Fortunately, Lyme disease in dogs is usually treatable. Therapeutic goals are to resolve lameness and soreness, relieve fever and pain, eliminate infectious organisms from the blood stream and provide supportive care for dogs with kidney, heart, neurological or other serious complications. Affected dogs should be kept warm, dry and quiet. Their activities should be restricted until their symptoms have been resolved. In most cases, there is no need to change the dog’s diet.
Antibiotics are the treatment of choice for most dogs with Lyme disease. Oral antibiotics typically are given for at least four weeks, in strict accordance with a veterinarian’s instructions. Amoxicillin and doxycycline have proven effective at resolving symptoms of Lyme disease in many cases. Ampicillin, clavamox, cephalexin and azithromycin are also among the antibiotic options available to treat canine Lyme disease. Newer medications are always being developed, while older ones are being phased out. The exact length of time that antibiotic therapy should be administered to eliminate Borrelia burgdorferi is not known. Steroids, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), may be recommended in some cases. However, they will be used judiciously, because they can mask or sometimes even exaccerbate the symptoms of Lyme disease.
Dogs that develop kidney damage from Lyme disease may need specialized treatment, including longer courses of powerful antibiotics. They also may require hospitalization, anti-nausea medications, intravenous fluids and individualized nutritional support.
Dogs do not develop immunity to the bacteria that cause Lyme disease and can become sick again if another infected tick attaches to them for the requisite period of time. Dogs with heavy tick loads may benefit from periodic shampooing and insecticide dips. Ticks that are embedded deeply in a dog’s ear or in other hard-to-reach places probably should be removed by a veterinarian.
The selection and use of any treatment protocol should be made through consultation with the animal’s attending veterinarian. While antibiotic treatment usually eliminates the symptoms of Lyme disease and greatly improves a dog’s quality of life, antibiotics rarely completely cure this disease. In other words, most dogs with Lyme disease will remain carriers of small amounts of the infective bacteria for the rest of their lives. Fortunately, recurrence of clinical signs from an initial infection is fairly uncommon, although it occasionally does happen.
Most dogs with a sudden onset of the symptoms of Lyme disease respond quite well to antibiotics and begin recovering from their lameness and fever within 2 to 5 days. The prognosis for these dogs is good. However, their symptoms can return. If they do, it usually is several weeks to months after their first bout of symptoms has resolved. Subsequent episodes should respond equally well to treatment with oral antibiotics and should occur with decreasing frequency over time.
The prognosis for dogs that develop kidney problems from Lyme disease is guarded to poor. Unfortunately, sometimes their life expectancy is only days to weeks after their illness is diagnosed.