Canine Lyme Disease: Treating Lab Results Versus Treating The Dog

What does a positive test result mean and what should you do?

In certain parts of the United States, this is a scenario that happens relatively often. Your dog has a routine test performed for Lyme disease, which comes back positive. But your dog is not ill and is showing absolutely no sign of disease.

Canine Lyme Disease: Treating Lab Results Versus Treating The Dog

In my part of the country, roughly 50% of the tested dogs come back with a positive test result for Lyme disease. Now, the question becomes: What should you do?

To treat or not to treat

Should you treat your dog with antibiotics even though he is not sick?

This is a complicated question, in all honesty, and not all veterinarians and other experts agree on which answer is right. One of the things that complicate matters is that approximately 95% of these dogs that test positive will never get sick with Lyme disease. However, we have no way to identify which dogs make up that 5% that may become symptomatic.

The argument for treating all Lyme disease positive dogs with antibiotics

Some veterinarians recommend treating all dogs that test positive for Lyme disease with antibiotics, usually doxycycline. These veterinarians argue that doxycycline is a safe antibiotic-associated with minimal risk of side effects. In their minds, the risk of the dog developing Lyme disease is higher than the risk of treating it with the antibiotic.

The argument against treating all Lyme disease positive dogs with antibiotics

Other veterinarians advise against treating an apparently healthy Lyme positive dog with antibiotics. There are many different reasons for this recommendation:

  • Approximately 95% of these dogs will never get sick from Lyme disease anyway.
  • We have no definitive proof that administering antibiotics actually decrease the dog’s chance of developing a disease. In many cases, the antibiotics do not completely clear the Lyme disease organism from a dog’s body.
  • Though the risks associated with administering doxycycline are minimal, they are not non-existent.
  • There is also the risk of antibiotic resistance developing due to the misuse of antibiotics. This poses a risk to the entire population.

What should you do for your Lyme-positive dog?

I’ll offer my opinion. Your veterinarian may agree or disagree. I won’t criticize your veterinarian if she feels differently than I do, but this is what makes sense to me.

Typically, I don’t recommend treating otherwise healthy dogs that test positive for Lyme disease. I can’t justify in my own mind using an antibiotic to treat what amounts to little more than a blue dot on a test strip. However, I do recommend monitoring your Lyme positive dog closely for signs of Lyme disease.

Part of the monitoring should be periodic blood screens to monitor kidney function. I also advise testing of urine, particularly looking for evidence of protein in the urine. Also known as proteinuria, protein in the urine may be the first sign of Lyme positive dogs’ kidney disease.

If your dog begins to show signs of kidney disease, as evidenced by changes in blood or urine tests, or if other Lyme disease symptoms (lameness, fever, etc.) occur, I would advise treatment with doxycycline.

Though we don’t completely understand why kidney disease occurs in some dogs with Lyme disease, this is generally a serious presentation of Lyme disease for a dog and is more difficult to treat than lameness. Some other symptoms may occur as a result of Lyme disease.

Related articles:
Lyme is Lame (Pun Intended)

Further reading:
My Dog is Lyme Positive

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