Published on April 2, 2015
In the early 1970s, a cluster of human arthritis cases in Lyme, Connecticut, spurred discovery of the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, and the role of ticks in spreading it. In Virginia, the carrier for the Lyme bacteria is the black-legged tick (commonly known as the deer tick). An infected deer tick attaches to a person or dog and transmits the bacteria in its saliva. The bacteria can be carried by larval ticks who generally feed on mice and other small rodents or by adult ticks who are more apt to attach to larger hosts like deer. Both stages of tick can bite people or dogs. Once infected, most people will develop a rash and mild flu-like symptoms. This may be followed by joint pain, and sometimes nerve dysfunction or heart arrhythmias. Many of those infected will experience chronic recurrences of arthritic pain, especially when not properly diagnosed and treated initially. A small percentage may suffer ongoing neurologic problems.
Dogs, too, can be infected by Lyme carrying ticks. Unlike people, the vast majority of dogs who are exposed to B.bergdorferi do not become clinically ill. They are thought to carry the bacteria uneventfully without ever showing clinical signs, their immune system effectively keeping the bacteria in check. Once exposed to the Lyme bacteria, however, even asymptomatic dogs will test positive for the disease. Veterinarians are most likely to pick up a positive result on a well pet’s annual heartworm and tick titer test, which tests for heartworms, Lyme disease and two other tick borne diseases, Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis. If a dog does become ill, it may be months after the original exposure. Sick dogs become painful in one or more joints and may run a fever . In general, they respond very promptly to antibiotics. All this sounds very good for dogs and Lyme disease, but unfortunately a very small number of infected dogs, most of whom never show other symptoms, will develop chronic kidney disease, and eventually die from kidney failure. For this reason we recommend that ALL dogs who test positive for Lyme disease be screened routinely for abnormal protein in their urine, one of the first symptoms of developing kidney disease.