Can Lyme Disease Come Back in Dogs?

by Quentin Coleman
    Deer ticks are the most common vector of Lyme disease in the United States.

    Deer ticks are the most common vector of Lyme disease in the United States.

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    One tick bite can change your pet's life forever. As carriers of the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, these tiny arachnids can spread Lyme disease to canines and people alike. While canine infections usually are resolved with simple medical treatment, there still is a possibility of a resurgent infection in your pet.

    Dogs are more resistant to Lyme disease than humans. Most dogs in high-risk regions, like New England and the mid-Atlantic states, are exposed to the bacteria, but only a fraction develop an active infection during their lifetime. Infected canines may show signs of illness within weeks, but some don't develop visible symptoms for several months. This makes prompt detection and treatment difficult, as you may not notice any strange behavior from your furry friend until the infection is fully underway. Joint pain, lameness and other symptoms may emerge and fade periodically. While some dogs recover from active infections spontaneously, the subsiding of symptoms does not necessarily mean your dog's infection is gone.

    Some studies suggest that prompt treatment reduces the chances of a recurring infection of Lyme disease. Declining health and immune system function also may allow latent bacteria to produce fresh symptoms during the months or years after the initial infection. Chronic Lyme is a serious condition in humans. Fortunately, most relapsing infections in canines respond to antibiotic treatment, according to Companion Animal Parasite Council. Standard symptoms of a recurring infection include depressed energy levels, diminished appetite and joint pain. Blood tests following treatment may offer your vet some insight on the scope of your dog's recovery, but a relapse in symptoms is the only way to confirm if your dog has a chronic infection or not.

    Some diseases only strike once, leaving survivors immune to the pathogen in the future. This is not the case with Lyme disease. Even if your pet recovers from the infection, the antibodies produced by his immune system diminish over time. Current vaccines only protect against a certain strain of the bacteria, and are not foolproof in reducing the risk of an active infection, according to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Your dog's Lyme disease can resurface in the form of a new infection, which is why owners in high-risk areas should take measures to keep parasites off of their pets.

    While most dogs respond to antibiotic treatment and make a full recovery from Lyme disease once diagnosed by a veterinarian, some canines suffer from repeated episodes of infection throughout their lives. Chronic infections are rare in dogs and still are not fully understood by researchers. Remnants of the Lyme bacteria linger inside of the body after treatment. Some researchers suggest that the bacteria cannot be removed completely with treatment, while other scientists believe that a complete cure is possible, according to VCA Animal Hospitals.

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    About the Author

    Quentin Coleman has written for several news publications as well as the University of Delaware's public relations department. He also spent more than 10 years working with a local animal shelter to help nurse kittens, treat sick cats and domesticate feral animals. Coleman graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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