Lyme Disease

a senior dog laying in the grass

Lyme disease, a common tick-borne disease in humans, can be contracted by our canine companions as well.  The disease, which is caused by a spirochete bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, can often be difficult to diagnose.

“Hard-shelled ticks of the genus Ixodes transmit Borrelia burgdorferi,” said Dr. Carly Duff, veterinary resident at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “The tick attaches to its host, and then as the tick is feeding, spirochete bacteria migrate onto the host. As the tick feeds for a longer period of time and becomes engorged, there is greater risk of infection.”

Clinical signs in canine patients may include fever, enlarged lymph nodes, a lack of appetite, and lethargy. Others may develop acute lameness as a result of joint inflammation, which lasts for a few days before returning days later, not necessarily in the same leg. This is known as “shifting-leg lameness.” More serious complications can include kidney damage and heart or central nervous system abnormalities in rare cases.

Fortunately, your dog’s disease does not put you or your family at risk. “Dogs do not appear to be a source for infection in humans,” Dr. Duff said, “because they do not excrete infectious organisms in their bodily fluids to any appreciable extent.

In order to most accurately diagnose Lyme disease, it is important that you provide your veterinarian with a thorough description of your dogs’ symptoms and a history of their health and activities. With this knowledge, your veterinarian will be able to better determine the affected organs and method of treatment.

Diagnostic tests may include a blood test, urinalysis, and/or a draw of fluid from the affected joints. Your veterinarian will use these tests to look for the presence of bacteria and parasites in the bloodstream.

Fortunately, Lyme disease is treatable. However, there is possible risk of recurrence of the disease.

“Doxycycline may be prescribed for 30 days, and dogs with Lyme disease should respond within one to two days,” said Dr. Duff. “Other drugs, such as amoxicillin and ceftriaxone have also been used.”

As far as prevention goes, limiting tick exposure by using tick repellents and avoiding frequent exposure to heavy tick-infested areas is the most effective. Controlling the deer population also has a direct impact on limiting the tick population.  Additionally, there are canine vaccines available to prevent Lyme disease, but you should consult with your veterinarian about whether this is the right option for your dog.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

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