Expert Author Kay Ringelstetter

Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-borne diseases in the Northern Hemisphere and your dog could be a victim. It is caused by at least three species of spirochete bacteria belonging to the genus Borrelia. The main cause of Lyme disease in the United States is attributed to Borrelia burgdorferi senus stricto and endemic regions are found in the Pacific and Atlantic Coast states and the Midwest. Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii cause most European cases and the UK has reported that ticks causing Lyme disease in dogs is rapidly increasing.

The dominant symptom in dogs is inflammation of joints or recurrent lameness. However Lyme disease can also affect the heart, kidneys or cause neurological disorders in your dog. It is important to be aware of the wide variety of symptoms as well as the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of this debilitating disease in your pet.

* Clinical Signs and Symptoms

Many dogs with Lyme disease present with recurrent lameness because of inflammation of their joints. Others may develop an acute lameness which may last for a few days but then recur days to weeks later with lameness in the same leg or in another leg. The effected joints in your dog may be tender to the touch.

Other dogs may develop inflammation in their kidneys which could lead to total kidney failure. Symptoms may include lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, increased urination and thirst and fluid buildup in the abdomen and legs of your dog.

Other symptoms of Lyme disease may include difficulty breathing, fever or depression.

* Diagnosis

Blood and urine samples from your dog will be needed for determining if any organ systems have been affected. A complete blood count, chemistry panel and urinalysis are generally ordered along with the diagnostic test for the Lyme borrelia. Unfortunately, the specificity of this diagnostic test is not good, so your veterinarian must be aware of this and the fact that the symptoms in your dog are often a better indicator of Lyme disease than the actual blood test.

* Treatment

Antibiotics are the treatment of choice for Lyme disease in your dog. Doxycycline is often used, but your veterinarian should be knowledgeable in the current appropriate treatment, which usually lasts three to four weeks. Unfortunately, symptoms to not always completely resolve in some dogs. Even after the bacteria have been fully eradicated from your dog's system, long-term joint pain may continue in your dog.

* Prevention

Since your dog could carry ticks into your home that could also infect you or your children with Lyme disease, it is important to do all you can to prevent this from happening. If at all possible, don't allow your dog in tick-infested areas such as woods or fields where the deer population may roam. Grooming your dog daily and removing ticks by hand is the best prevention for Lyme disease.

If an attached tick is found, remove it carefully with fine tweezers. Grab the tick as closely to the skin as possible. Do not apply Vaseline, do not touch the tick with a burnt match or alcohol and do not squeeze the body of the tick while it is still attached. Any of the above actions may cause the tick to regurgitate the borrelia bacteria that live in their gut back into the skin of your dog where it is attached. Save the tick for identification by your vet by placing it in a glass or plastic vial or Ziploc bag.

The deer tick is so very tiny and often missed when grooming your dog. There are a variety of sprays, liquids and collars that are also available to help repel ticks. There is also a vaccine available, but it is best to discuss this option with your veterinarian because he is most knowledgeable about the newest options for dogs.

As a pet owner, it is important to be aware of this nasty disease and its symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options that are available today for your dog. However, prevention of Lyme disease is definitely the best course of action to ensure the health and well being of your dog.