Last fall, I moved to the tri-state area, a zone notorious for deer ticks. But recently, I learned the hard way that dogs can get Lyme disease too. My dog Moose had blood work during a routine health exam, and the test came up positive. So I talked with a veterinarian to learn more about how Lyme disease affects canines, prevention methods and treatment options.
Charlotte-based veterinarian Joy Fine explained to me that “Lyme disease — Borrelia burgodorferi — is caused by an intracellular parasite. It’s transmitted to dogs through the bite of the Black-Legged Tick (deer tick) or the Western Black-Legged Tick. As the intracellular parasite replicates inside the dog’s body, the immune system responds, causing signs of illness.”
But Moose had displayed no unusual symptoms at all, I told Joy. He had even happily jogged three miles with me the night before his diagnosis. She shared that “these symptoms can be nonspecific… And a veterinarian can diagnose your dog by running a test using a very small amount of blood.”
Dogs that receive a positive Lyme disease response are generally given an antibiotic called Doxycycline. “This kills most of the Borrelia parasite, but this will not stop the body’s immune response which is making your dog ill,” says Joy. “Your dog’s doctor may need to use an immunosuppressive drug to stop the symptoms of this disease… In severe cases, a dog’s immune system may attack his or her own blood cells; these cases may need a transfusion of blood products.”
In Moose’s case, he was successfully treated with an oral solid medication, but we certainly learned a lesson in disease prevention. “Use an effective tick control product,” Joy advises dog owners. “In Lyme disease endemic areas, your veterinarian may recommend a Lyme disease vaccine. As no vaccine and no tick control product are 100% effective, using a combination of the vaccine and tick control will greatly decrease your dog’s chances of becoming ill with Lyme disease.”