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Should I Vaccinate For Lyme Disease?

How likely is it that a dog will get Lyme disease?

The proportion of infected dogs that develop clinical disease is far smaller than it is for humans. Serological studies suggest that while more than 75 percent of the dog population in hyper-endemic areas may be exposed to infected ticks, only about five percent of those exposed actually develop clinical signs that might be attributable to Lyme disease. Within endemic areas, “hot spots” of tick infestation where dogs have a much greater probability of acquiring an infection are intermingled with non-infested areas where the habitat is not favorable to the vector tick. There may be age, breed, and genetic differences in the susceptibility of dogs to Lyme disease, but little is known yet about these factors.

What are the criteria for diagnosing Lyme disease?

We consider four criteria important in establishing the diagnosis of Lyme disease in dogs:

History of exposure to ticks in an endemic area.

Typical clinical signs (lameness with or without fever).

A positive antibody test.

A prompt response to antibiotic therapy.

One or two of these criteria alone are usually not sufficient to confirm a diagnosis.

Can an infected dog be treated?

Antibiotics are the treatment of choice for Lyme disease in dogs, as in humans. Several tetracyclines, such as doxycycline, and penicillin-like antibiotics, including amoxicillin and ceftriaxone, are very effective. Tetracyclines should not be given to growing dogs. Because B. burgdorferihas the tendency to persist in dogs, antibiotics should be given for three or four weeks, even though a beneficial effect can be seen after a few days of treatment. The long duration of therapy is also warranted because of the very slow multiplication rate of the organism, which takes 12 hours or more to double in number, as opposed to the minutes in which most bacteria do the same. Considering the fact that Lyme disease appears to be self-limiting, the need for a long-duration therapy may be arguable. However, there are now reports that tetracyclines may have a direct ameliorating effect on arthritis.

Dogs with recurrent episodes of Lyme disease, whether acquired from reinfestation with infected ticks or a relapse from an initial infection, are highly responsive to antibiotics given at the same doses as for a primary episode. Humans in the chronic stage of Lyme disease do not respond as favorably to antibiotics as dogs do.

Corticosteroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs are sometimes used for treatment of Lyme disease in dogs. Although the initial result may be impressive, these drugs do not have a true healing effect and can mask the diagnostic value of antibiotic treatment.

What is the prognosis for dogs with Lyme disease?

Dogs respond very well to antibiotic treatment. There may be recurrent disease, but dogs again respond well to treatment. Complete recovery can be expected in the vast majority of cases. As noted above, chronic disease, which can be devastating in humans, has rarely been seen in dogs. Furthermore, our studies have shown that dogs may recover spontaneously without antibiotic therapy.

How can the disease be prevented?

There are two approaches to preventing infection in dogs. One is to limit tick engorgement on dogs by controlling the tick population, using tick repellents, and/or grooming daily. The other is vaccination.

The Borrelia burgdorferi Bacterin from Ford Dodge Laboratories is currently the only licensed Lyme disease vaccine for dogs. Several million doses have been sold, and, other than transitory fever, dogs do not appear to have any immediate adverse reactions to its use. In a limited field study it was concluded that the incidence of disease (4.7 percent in infected, non-vaccinated dogs) was reduced to about one percent. However, the vaccine does not protect against actual infection. We do not yet have experimental data to show whether B. burgdorferi persisting in dogs vaccinated after tick exposure might cause later disease.

The fact that dogs showing antibody response only to vaccination, not to tick-induced vaccination, have been observed to develop classical signs of Lyme disease may indicate that the risk of vaccination with the whole-cell bacterin is greater than previously thought. If only one or two percent of vaccinated dogs in endemic areas experience this phenomenon, the possible advantages of the vaccine, which is reported to reduce cases of Lyme disease from about four and one-half percent to one percent of dogs at risk, would probably be offset by the risk of its use. However, the basis for the observation that vaccinated dogs develop Lyme disease is not understood and must be investigated further before firm conclusions can be drawn.

We cannot recommend vaccination of dogs in endemic areas with the whole-cell bacterin until questions are resolved about clinical Lyme disease developing in dogs that have been properly vaccinated. The risk of not vaccinating is minimal since the disease in dogs is probably self-limiting in the majority of cases and is effectively treated with antibiotics, even in cases of recurrent disease. Furthermore, the risk of ever developing clinical Lyme disease appears to be relatively low.

A recent vaccine trial at the Baker Institute furnished strong preliminary evidence that a distinctly different approach to vaccination is effective in protecting dogs against subsequent exposure to Lyme disease. Task force member Dr. Yung-Fu Chang engineered a recombinant preparation of Osp A, an outer surface protein of B. burgdorferi, in the common bacterium E. coli. Osp A holds promise as a human vaccine as well as a canine vaccine. Further study will be needed to confirm our findings. * Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine~


Still not sure you want to skip the Vaccination for Lyme disease? Veterinary Partner says: “In dogs, Lyme disease is a minor infection not nearly worthy of the attention it has received. Still, it is important not to discount Lyme disease in dogs completely lest one overlook an easily eliminated cause of chronic joint disease, especially in dogs in the Northeastern U.S.”

Dogs Naturally: “As found in the field situation, experimental adult Beagle dogs exhibited no sickness at all: they just became Lyme positive on the test. None of the experimental infections performed at Penn’s Veterinary school found any of the dogs or puppies to suffer flu-like, cardiac or neurological symptoms. 95% of exposed dogs simply do not get sick. Dr. Littman found this to be true experimentally. In the northeast portion of the country where Lyme disease positives are highest, 70-90% of healthy dogs have Lyme positive tests. Asymptomatic cases are not treated.


In other breeds more significant symptoms have been reported; lymphadenopathy and more often in Labradors and Golden Retrievers, serious kidney disease with protein losing nephropathy which may not respond to antibiotics. This kidney disease however is immune mediated and relates to the immune response to the infectious agent antigens: or the antigens used in the Lyme vaccines.

This damage is from the immune system antibody as complexes with the antigen from either the natural organism exposure repeated or to the antigen from vaccines administered. Reports of Lyme Nephritis without any organisms found on renal bi- opsies lends one to realize that significant immunopathology results from the antigen as it engages with the immune system and the disease results just as easily from the vaccine as it does from exposure to natural infection. If the disease pathology can be triggered from antigen alone, that means that vaccines are capable of inducing dis- ease and that vaccines will convey cumulative damage with each administration.



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