Long-Term Lyme Disease Symptoms in Dogs – Did Your Vet Miss Something?

by lmatthews on April 5, 2013

lyme disease in dogs dog rolling in grass

Have you checked your dog for ticks after they've been rolling in the grass?

It can be difficult to spot symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs because, unlike humans, they’re unable to verbalize their suffering and advocate for themselves. Without performing regular tick checks it may be weeks, if not months before you realize that your dog has been infected with Borrelia, meaning that there can be significant damage already done by the time Lyme disease treatment starts.

Any sudden lameness, behavioral changes, or signs of acute kidney failure should be immediately investigated as a dog with untreated Lyme disease can quickly go downhill, but what can you do when the usual Lyme disease treatments for dogs don’t seem to be working?

Is it really Lyme disease or has your vet diagnosed your pooch prematurely?

Symptoms of Lyme Borreliosis in Dogs

Lyme disease in dogs may result in acute flu-like symptoms, fatigue and joint pain a couple of weeks after being bitten by a tick. These symptoms often disappear quickly and so dogs and their human companions may simply dismiss them as the result of a strenuous hike or having eaten something they shouldn’t. Meanwhile, the Borrelia from that tick bite are working away at damaging the dog’s joints, heart, kidneys or central nervous system and the dog, according to survival instincts, will hide symptoms until they are too much to bear. At this point it can be extremely distressing as nothing seems to work to relieve their suffering and an animal that appeared healthy just days before will develop renal failure, leading to a recommendation that they be put down.

Untreated Lyme Disease Complications in Dogs

The rapidity with which a dog’s health can go downhill after months or even years of untreated Lyme disease is quite astonishing and documented over and over again in heartbreaking accounts on pet forums and sites across the internet. Many shelter dogs are also likely to be suffering from undiagnosed Lyme disease, resulting in behavioural problems that prevent them being adopted and, inevitably, lead to their premature deaths. The Lyme arthritis and joint pain that comes from infection with Borrelia can make dogs afraid to be handled and cause snapping, growling, biting and other actions that, without knowing that they are physically pained and defensive, are interpreted as being a sign of an aggressive dog. Unsurprisingly, shelters have little money to be routinely testing all dogs for infectious diseases and it is simply more cost-effective to euthanize a ‘problem’ dog rather than pay for diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease.

Dogs displaying any of the following symptoms and who live in an area known to be endemic for Lyme disease may be infected and a diagnosis of canine Lyme borreliosis should be considered by a veterinarian even if the dog has been vaccinated against the disease in previous years:


  • Sudden lameness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive thirst and/or dark, smelly urine
  • Odd behavior, including aggression, anxiety and fearfulness
  • Reluctance to be handled
  • Chewing of the joints (a sign of pain)
  • Breathlessness/loss of stamina
  • Loss of interest in playing/getting out of bed

Does My Dog Really Have Lyme?

Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-borne diseases in the world but it is not the only one and it is not the only cause of symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs. Lyme is called the ‘great mimic’ precisely because it shared so many symptoms with other illnesses so it is never straightforward to simply diagnose a dog with Lyme disease without blood tests and a thorough medical history. Dogs that have been vaccinated against Lyme disease in the past may still have high titers showing antibodies to Borrelia but this could indicate successful vaccination or a current or recent infection, making diagnosis tricky. Symptoms may come and go as the dog’s general health changes, especially where they acquire an additional infection, suffer a specific injury or are experiencing food sensitivities that raise levels of systemic inflammation. In some dogs, symptoms of Lyme disease may not be Lyme at all and pursuing treatment as if they were could do more harm than good.

Read on to find out what else could be responsible for Lyme Disease symptoms in dogs.

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