History, diagnosis and treatment
Following is a brief overview of the pathology of canine Lyme disease. Please click on other
categories on this website for more comprehensive information about canine Lyme
Three elements must be present in nature for canine Lyme disease to exist in any area:
- The Lyme disease bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi
- Ticks that can transmit the bacteria
- Mammals, such as mice, deer, dogs and humans, to provide a blood meal for the various
life stages of ticks
In humans, dogs, and many other animals, infection with Borrelia burgdorferi results
in the pathology of Lyme disease.
History and evolution of the disease
Human Lyme disease was discovered in 1975 in Old Lyme, Connecticut and was identified in dogs
in 1984. Dr. Willy Burgdorfer, an entomologist, discovered the bacteria in 1982, two years
before Lyme disease was identified in dogs.
Although there is no national reporting system for capturing incidence of canine Lyme
disease, reviewing data for human Lyme disease is important, because it is an indication of
the potential exposure for dogs. In fact, the threat of Lyme exposure is thought to be
greater in dogs than humans.
Since human Lyme disease was discovered in 1975, the disease has increased dramatically in
incidence and geographic spread. Lyme became nationally reportable to the Public Health
Agency of Canada in 2010, and the monthly notifiable disease report can be found on their
website at www.phac-aspc.gc.ca.
Diagnosing canine Lyme disease is a combination of observing clinical signs, diagnostic
testing and understanding the dog's risk factors for contracting the disease. Ticks can
transmit more than one disease-causing pathogen at the same time and dogs may have multiple
infections, making diagnosis difficult in some dogs. Canine Lyme borreliosis and canine
anaplasmosis are both transmitted by organisms harbored by the Ixodes tick, and
some clinical signs can be similar between the two diseases.
Testing for disease is the best way to determine if the dog is infected. Discuss ELISA
testing with pet owners if you suspect the dog is infected.
Most common clinical signs
- One or more painful and/or swollen joints
- Enlarged regional lymph nodes accompanied by fever
Determining risk factors is an important part of the diagnosis of any disease, and there is
no risk factor greater than an unvaccinated dog in an endemic canine Lyme disease area.
Practitioners can develop a comprehensive protocol to identify the risk factors for canine
Lyme disease in their patients. The annual wellness exam is an ideal time to talk to clients
about canine Lyme disease risk factors.
- Vaccination history
- Geographic area
- Health status
Determining the treatment protocol for dogs that have tested positive for canine Lyme disease
is up to the practicing veterinarian and the pet owner. However, it is important that
veterinarians make the distinction between the infection and the disease. A dog that tests
positive without signs is not necessarily a sick dog. But, a positive dog with signs is a
sick dog that generally needs to be treated.
Veterinarians must develop their own treatment protocol in their clinics based on sound
information, experience and environmental risk factors.
The best treatment plan is never as effective as preventing canine Lyme disease with a
comprehensive tick-borne disease prevention program, including Lyme vaccination.
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