resourcesLyme disease is one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases in the world. It is caused by a spirochete (bacteria) species of the Borrelia burgdorferi group. Dominant clinical feature in dogs is recurrent lameness due to inflammation of the joints. There may also be a lack of appetite and depression. More serious complications include damage to the kidney, and rarely heart or nervous system disease.

Kidney disease appears to be more prevalent in Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and Bernese Mountain dogs. Experimentally, young dogs appear to be more susceptible to Lyme disease than adult dogs. Transmission of the disease has been reported in dogs throughout the United States and Europe, but is most prevalent in the upper Midwestern states, the Atlantic seaboard, and the Pacific coastal states.

Symptoms and Types

Many dogs with Lyme disease have recurrent lameness of the limbs due to inflammation of the joints. Others, meanwhile, may develop acute lameness, which lasts for only three to four days but recurs days to weeks later, with lameness in the same leg, or in other legs. Better known as “shifting-leg lameness,” this condition is characterized by lameness in one leg, with a return to normal function, and another leg is then involved; one or more joints may be swollen and warm; a pain response is elicited by feeling the joint; responds well to antibiotic treatment.

Some dogs may also develop kidney problems. If left untreated, it may lead to glomerulonephritis, which causes inflammation and accompanying dysfunction of the kidney’s glomeruli (essentially, a blood filter). Eventually, total kidney failure sets in and the dog begins to exhibit such signs as vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, weight loss, increased urination and thirst, fluid buildup in the abdomen and fluid buildup in the tissues, especially the legs and under the skin.

Other symptoms associated with Lyme disease include:

Stiff walk with an arched back
Sensitive to touch
Difficulty breathing
Fever, lack of appetite, and depression may accompany inflammation of the joints
Superficial lymph nodes close to the site of the infecting tick bite may be swollen
Heart abnormalities are reported, but rare; they include complete heart block
Nervous system complications (rare)