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Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs: Recognizing the Early Signs of Lyme Disease in Dogs & First Symptoms

Whether you're a dog owner, vet assistant, or animal shelter volunteer, you will probably come across dogs infected by Lyme disease at some point. Lyme disease affects both humans and animals and can be a serious infection. At some point in their lives,  many dogs, cats, cows, and other animals will contract the disease.  

As a pet owner, it is important to be able to recognize this illness and treat your animal as soon as possible. Lyme disease is a widespread infection that can often be mistaken for another dog disease, and without proper information, your best friend's health is in serious jeopardy.

This article covers how dogs get Lyme disease, the symptoms of the illness, and how to treat it. We will also share some tips on how to prevent Lyme disease in dogs.

Checking a dogs paw for ticksWhere Lyme Disease Comes From and Signs That Your Dog Might Have It

This infectious condition of the blood vessels can affect almost any species of mammal, although it is most common in dogs. Lyme disease is a condition caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. In humans, symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash.

Lyme disease cannot penetrate the skin, so your dog will become infected after contact with a tick carrying Borrelia burgdorferi, the pathogens that cause Lyme disease. Each year,an estimated 30,000 cases are reported to the Center for Disease Control, though the actual number of infected people is thought to be much higher.

While Lyme disease can be debilitating in humans and animals, it’s also highly treatable. The sooner you can spot the symptoms of Lyme disease in your dog, the better chance you have of getting them back on their feet quickly. If left untreated, Lyme disease can wreak havoc on your dog’s body and cause irreparable organ damage.

Deer tick on a leafWhere Does Lyme Disease Come From?

Lyme disease comes from infected ticks, usually latched on to deer and other wildlife. Usually, Lyme disease is founded in wooded areas like the Pacific Coast, Northeast, or the Midwest, but it can be found in almostevery state in the nation due to changing deer populations, bird migrations, and environmental factors like deforestation.

The only way to contract Lyme disease is from an infected tick bite, in most cases, it's the deer tick (also known as the black-legged tick), which is found in wooded areas and fields where deer live. Ticks can also be found near bird feeders in urban areas. Once contracted, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease can invade organs like the kidneys.

Dogs get it when bitten by infected ticks as well which can lead to joint swelling and other complications. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on physical examination findings and supporting blood work but there are several signs that your dog could be suffering from Lyme disease.

The 7 Telltale Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs

1.  The first symptom of Lyme disease in dogs is often loss of appetite, which may be accompanied by lethargy or shaking. Dogs with Lyme disease may stop eating because they feel ill and have generally reduced energy levels. These symptoms may come and go, but if they persist for over a week, or if it happens suddenly and without warning, make sure to take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. It's a sign that an infection has become serious.

2. Fever isone of the most common symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs, it's also one of the first things a vet will check for. A fever over 103 degrees Fahrenheit is cause for concern, but keep in mind that not all dogs with a fever have Lyme disease. Other illnesses can cause fevers too, so get tested for both before coming to any conclusions about what may be wrong with your dog.

3. The most common symptom of Lyme disease in both humans and dogs is lameness or joint pain, accompanied by swelling or soreness on the affected limb. This is because the bacteria enters the body through the bloodstream and makes its way to the joints, where it causes inflammation and pain. Symptoms usually only appear in one or two limbs at first, often switching between front and back legs.

4. General discomfort or malaise is a common Lyme disease symptom. If you notice your dogs acting more lethargic, and look uncomfortable when they would normally be happy, call your veterinarian.

5. General stiffness, like general discomfort, is one of the symptoms you need to notice in your pet. If you think your dog is less active or is not moving like they normally do, then chances are they are experiencing stiffness which could be a symptom of Lyme disease.

6.  Like the last two symptoms, it’s up to you to gauge how your dogs are feeling. If you notice your pups developing a sensitivity to touch, this is more likely than not a warning sign. If your dog is acting differently, you should speak with your veterinarian about Lyme disease.

7.  If your dog has difficulty breathing, you should call a veterinarian immediately. This can be one of the most severe symptoms associated with Lyme disease. However, this is not the only ailment that causes heavy breathing. If this is happening, it is a veterinary medical emergency.

Two dogs running through a fieldHow To Prevent and Treat Lyme Disease In Dogs: Recognizing The First Symptoms

Once a diagnosis is confirmed, your dog will be put on an aggressive course of antibiotics to kill the bacteria and prevent further complications. In the most severe cases, untreated Lyme disease can cause kidney damage.

Treatment for canine Lyme disease usually lasts from two weeks to two months depending on how far along the infection progressed before treatment began. Sometimes reinfection can occur, if this happens see your vet immediately to restart treatment. You may also be given medication for pain relief if your dog is experiencing joint or muscle soreness or stiffness. Be sure to keep your dog active during the recovery period, and keep an eye on its health and mood.

To prevent Lyme disease, be sure to check and comb your dog's fur after walking through thick brush or tall grasses. If you spot a tick, you can remove it yourself, but it can be a difficult endeavor. If you find a tick on your dog, we recommend you consult your veterinarian. Lyme disease is not transferrable from dogs to humans, but you don't want to bring an infected tick into your household because it can pose a risk to everyone else in the home.

It's worth noting that dogs may not display immediate symptoms of Lyme disease after a tick bite. In fact, signs of Lyme disease in dogs can take 2-5 months to appear. This makes regular check-ups and tick prevention measures even more critical.

Additionally, heart and neurological problems such as behavior changes, seizures, or paralysis can also occur in severe cases of Lyme disease in dogs. These symptoms may not be as common as joint pain or fever, but they are serious and need immediate veterinary attention. If you observe any unusual behavior or physical changes in your dog, don't hesitate to consult with a vet.

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