Warning Signs of Untreated Lyme Disease in Dogs

September 01, 2022 in Dog

Both humans and dogs are susceptible to a bacterial illness known as Lyme disease. The illness, which is transmitted by certain species of ticks, can create a number of health complications throughout the body, especially when left undiagnosed and untreated.

Identifying the symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs can be more complicated than with humans, though, due to the different ways the illness may affect your pet's health and produce symptoms. But identifying Lyme disease is crucial to getting your dog effective treatment for this condition. Avoiding doing so may lead to rare but serious health complications that may affect your dog's quality of life or even put their life at risk. Take a few minutes to educate yourself on the common Lyme symptoms in dogs, and what you can do to treat and prevent this condition.

Warning Signs of Untreated Lyme Disease in Dogs

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs?

Lyme disease is often more challenging to identify in dogs than in humans, primarily due to the lack of a rash. While humans typically develop a characteristic "bullseye" rash around the location of the tick bite causing the infection, dogs don't develop this rash. Instead, behavioral cues are used to identify canine Lyme disease.

Those symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite and/or weight loss
  • Lameness in one or more parts of the body (this lameness can shift around to different locations, and come and go over time)
  • Stiffness or pain in one or more parts of the body
  • Swollen joints
  • Overall loss of energy

While tick bites are the cause of Lyme disease, the development of symptoms takes place much later than the initial bite. Your dog may not show symptoms of Lyme disease until two to five months after being infected. The signs of Lyme disease in dogs can also bear similarities to the symptoms of other health conditions. For this reason, it's crucial that dog owners seek out a veterinary diagnosis if they suspect their pet has canine Lyme disease.

What are some potential health complications of untreated canine Lyme disease?

Untreated Lyme disease in dogs can lead to health complications in your pet's critical organs, including permanent damage to your pet's kidneys, heart or nervous system. According to veterinary experts, kidney damage is the most common complication of untreated Lyme disease and is often fatal for dogs suffering from this complication.

In some cases, dogs may also experience nervous system disorders such as seizures or facial paralysis. The severity of these complications can vary and may not be life-threatening but could affect your pet's quality of life.

How can pet parents prevent canine Lyme disease?

Testing is required to diagnose a case of Lyme disease in dogs. Your veterinarian will use a blood test to confirm the presence of antibodies associated with the disease. Keep in mind that it takes at least four weeks for these antibodies to show up on a test. If your dog has recently suffered a tick bite, a test administered in the first four weeks won't offer any indication of whether your dog has Lyme disease or not.

Veterinarians will combine this test with their own physical evaluation of your dog when making a diagnosis. Once a positive test is confirmed, your dog's vet will likely prescribe antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria at the root of their condition, although specific treatment protocols may depend on the health of your dog.

Even if your dog has been diagnosed with Lyme disease in the past, your veterinarian may recommend vaccination to prevent additional cases of Lyme disease in the future. This vaccination is performed in two phases, with an initial vaccination and another booster administered several weeks later. It is recommended that dogs receive an annual booster to maximize the efficacy of the vaccination. Beyond a vaccine, you can take other preventative measures by giving your dog preventative tick medications, as well as checking them regularly for ticks latched onto their skin. The risk of contracting Lyme disease increases the longer a tick is attached, so prompt identification and removal will reduce the likelihood of canine Lyme disease.

When identified early and properly treated, Lyme disease typically doesn't pose a significant threat to your dog's health. Keep an eye out for the common symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs, and consult your local vet if you have any concerns that your dog may be ill. Even if your dog doesn't have this disease, they may be suffering from another underlying condition that also requires treatment.