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  • Devon James

8 Need to Know Symptoms to Recognize if Your Dog Has Lyme Disease

Updated: Jun 28, 2022

Our furry friends are not just pets, but part of our families. How we take care of them and keep them safe is paramount.

It is easier to implement prevention measures into your routine than it is to treat your dog who is sick from Lyme or any other of the tick borne diseases.

Are Dogs High Risk?

Due to their generally rambunctious and roaming nature, dogs are at high risk of encountering ticks, acquiring tick bites, and catching the diseases ticks may carry. Dogs venture more often into tick infested areas like grassy fields and areas with overgrown brush and low growing vegetation. They also pant copious amounts of carbon dioxide into the air - an element that ticks seek out - and their thick fur coats increase their chances of collecting and successfully hiding the creepy little stowaways.

How do you know your dog has Lyme?

Lyme can be tricky to diagnose in both people and dogs because it can surface with a variety of symptoms that mimic other diseases or some people/dogs will show no symptoms at all in the beginning. How one dog exhibits symptoms can be very different from how another dog reacts. We will focus on the 8 common symptoms of Lyme Disease in dogs.

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1. Generalized Stiffness

If your pet is experiencing stiffness somewhere in their body some of the signs of discomfort you may see can include:

  • Awkward gait

  • Muscle spasms

  • Reluctance to rise

  • Rigidity of the limbs

  • Unusual vocalizations

  • Unwillingness to walk or run

2. Swollen Joints

Once the Lyme bacteria have invaded, they can spread around and infect other parts of the body — including the joints. When that happens, the joints (particularly large ones like the knee) become swollen and painful.

3. Swollen Lymph Nodes

Dogs who have been infected with Lyme disease can develop swollen lymph nodes, or lymphadenopathy.

The lymph nodes located in the neck, chest, armpits, groin, and behind the knees are often the most visible and easy to observe.

Lay your dog down on their back and gently feel their groin area and armpits. If these areas feel hot and swollen, it’s likely that your dog is running a fever.

4. Loss of Appetite

Lyme bacteria can directly infect the gastrointestinal tract causing inflammation that creates digestive symptoms. If your dog refuses to eat more than two meals this can be an indicator of an underlying medical issue.

5. Fever

There are a few ways you can check to see if your dog has a fever however the best and most accurate way is by taking their temperature with a thermometer. A temperature of above 40°C (104°F) is classified as a high fever.

Tip: Check your dogs fever when they are well so you have an idea of what your dogs norm is.

If you don't have a thermometer; check their ears and paws. Dogs have a slightly higher temperature than humans, so a healthy dogs ears and paws should only be slightly warmer than your hands.

Feel their nose. If it’s wet and cold, they are fine. If it’s hot and dry, they probably have a fever. This test isn't very accurate so we don't suggest relying 100% on this method.

Check their gums; ensure that your dog is calm before checking their gums. Open the dogs mouth gently using two hands and look out for dry, warm gums that look redder than the usual pink. This can be a sign of fever.

6/7. Lethargy and Fatigue

We grouped these two together because it is difficult to differentiate these symptoms in dogs. Both result in an appearance of lack of energy and should be taken seriously.

You know your dog best and if they are exhibiting signs of periodic alarming lack of energy a visit to the vet is always a good idea.

Lethargy = loss of motivational force

Fatigue = lack of physical energy or stamina.

8. Lameness

Lameness or limping happens when your dog can't use one or more of his legs properly. This can happen gradually or suddenly and is very evident in their day to day activities.

Lyme isn’t the only disease ticks can carry and transmit to your dog. The following is a list of the other most common tick borne diseases contracted by dogs, and their associated symptoms, as provided by the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation:

Canine Ehrlichiosis, found worldwide, is the most common and one of the most dangerous tick-borne disease organisms known to infect dogs. Caused by the brown dog tick, symptoms may not surface for months after transmission, and can include fever, loss of appetite, depression, weight loss, runny eyes and nose, nose bleeds and swollen limbs.

Canine Anaplasmosis, also called dog fever or dog tick fever, is transmitted from the deer tick. Symptoms are similar to other tick diseases including fever, loss of appetite, stiff joints and lethargy, but also can include vomiting and diarrhea. In extreme cases, dogs may suffer seizures.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever comes from the American dog tick, the wood tick and the lone star tick. Symptoms include fever, stiffness, neurological problems and skin lesions. Typically the illness lasts about two weeks, but serious cases could result in death.

Canine Babesiosis is typically transmitted by the American dog tick and the brown dog tick. Causing anemia, symptoms may also include pale gums, weakness and vomiting.

Canine Bartonellosis comes from the brown dog tick. Symptoms are intermittent lameness and fever. Left untreated, this disease can result in heart or liver disease.

Canine Hepatozoonosis is thought to be transmitted by the brown dog tick and Gulf Coast ticks. Your dog can be infected if he eats one of these disease-carrying ticks. Symptoms are fever, runny eyes and nose, muscle pain and diarrhoea with the presence of blood.

Proper Treatment:

If your dog has been bitten by a tick and is showing any of the above symptoms, be sure to get them veterinarian help as soon as possible. Veterinarians often also provide screening for tick-borne diseases in dogs that are asymptomatic, which can be key to keeping a seemingly healthy dog on the right wellness path.

As with anything, preventing infection is better and more effective than treating the disease. It is better to stop something bad from happening than it is to deal with it after it has.

How to prevent Lyme and other tick borne illnesses:

It is easier to implement prevention measures into your routine than it is to treat your dog who is sick from Lyme or any other of the tick borne diseases:

  1. Use a proven, effective tick repellent. When applying topical repellent to your furry pal be sure to follow the label directions and, when applicable, spray all over the body, but not directly onto the face - instead spray the repellent into your hands then rub over the facial area, being careful to avoid the mouth, nose and eyes. If your pup is stressed or fearful, use this method for full body application.

  2. Avoid tick infested areas. Stay on the trails, avoiding areas of overgrown vegetation. This will be easier to accomplish if you keep your dog leashed.

  3. Conduct regular tick checks. It’s particularly important to check your pets whenever they come and go from the outside as they can easily transport ticks into your home, putting everyone inside at risk. Ticks will bite wherever they can, but tend to gravitate toward dark, moist areas, so be sure to closely examine foot pads, groin areas, ear folds, armpits, and snouts.

  4. Keep a health journal for your dog, including dates of any tick bites, descriptions of ticks removed, and feeding stage or size at time of removal (i.e. unfed, semi-engorged, fully engorged). This will help you and your vet connect the dots if your dog develops delayed symptoms that show up months later.

  5. Always carry a tick remover, or tick removal kit with you, to make sure you can pull off biting and embedded ticks as soon as possible.

  6. Keep any ticks you remove from your dog in the storage vial found in your tick kit so you can submit to a tick testing lab, like Geneticks, who will be able to analyse the specimen and determine which pathogens ​it carries, if any, providing incredibly valuable insight to help guide your treatment plan.

If Lyme disease is left untreated it can lead to damage in the kidneys, nervous system, and heart, so it is important to watch for symptoms related to those bodily systems as well. Cases are often missed, overlooked or misdiagnosed because of the possible extended delay in onset of symptoms, and the tendency for Lyme disease to look like so many other illnesses, as implied by its nickname “the great imitator.”

Your dog may not show signs of the disease until several months after being infected, or may be infected but asymptomatic, so keeping a good eye on your dog’s health overtime is key to knowing the cause and effect of their illness, and acquiring proper treatment.

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