Canine Lyme Disease (Lyme Borreliosis)
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted through the bite of at least four known species of ticks. Dogs usually get infected after being bitten by a very tiny tick commonly called the deer tick, or black-legged tick. Dogs are at especially high risk due to their time spent outdoors. Lyme disease in dogs has been reported in every state in the United States. However, it is more common in the northeast, upper Midwest, and parts of California. According to recent studies, the incidence of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases is increasing worldwide. Infection by Borrelia burgdorferi typically occurs within 24 – 48 hours of the bacteria transferring from tick to host. Though, it sometimes takes several weeks or months for the infection to cause clinical signs. Lyme disease in dogs can be acute, subacute, and chronic. Affected dogs may first show signs of any of these three forms of the diseases, depending on the severity of the infection.
The signs of Lyme disease in dogs can be characterized by a wide range of symptoms at various stages. The first signs of the Lyme borreliosis in dogs are relatively unspecific and include lethargy, loss of appetite and fever.
The first specific signs, in addition to unspecific symptoms at the acute (early) stage of the disease, including swollen lymph nodes, acute arthritis-like painful or swollen joints, a “shifting” lameness from one leg to another and skin rash (weeks following the tick bite).
Symptoms of sub-acute Lyme disease stage include persistent lameness, ongoing inflammatory changes in the joints, and more severe arthritis (weeks to months from an initial bite).
Untreated Lyme disease can lead to chronic Lyme disease characterized by damage to the kidneys, nervous system, and heart. Lyme disease in dogs that affects the kidneys is generally fatal. Paralysis and seizure are signs that the nervous system is affected.
The form of the disease that affects the heart is very rare.
The immune system of a dog exposed to Borrelia burgdorferi starts producing antibodies in response to the outer surface proteins on the spirochete. With Lyme disease, different types of antibodies are produced at various stages of the infection. Our serological test is very precise and detects eight different antibodies produced in infected or vaccinated dogs during different stages of the disease.
Immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibodies are developed first and can be detected very early in the majority of infected dogs (during one-two weeks of infection). It is followed by the development of Immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies that become predominant after a month of the infection.
Our canine Lyme disease monitoring profile detects eight antibodies produced in infected and vaccinated dogs during different stages of the disease including the surface lipoprotein VlsE. Infected dogs show an early strong IgG response to VlsE during the first four weeks of infection.
At the present time, when various vaccines are available for dogs, detection of the most important surface protein of Borrelia, the OspA, is essential, since it is produced mainly after vaccination. Thus, vaccination and infection titers can be discriminated by parallel or individual investigation of VlsE and OspA antibodies.