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Lyme Disease

Veterinarian Reviewed on July 14, 2009 by Dr. Janice Huntingford


Lyme disease is a clinical disorder affecting both cats and dogs. Detected in humans in 1975 at Lyme, Connecticut, Lyme Disease ticks are found in certain regions of the United States: NE states, Upper Mississippi region, California and certain areas of the south. Carriers of Lyme Disease are ticks, either Ixodes or Deer ticks. Bacteria feed on small mammals, such as a white-footed mouse. As ticks feed on mammals, they carry the bacteria to victims that include felines and canines.

The bacterium involved is Borrelia burgdorferi. The tick bites the victim and passes this spirochete into the animal’s bloodstream. The undetected tick stays attached to the animal’s skin for at least one to two days and then the bacteria is transmitted.

Lyme disease causes problems in various parts of the dog’s body: heart, kidneys and joints. Puppies are at a higher risk of contracting this disorder. Although symptoms may be multi-systemic, many pets show no symptoms.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of Lyme Disease may include high fever (102°F), loss of appetite, swollen lymph nodes, and lameness. Reluctance to move or a shifting from one leg to another are other signs. Perhaps less than five percent of canines in an endemic area exhibit clinical signs. This disease may be multi-systemic. Signs may include myocarditis, inflammatory joint disease, kidney disease, glomerulonephritis, or in rare cases, neurologic disease.

Lyme Disease has three stages of development. The first stage involves an expanding rash occurring three to thirty days after the bite. One or more rash sites may appear. Flu symptoms may develop. The second stage indicates complications or disorders of the heart or nervous system. Varying degrees of blockage of the heart muscle may be present. The nervous system may indicate signs of meningitis, encephalitis, facial paralysis, or Bell’s Palsy. Pets may suffer pain in joints, tendons, muscles and bones. The third stage can occur months to years later. Arthritis, enlarged knee joints and eroding cartilage and bone may be evident.

Diagnosis includes various tests: blood test, Western Blot Test, joint fluid analysis. The blood test (IFA or ELISA) may indicate exposure to Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. The Western Blot Test can identify Lyme Disease antibodies and confirm the blood test results. The joint fluid analysis can exclude other causes of joint inflammation. X-rays can show swollen or lame joints. Additional tests may include a complete blood count and a urinalysis to evaluate the health of the kidneys and bladder.


Treatment is individualized, taking into account the severity and other factors. In other cases, a pet receives no treatment, but continues follow-up visits to the veterinarian. Antibiotics can provide clinical recovery in twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Doxycyline may be administered for three to four weeks. A vaccine may benefit pets in an area at a high risk. Removing the tick attached to the dog’s body will help. Tweezers can grasp the tick and pull backward. Without touching the tick, the owner should keep it in rubbing alchohol and bring it to the veterinarian.

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Read also: Toxoplasmosis and Pregnancy
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Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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