Lyme disease in Labradors is difficult to detect and can result in serious health problems. Apart from the United States, the disease is endemic in different parts of the world, including Australia, China, the United Kingdom, and other European countries.
Deer ticks are responsible for causing Lyme disease in Labradors and other dogs. They carry Borrelia burgdorferi, the spiral-shaped bacteria recognized as the causative agent of the disease. Lyme bacteria-carrying ticks are often found in areas dominated by thick bushes, tall grasses, and woods. Tick bites transmit the bacteria into your dog’s bloodstream allowing the disease to spread other parts of the body – causing problems in different organs and joints.
Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are at the greater risk of contracting the disease, according to a dog research published in the Veterinary Pathology. Researchers found that 24 of 49 dogs, who experienced kidney failure due to Lyme disease, belong to these two breeds. However, it must be noted that both dog breeds are popular and outdoorsy, making them more likely to catch ticks.
Lyme Disease in Labradors: The Threat From Ticks
There are two species of ticks – the Ixodes scapularis found on the East Coast and the Ixodes pacificus found on the West Coast – that can transmit Lyme disease. Both species are blacklegged and are often called deer ticks or bear ticks.
A deer tick can acquire Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria by feeding on an infected animal and later it transmits the same to the next animals it bites. Ticks on their nymph stage can also transmit the disease. However, deer ticks are slow feeders and they can only transmit the disease by latching on your Labrador for 24 to 48 hours. Research evidence shows that a dog shows symptoms of the disease 8 to 20 weeks after he is infected.
Deer ticks are mostly found in the woods and nearby areas. However, they remain the most active between October and March. Adult ticks are able to survive severely cold temperatures.
Your Labrador cannot transmit the disease directly to you.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Labradors
It is fairly common to see Lyme disease in Labradors. Typical symptoms of the disease include:
- loss of appetite
- decreased energy
- swollen joints
As the disease progresses, your Labrador may show signs of:
- kidney failure
- heart problems
- neurological issues
Lyme disease can be fatal if left untreated.
Detecting Lyme Disease in Labradors
The veterinarian checks your Labrador’s clinical signs and enquires about his health, activity, and travel history.
Currently, two types of blood test can be used to detect Lyme disease – the antibody test and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
Antibody tests detect the presence of antibodies your dog’s body specifically produced to kill the bacteria. Positive antibody test results can confirm your Labrador’s exposure to the disease and the bacteria that caused it.
However, antibody tests have their limits. The test may result in a false negative if the body is yet to produce sufficient antibodies for the test to detect or if the dog has been infected for a long time.
On the other hand, PCR test is a DNA test that detects the presence of the specific bacteria responsible for the disease. In the case of PCR for Lyme disease, the test confirms the presence Borrelia burgdorferi. False negatives may still occur in this test if the bacteria are not present in the collected blood samples and are hiding in other places, such as joints.
Lyme Disease Treatment for Labradors
It is easy to treat Lyme disease in Labradors. Treatment includes administration of the antibiotic doxycycline for several weeks. Dogs usually improve and respond to the treatment within 24 to 48 hours. Your Labrador may be re-tested every now and then. If the infection persists, prolonged medication may be needed. Supportive care and other medications may also be given to resolve existing symptoms.
Preventing Lyme Disease in Labradors
The best way to prevent Lyme disease in Labradors is to keep them away from ticks. Avoid taking or letting your Labrador run in woods or tall grass. But since Labradors cannot help but enjoy being outdoorsy, checking your pet’s fur every day for ticks may help. Using tick repellent sprays, powders, and collars can also help keep your Lab tick-free.
You may also talk to your veterinarian about Lyme disease vaccines to see if it is advisable for your Labrador.