As the weather begins to warm and we are all able to spend more time outside with our pets, we are not the only ones coming out of winter hibernation…fleas and ticks are coming, too! With tick exposure increasing in the warmer months, so does the potential for exposure to Lyme disease. Lyme disease is transmitted via the deer tick, Ixodes scapularis. Ticks are able to transmit Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease) to canine hosts during their feeding period (when it is attached and actively sucking blood from its host). In order to continually feed, ticks must prevent the blood flow from the host from clotting. To do this, they regurgitate enzymes to keep the blood flow smooth. It is during this regurgitation process that the Lyme spirochete is brought up and can be transmitted to the dog. This infection process requires at least 48 hours to occur. The good news for us and our canine companions, then, is if the tick can be killed within 48 hours after attaching to a host, it cannot transmit the spirochete and the disease can’t be transmitted!
If one of our dogs does get infected with Lyme disease, the clinical signs can be very similar to those seen in people. Dogs can develop fevers, lethargy, and painful swollen joints. These dogs can be so painful that they are unwilling or unable to get up and walk around normally. While these dogs are easily identified as possible Lyme disease exposure patients, the other trickier place Lyme disease can hide is in the kidneys. When the body is fighting a Lyme infection, it creates antibody complexes to attempt to clear the infection. These complexes can be deposited within the kidneys, causing damage over time. This damage, if left untreated, can cause a condition known as protein-losing glomerulonephritis. Eventually, this can lead to kidney failure for those dogs.
Diagnosing Lyme disease exposure is very easy in today’s veterinary clinic. Here at Mt. Carmel, we have an in-house antibody test that takes 10 minutes to get results. The in-house snap test detects circulating antibodies to the Lyme disease pathogens. The difficulty with this test, however, is it is not capable of detecting between an active infection or a dog that has been exposed to the disease. If a dog is positive on a Snap test and is showing clinical signs of the disease, we will begin a treatment protocol. If the dog is positive on the test but not showing clinical signs, we will typically submit a urine sample for analysis and/or a C6 specific antibody test to determine Lyme infection. Due to the propensity of Lyme disease to hide in the kidneys and cause damage, this results in blood protein levels “leaking” into the urine. A urinalysis can determine if those protein levels in the urine are increased, indicating a potential ongoing infection.