Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection spread by ticks. It is the major worry when dogs pick up ticks on a walk. Lyme Disease can affect humans but it is only transferred from one animal to another by an infected tick so you can’t get the disease directly from your dog. Just because your dog picks up a tick, doesn't mean it will get Lyme Disease, it has to be a tick carrying the bacteria responsible for the disease.
Ticks are members of the Arachnid family; they latch onto hosts and take a blood meal then drop off when full. Ticks are most active from March to September and tend to attach around the head and neck of dogs. You should make a thorough check of your dog following a walk and any ticks should be removed. Rapid removal can prevent the spread of Lyme Disease as the ticks are removed before the bacteria can enter the dog. If you walk in areas where there is known to be a high tick population (where deer and sheep graze for example) then a preventative tick preparation is a good idea. There are different types available from topical spot on applications, impregnated collars or oral medications. Your vet can advise you on the most suitable.
The bacteria responsible for Lyme Disease are called Borrelia and they are more likely to infect a dog from a tick carrier if the tick is attached for longer than 18 hours, hence the importance of removing ticks as quickly as possible. It is also crucial that ticks are removed in their entirety as any mouthparts left in can increase the risk of transfer of bacteria into the bloodstream.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease vary considerably. Initially, all you may see is a localised skin infection around the tick bite. If you detect this then see your vet straight away so antibiotics can be administered. As the disease progresses, the bacteria spreads via the bloodstream resulting in rashes or infections anywhere on the body. This can occur days or weeks after the initial bite. Left untreated the symptoms progress to a shifting lameness, painful hot joints, fever, poor appetite, enlarged lymph nodes, panting, stiffness and general lethargy. Not all dogs will display all the symptoms.
Lyme Disease is diagnosed with a positive blood test for antibodies to the disease in conjunction with clinical signs. Detection of the actual organism can be difficult. Treatment is with an appropriate antibiotic for 1 to several weeks depending on the severity of infection.
Lyme Disease can be fully cured and dogs with a mild infection return to normal. In more serious cases, there can be long term damage to the joints or kidneys which leads to ongoing problems despite eradicating the bacteria. Left untreated, Lyme Disease will be fatal as the internal organs will gradually shut down