Testing Dogs for Lyme Disease

Dogs with Lyme disease will develop a protein-losing kidney disease and/or arthritis.  It is very important that before a dog is tested for Lyme disease it is evaluated for protein-losing kidneyTesting Dogs for Lyme Disease disease and arthritis.  This is because a positive Lyme test does not tell us that a dog has Lyme disease. Instead, the positive Lyme test must show in addition to protein-losing kidney disease and/ or arthritis. Thus, treatment for dogs with Lyme disease should only be pursued if a dog has a protein-losing kidney disease or arthritis, and a positive test for Lyme disease.

Preliminary Testing for Dogs with Lyme Disease

If your veterinarian suspects that your dog has Lyme disease they should perform blood work and a urinalysis to check the dog’s kidney function, and a urine protein to creatinine ratio, which measures the amount of protein being excreted from the kidneys into the urine.  If there is evidence of a protein-losing kidney disease the veterinarian should consider Lyme disease as a potential underlying cause.  If your dog appears to have lameness in one or more joints, the veterinarian should consider testing joint fluid for evidence of inflammation.  It is important to know that there are different types of arthritis and many causes of lameness in dogs.  If the veterinarian finds that the lameness is from a non-erosive arthritis in one or multiple joints, then Lyme disease should be considered a possible underlying cause.

Testing Dogs for Lyme Disease

The recommended test for Lyme disease in dogs is the C6 antibody test which detects a surface protein on the infectious agent.  There are other testing methods for Lyme disease, but they have not been shown to be as reliable.  Unlike other testing methods the C6 antibody test is not affected by the Lyme vaccine.  Also, the test is simple to run and can be administered in most veterinary clinics.

It might seem straightforward how to make a diagnosis of Lyme disease, but it is not.  The problem becomes even if a dog has an underlying condition, such as a protein-losing kidney disease or arthritis, and a positive C6 test, the dog still is not confirmed to have Lyme disease.  However, in this situation, there is enough diagnostic evidence to warrant treating that dog for Lyme disease.  Some veterinarians will recommend running a C6 quantification test if the dog has a positive C6 test.  Although this test is considered accurate, it is not helpful in determining if the dog has Lyme disease.  A high level C6 antibody level is no more diagnostic then a low C6 antibody level in a dog with suspected Lyme disease.  If your veterinarian recommends that a C6 quantification test be run, further discussion with your veterinarian may be warranted.

Click here for an overview of Lyme Disease in dogs.

Click here for more information about symptoms of Lyme Disease seen in dogs.

Click here to learn about vaccination against Lyme Disease in dogs.

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Dr Peter Nurre

Peter Nurre, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (internal medicine) is a board- certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. His professional interests include internal medicine and cardiology.

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