Lyme disease is highly prevalent in our area. It is caused by an organism called Borrelia burgdorferi, which is spread by the deer tick. We see many dogs with clinical signs of the disease and many more test positive for exposure to Lyme disease.
The most common symptom of Lyme disease is lameness that sometimes shifts from one leg to another. Other signs are lethargy, fever, and loss of appetite. Rarely the organism will affect the kidneys, which can be fatal. Dogs do not show the typical "bullseye" shaped rash, which is classic in the human form.
We can diagnosis Lyme disease very easily by a simple blood test that also tests for Heartworm and Ehrlichia (another disease spread by ticks). A positive results means that the dog has been exposed to the disease, but it is not necessarily symptomatic. The symptoms can occur at any time but it is estimated that only about 5-10% of positive dogs will ever get the clinical disease.
Since the test we routinely perform only indicates whether a dog has been exposed to the organism, we need to do another test to determine whether the dog has an active Lyme disease infection and should be treated. This test is called the Quantitative C6 Antibody test and we will usually have the results within one to two days.
Lyme disease is treated with an antibiotic called doxycycline. It is given once daily for 28 days. There is some research showing that the Lyme vaccine can have some activity against the organism so we recommend that a dog testing positive for Lyme disease be vaccinated if it hasn't been already.
If your dog tests positive on our in-house test, don't panic. We will give you three options on what to do next:
- Perform Quantitative C6 Antibody test to determine whether or not treatment is warranted;
- Treat your dog with doxycycline anyway even though we can't tell if it is an active Lyme infection, or
- Do nothing and treat your dog if it starts showing symptoms. We advise that all symptomatic dogs be treated.
In severe cases of Lyme disease, dogs may develop kidney damage. For this reason we recommend closely monitoring the urine for protein leakage and blood tests to check for kidney disease. The veterinarians will discuss the testing needed to be sure that your dog does not have kidney damage.
Since the disease is spread by ticks, the best prevention is tick control with a monthly topical product or collar. A tick must be attached for over one to two days in order for the disease to be transmitted, so daily tick checks are of utmost importance.
At this time, there have been no reported cases of Lyme disease in cats. It is believed that cats do get Lyme disease, but are able to clear it from their system. No vaccine is currently available for cats at this time. Topical tick control is available and recommended for cats as well. More research is being done on just how the disease affects cats.