Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lyme Disease in Dogs

When I adopted Barley in January 2011, I knew about Frontline for preventing fleas and ticks; after all, I'd had a dog in my life since I was two years old, but my mom had always taken care of that kind of stuff with our family dogs, so I didn't know all of the rules.

Of course, the vet told me that I should reapply Frontline every month, but it was unclear to me if I needed to apply it even in winter months. I didn't apply it in the coldest months, but my first winter was relatively mild and even though we had several heavy snows, we also had several days in the 40s and one or two in the 50s. Little did I know that ticks can still be a real threat even with temperatures as low as 45 degrees.

I took Barley in to the vet for her annual check up and vaccinations on December 13, 2011. We did the simple test to check for lyme disease and heartworm among other things. We went through the regular exam, got the vaccinations, and waited for the simple test results.

I was shocked when the results came back as positive for Lyme Disease. Barley was acting completely normal (although we'd only been together for a little less than a year, so I was still learning what "normal" meant for Barley). I had never found a tick on her. There was no indication that there was anything wrong with her.

We use the word normal very loosely around here.

The vet asked me if I had noticed any of the symptoms of Lyme Disease in Barley. Often, dogs with Lyme experience lameness, swollen joints, loss of appetite, or fever. I had not. She was going 100 miles a minute like usual. Her joints were fine, which the vet confirmed, and she was eating anything and everything she could get her mouth on. Many dogs don't exhibit any symptoms and Barley fit in that category.

Our vet said that since Barley didn't seem to be bothered by it, we didn't have to do the test to determine the level of infection, but that she did recommend it. With all of the vaccinations and other parts of the exam, our vet bill was already pushing $200 for the day--and we had been hemorrhaging money with Soth's FLUTD bills for the last 9 months. It was right before Christmas and we were heading out of town the next day for the rest of the month. I declined further testing.  At first.

I got to my parents' house and my hypochondria kicked in. I started panicking and regretting not getting the test. I called the vet and made an appointment for after we got back home. The first appointment we could get that worked with my back to school schedule was near the end of January.

In late January 2012, we did a comprehensive blood exam to test the C6 antibodies. The higher the number, the greater the infection.  If the levels of antibodies are above 30, treatment is recommended. Barley's results came back a few days later and her C6 antibody levels were 125, so we started a round of doxycycline immediately. We did two weeks of the antibiotics and then we had to wait. The bacteria needs time to work its way out of the dog's system after treatment, so we had to wait for six months before retesting.

Neither one of us is crazy about waiting--whether it's waiting for the ok to eat snacks or waiting for test results.
When the follow up test is completed, the treatment is considered a success if the antibody levels are below 30 or have been reduced by 50%. That meant we were hoping for results below 62. The results came back and they were higher than the first test at 155. Sometimes, the first round of treatment doesn't work, but this could also have indicated she'd been infected by another tick. We treated with more doxycycline and scheduled another follow up test for six months later. When those results came in, they were around 78, which was about 50%, so we were moving in the right direction even though the results were much higher than 30. We counted the treatment as a success and I was told to watch Barley and call with concerns.

Throughout the experience, as I looked back on the time frames surrounding the higher levels, I realized that Barley hadn't exhibited the traditional symptoms, but she had been a little more obstinate than usual. There had been some refusal to do certain obstacles in agility class (not out of pain, but just out of lack of focus) and refusal to listen to commands on walks; there'd also been some slight klutziness, like the occasional tripping on walks, but klutzy is Barley's middle name (I mean, Barley sometimes overshoots jumping on the bed and hits the wall on the other side and regularly rolls out of bed!) and we hadn't been training for very long, so I hadn't picked up on those clues immediately.

Things were great for a few months, but all of the sudden she started getting obstinate again and tripping a little bit. I called the vet. In January 2013, we had to do the Lyme Quant C6 test again to reevaluate Barley's antibiody levels. This test at my vet costs almost $100 and we'd already done it three times. Lo and behold, the antibody levels were back up in the 90s. We got another round of antibiotics, which helped lower the levels--still not to below 30, but another successful treatment.

Where We're At Now
When we went to our annual check up this year in January, the simple test still showed Lyme, but our vet said that some dogs that have Lyme once test positive on that test for life. We decided that since Barley had been symptom free for a year, the best course is to just watch her and to do tests every year to make sure that her kidneys are functioning properly because Lyme Disease can lead to kidney failure. We'll do our first test for that in December when it's time to get her rabies vaccination. As of now, we're considering treatment a success and since the first results in December 2011, I have made sure that she gets every single Frontline treatment--even if the temperatures don't get above freezing.

Our vet is wonderful about helping me make informed decisions about my pet's health as my post on Soth's FLUTD earlier this month illustrated, so I know that she never would have suggested putting off the original test if she thought Barley was in danger. However, if I could change anything about the treatment we did, I would have done the test immediately--not because we had any negative experiences, there definitely was no harm in delaying the test a month, but I am a bit of a hypochondriac and delaying the test caused me several extra weeks of anxiety.

*Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian and have no medical training. The ideas shared in the blog are my own experiences with my dog's challenges with Lyme Disease. Consult your veterinarian before beginning treatment plans with your own pets.*

Read all of the posts in the round robin here.
We're participating in the Caring for Critters round robin hosted by Heart Like a Dog. Tune in to Go Pet Friendly's post tomorrow for the next installment of the round robin.

Please share with anyone you know who has a dog affected by lyme disease.


  1. Thank you for sharing Barley's story in the Round Robin! Lyme disease is so scary! While the bigger ticks are now beginning to carry the disease (or so I've heard) it's the tiny ticks that are the real culprits and they are hard to find!!

    I use a topical spray on my dogs and when we hike, will hose them off and brush them when we get home, it seems to help.

    I'm glad your vet was so knowledgeable about the disease and could help you make informed decisions, working in partnership is key.

    1. Our vet is so wonderful. We spent a lot of time with her the first year I had Barley! I'm surprised she doesn't turn off the lights, shut the blinds, and lock the doors when I pull into the parking lot ;)

    2. I sometimes feel my vet should do the same for me. LOL

  2. I'm starting the flea and tick pill next month! I'm hoping it will be easier to remember.

    1. I have a reminder set in my phone--and since it's linked to the computer and the iPad, I have all three devices squawking at me when it's time to treat :)

  3. Our dogs get vaccinated yearly for Lyme disease, other than our beagle who doesn't tolerate vaccines well. She is small and with her short hair easy to check for ticks daily (sometimes twice daily). We also treat our yard all naturally to keep fleas and ticks out of the yard.
    I've known humans with Lyme and it can be a nightmare for them. I'm just glad for you that Barley hasn't suffered any serious symptoms with it, and it sounds like you and your vet have a great plan for keeping it in check.
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

    1. I don't know how I missed this! Our vet is so patient with me and does such a good job explaining things. I don't think vaccinations for it were common in our area when I got Barley, so I didn't even realize that was an option until after she was already infected.

  4. Summer can be a great time to spend outdoors with your dog. Being cooped up all winter may have put a few pounds on him, so getting him out and about can certainly make a difference. Some well-needed sunshine, exercise and fresh air will definitely do him a lot of good. See more