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What All Dog Owners Should Know About Lyme Disease

As Lyme disease cases rise in the U.S., humans are not the only ones at risk. Veterinarians with the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine say dogs are increasingly vulnerable to this tick-borne illness.

“Black-legged ticks, also called deer ticks, are most common carriers of Borrelia burgdorfer and can be found in the northeastern and north-central parts of the U.S.. The western black-legged tick is found on the Pacific Coast,” says Jenny Marin, a clinical assistant professor at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “They are small – about the size of a poppy seed and thrive in tall grasses and wooded areas.”

While Lyme disease was traditionally thought to be limited primarily to the northeastern U.S., Marin says positive cases of canine Lyme disease have now been reported across 39 states reporting high and moderate prevalence. Veterinarians say dogs tend to be bitten by infected ticks in the early spring and late fall when adult ticks are most active, but animals and humans can contract Lyme disease any time of year.”

Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs can vary and may not appear for months after infection. Those may symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Joint pain or swelling
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Lethargy
  • Appetite loss
  • Increased thirst and urination

If left untreated, veterinarians say the disease can damage the kidneys, nervous system, and heart and cause chronic joint pain. Kidney damage from Lyme disease is typically fatal, and damage to the nervous system can lead to seizure disorders. Heart damage due to Lyme disease is rare.

To diagnose Lyme disease, your dog’s veterinarian will examine its clinical signs, exposure to black-legged ticks, and test results. Dogs produce antibodies 4-6 weeks after infection, which can be detected through testing. Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics for typically a month.

“While antibiotics are effective in most cases, it’s critical to complete the entire course of treatment, even if symptoms improve, to prevent the recurrence of the disease and reduce the risk of complications,” says Marin. “Most symptoms clear up quickly with antibiotic treatment.”

Like so many diseases, the best treatment is prevention. Your veterinarian might suggest vaccinating your dog against Lyme disease or prescribing preventive products, depending on its needs and exposure to ticks.

Other resources:

Keep ticks at bay and protecting yourself with landscaping modifications

About the Small Animal Community Practice at the Virginia Tech Veterinary Teaching Hospital

The Virginia Tech Small Animal Community Practice provides full-service, outpatient preventive health care to local small animal clients within a 35-mile radius of Blacksburg. It is the veterinary clinic within the main Veterinary Teaching Hospital and has seven faculty on staff. Not only does it provide outpatient preventive care it also provides a clinical setting to help train the veterinary students in a real-life clinical setting.

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