When pet parents see their pups hobbling around, they often believe arthritis is to blame. What many don’t know is that joint pain is associated with a slew of other canine diseases, most notably Lyme disease.
If your dog’s joints are in pain, there could potentially be a life-threatening illness beneath the surface. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with Lyme disease and how it affects dogs.
The cause of Lyme disease in dogs
Lyme disease occurs when a dog is infected with a type of bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. Ticks carry this bacterial strain, which is one of the most common tick-borne illnesses. The bacteria is transmitted to dogs and people when an infected tick latches on and bites the skin. Borrelia burgdorferi enters the bloodstream and travels to various parts of the body.
Ticks are found in tall grass, thick brush and woods. They sit on the tips of grass and leaves, waiting for humans and dogs to brush past. When a dog comes by, they quickly crawl onto the fur and find a place to bite. The tricky thing about ticks is that they can easily go undetected unless pet parents actively search for them.
Possible signs of Lyme disease
Some dogs exhibit symptoms of Lyme disease, but many do not. These symptoms are common among countless other diseases, so pet parents should always consult a vet for proper diagnosis before attempting to treat their dogs.
The following symptoms are linked to Lyme disease:
- Painful, swollen joints
- Lameness in one or more leg
- Loss of appetite
In rare cases, these symptoms can worsen into kidney failure. Lyme nephritis, a more serious form of Lyme disease, develops when antibodies in the blood clog up the kidney’s filtration system. This can lead to irreversible kidney damage, so bring your dog to the vet as soon as you suspect the presence of Lyme disease.
Why Lyme disease is hard to detect
Dogs can have Lyme disease for weeks or possibly even months before they show symptoms. Your vet can conduct a blood test, but the results may come back as a false negative if the test is done shortly after the dog becomes infected. Blood samples can take up to nine weeks before they test positive for Lyme disease.
The reason why vets can’t detect Lyme disease early on is because antibodies don’t appear in the bloodstream until three to five weeks after the initial tick bite. Blood tests look for antibodies that protect against the C6 protein, which is associated with Lyme disease. Many pet parents don’t know about the presence of Lyme disease until their dog gets tested because these antibodies can circulate in the bloodstream long before symptoms arise.
How to protect dogs from Lyme disease
Preventing Lyme disease is a lot easier than detecting it. With a few simple steps, pet owners can protect their dogs from pesky ticks and enjoy the great outdoors without the fear of Lyme disease. Here are some tips to consider.
- Check your dog for ticks: Inspect the dog’s fur for ticks after walking near tall grass or in heavily wooded areas. Key areas to inspect include the lips, eyes, ears, anus, paws and in between toes. You won’t find ticks most of the time, but this is still a habit worth incorporating into your dog’s routine. Regular inspections can reduce the chances of your dog contracting Lyme disease.
- Remove ticks right away: If you do happen to find a tick, remove it from the dog’s skin as soon as possible. Luckily, ticks don’t release Borrelia burgdorferi into the bloodstream until 24 to 48 hours after they’ve latched onto the skin. Finding and removing ticks right away is key to protecting your dog from Lyme disease. To remove the tick, grab its head with a pair of tweezers and gently pull until the tick releases its grip. You may want to ask your vet about testing the tick for bacteria, just in case.
- Ask your vet about tick control: The most reliable way to prevent Lyme disease is to put your dog on a year-round flea and tick treatment plan. Your vet can recommend a plan that’s best suited for your dog. You can also ask about tick vaccinations, although some dogs may not qualify based on their medical history and current health condition.
Ticks are pesky critters that can hurt dogs without pet parents realizing it. Owners who understand how to look for ticks have a better chance of saving their dogs from Lyme disease. The disease almost always has a good prognosis, and many dogs will never show signs at all. But that’s not a risk pet parents should be willing to take!