Chronic Lyme Disease in Dogs - Effects, Prognosis & Prevention

Your dog likely loves going for walks, and you love that this helps keep them happy and healthy. However, it is important to check yourself and your dog for ticks once you get back home to reduce the risk of Lyme disease. Today, our Columbia vets talk about Lyme disease in dogs and how it can affect your pup both now and as a chronic condition.

What is Lyme disease in dogs?

Lyme disease, also referred to as Lyme borreliosis, is a bacterial illness that certain species of infected ticks can transmit to humans, dogs and other animals.

Since ticks don’t fly or jump, they make contact with their host by lurking on the tips of long grass or bush, then quickly grabbing onto your dog when he walks by. The tick then crawls onto his body to look for a place to bite.

An infected tick carries the spiral-shaped bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, then bites a dog or person, transmitting the virus through the bloodstream.

Once the bacteria has entered the bloodstream, it can reach different parts of the body and result in problems with specific areas or organs, including joints. It can also induce general illness. The disease can be transmitted after a tick has been attached to a dog for 24 to 48 hours.

Is Lyme disease contagious in dogs?

If your dog has potentially been infected with Lyme disease, you may begin to worry about whether or not Lyme disease in dogs is contagious. While you may be relieved to know that your dog cannot directly infect you with Lyme disease, there is still the danger that they may have brought the tick into the house with them. To reduce the risk and protect yourself and your family, you should always check your dog thoroughly for ticks when you return home. This is one of a few different methods of Lyme disease prevention in dogs.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs?

When it comes to Lyme disease, dogs are often asymptomatic, which means they’re able to carry the disease without showing symptoms. Some of the common signs of Lyme disease in dogs are:

  • Fever
  • Swollen joints
  • Lack of appetite and depression
  • General discomfort or malaise
  • Generalized stiffness
  • Lameness due to inflamed joints
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Difficulty breathing (a veterinary medical emergency)

If your dog is displaying symptoms of Lyme disease, contact your vet to schedule an examination. Left untreated, signs of Lyme disease in dogs can progress to kidney failure and even be fatal in severe cases. Serious neurological impacts and cardiac effects may also take place due to untreated Lyme disease.

Does Lyme disease shorten a dog's life?

Lyme disease has the potential to shorten a dog's life greatly, especially if it has begun to affect vital organs, such as the kidneys. The good news is that with early intervention and treatment, your vet can treat the symptoms of Lyme disease and help to prevent any serious complications.

Can dogs fully recover from Lyme disease?

With early detection, diagnosis and treatment, your pup can begin to feel relief from their symptoms in as little as three days.

However,  your pup will remain Lyme-positive for the rest of their life. This means that your dog may actually test positive for Lyme disease even if they aren't showing any symptoms.

One of the main concerns with chronic Lyme disease is the development of arthritis as dogs age.

Another more serious concern is that your dog may also experience kidney issues due to Lyme disease. Because this can go unnoticed until it is advanced, there may be damage that occurs before treatment can begin.

How long does Lyme disease last in dogs?

When talking about how long Lyme disease lasts in dogs, we must first discuss the different stages of infection and the treatment of the condition.

Stage 1 is early localized Lyme disease. During this stage, the bacteria is localized in one area and has not spread.
Stage 2 is early disseminated Lyme disease. At this time the bacteria is beginning to make its way around your dog's body.
Stage 3 is late disseminated Lyme disease. The bacteria has completely spread throughout the body, affecting the joints and nerves.

The amount of time it takes for a dog to recover from Lyme disease will depend on the stage, the other complications that may have arisen and the chosen treatment method.

Treatment for Lyme disease in dogs usually involves a course of antibiotics which will last four weeks or longer (the antibiotic Doxycycline is typically a first-choice option). If your pooch seems to be experiencing a lot of pain, your vet may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to help alleviate joint pain. With the proper administration of antibiotics, you should begin to see an improvement in your dog's symptoms in three to five days.

Unfortunately, antibiotics are not always successful in treating Lyme disease. There is always a danger of chronic Lyme disease. With chronic Lyme disease, your dog may experience repeat infections with symptoms and an increase in risk for developing kidney issues.

What Happens If Lyme disease goes untreated in dogs?

If left untreated, Lyme disease can affect a number of vital organs and systems in their body. The biggest concern is the effect on the kidneys. This has the potential to be fatal if not treated quickly.

The effects of Lyme disease in dogs can include:

  • Kidney failure and kidney disease
  • Cardiac issues
  • Arthritis

These symptoms will have a serious impact on your dog's health, and some are possibly life-threatening. When it comes to Lyme disease, the prognosis depends on how quickly the diagnosis and treatment of the condition occurs.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your dog is showing the symptoms of Lyme disease, contact our Columbia vets as soon as possible to schedule an examination.