidney disease in uninfected dogs. The lesion consisted of glomerulonephritis, diffuse tubular necrosis with regeneration, and interstitial inflammation. The clinical course of the disease involved a rapid progression of glomerular disease that proved fatal in all of the dogs affected. Nearly 90% of the dogs had immune-mediated membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis, with the remainder suffering from membranous glomerulonephritis and amyloidosis. The dogs in these cases were younger than other dogs with glomerulonephritis taking a different form, with most dogs around five and a half years old compared to over seven years. The most likely breeds of dogs to suffer from Lyme disease kidney failure of this kind were Labradors and Golden retrievers with probability 6.4 and 4.9 times respectively compared to other dog breeds. The link between this specific renal lesion, infection with Borrelia burgdorferi, and Lyme disease kidney failure in dogs is important as it is the only fatal form of canine Lyme borreliosis currently identified.


Assi MA, Yao JD, Walker RC. Lyme disease followed by human granulocytic anaplasmosis in a kidney transplant recipient. Transpl Infect Dis. 2007 Mar;9(1):66-72.

Hutton TA, Goldstein RE, Njaa BL, Atwater DZ, Chang YF, Simpson KW. Search for Borrelia burgdorferi in kidneys of dogs with suspected “Lyme nephritis”. J Vet Intern Med. 2008 Jul-Aug;22(4):860-5.

Hutton TA, Goldstein RE, Njaa BL, Atwater DZ, Chang YF, Simpson KW. Search for Borrelia burgdorferi in kidneys of dogs with suspected “Lyme nephritis”. J Vet Intern Med. 2008 Jul-Aug;22(4):860-5.

Dambach DM, Smith CA, Lewis RM, Van Winkle TJ. Morphologic, immunohistochemical, and ultrastructural characterization of a distinctive renal lesion in dogs putatively associated with Borrelia burgdorferi infection: 49 cases (1987-1992). Vet Pathol. 1997 Mar;34(2):85-96.