Revealed: An Overview of The Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

Lyme disease is, undoubtedly, one of the most common tick-borne diseases in the world. It is attributed to a spirochete (bacteria) species with some of the most dominant symptoms of lyme disease in dogs being recurrent lameness due to inflamed joints. There may also be depression and a lack of appetite. More serious complications include kidney damage, and rarely, nervous system or heart disease.
Damage to the kidneys appears to be more prevalent in Bernese Mountain dogs, golden retrievers, and Labrador retrievers. Experimentally, however, younger dogs appear to be more susceptible to the disease than adult dogs. And while transmission of lyme disease has been reported in dogs throughout the continental U.S. and Europe, it is more prevalent in Pacific coastal states, the Atlantic seaboard, and in upper Midwestern states.


Most dogs afflicted with lyme disease experience recurrent lameness owing to inflammation of the joints. Others tend to develop acute lameness which lasts anywhere between three and four days but which recurs days to weeks later, with the attendant lameness in the same leg, or it may shift to other legs. Variously referred to as shifting-leg lameness’ this condition is characterized by among others one or more joints being swollen and warm; lameness in one leg which soon returns to normal function before another leg(s) is affected; and a pain response elicited upon feeling the affected leg.

Some dogs are also known to develop kidney problems which if left untreated may lead to glomerulonephritis- a condition that leads to inflammation and subsequent dysfunction of the kidney’s glomeruli (blood filter). Eventually, total kidney failure may set in and it is at this point that your dog will begin to exhibit signs such as diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, lack of appetite, fluid buildup in the tissues and abdomen (especially under the skin and legs), and increased thirst and urination.

Other symptoms of lyme disease in dogs include:

· 1. Difficulty breathing
· 2. Stiff walk characterized by an arched back
· 3. Depression, lack of appetite, and fever may accompany inflamed joints
· 4. Nervous system complications (in rare cases)
· 5. Heart abnormalities including complete heart block
· 6. Swollen lymph nodes close to the site of the infecting tick bite.

For an accurate diagnosis, you will need to provide your veterinarian with a thorough history of your dog’s health, including but not limited to possible incidents that may have precipitated the condition, and a background history of symptoms. Such information is valuable for providing clues as to which organs are affected secondarily. A complete blood profile will then be undertaken by the vet, including a complete blood count, a chemical blood profile, and a urinalysis. These tests are vital in establishing the presence of parasites, bacteria, and fungi in the bloodstream. Fluid from inflamed joints may also be drawn for analysis. Lastly, the condition of the skin near where the tick-bite occurred is also an important indicator of your dog’s health- whether the wound is still open or if there are any fragments of the tick left around the wound.


If your dog is found to have lyme disease, it should be treated as an outpatient with antibiotics unless its condition is extremely severe. Ensure that you keep your dog dry and warm and control its activity until the clinical signs improve. This should take about a month. Also, avoid pain medications unless they are recommended by your vet.


Where possible, do not allow your dog to roam in tick-infested environments where spirochete bacteria are common. Besides grooming your dog daily and removing any ticks by hand, your vet may also recommend various sot-on topical products, collars, and sprays to repel and kill ticks. Such products should only be used according to the label’s directions and under a vet’s supervision. There are also vaccines available for dogs but again, check with your vet for their suitability and availability.