Have you ever gotten a “diagnosis” of Lyme disease for your dog?  I can say your dog does not have Lyme disease and likely be right over 90% of the time.  More accurately your dog had a positive test for Lyme.  It is highly unlikely your dog now has or ever had “Lyme disease”.  An understanding of the test and the disease will help in understanding why this is so.

When your dog tests positive with the standard titre test, he/she is testing positive for the antibody, but is not a test for the actual, current presence of the organism that causes the disease.  Antibody is what healthy white blood cells produce upon exposure to a pathological organism.  They will often produce that specific antibody long after the problem is resolved, to be ready for future exposures to the same offender.  This is the basis for vaccinations.  One exposure creates an anamnestic (informed memory) response that produces antibody, sometimes forever.  So, a positive antibody test only indicates the presence of antibody from a previous exposure.   That exposure could have been last week, last year, or last decade.  Dogs keep their antibodies to the Lyme organism and stay positive testing for a very long time.  Most often it is many years, even for the rest of their lives.

According to research done at Cornell University Veterinary School, 94% of all dogs are naturally immune to Lyme (without ever having had the vaccine).  That means they fought it off successfully, and completely when they were first exposed.  They will still develop the antibody titre that will test positive for many months or years.

So, here is the problem.   A huge portion of the healthy, symptom-free canine population in North America has been exposed and is producing antibody.  In the future if these dogs have a fever from an unrelated cause (unrelated to their past, resolved Lyme exposure) they will be routinely tested for Lyme as part of the fever diagnostic workup.  They will test positive.  Testing positive will set up the common misdiagnosis of a current (or recurrent) case of Lyme disease.  The misdiagnosis is especially obvious when the titre value does not match the severity of the symptoms.

To complicate the matter further, the main drug used for Lyme disease is doxycycline.  Doxy is well known to be a very powerful anti-inflammatory drug.  So, regardless of the cause of any fever or pain issue, doxycycline will resolve (not cure) the fever and the pain, just as if you gave aspirin.  Of course, for suspected Lyme cases this leads many vets to confirm their diagnosis of Lyme.  The doxycycline “worked,” the treatment was a success.  And, of course, suppressing a fever only happens by suppressing the immune system – a very bad idea in the long run.

Take home message – 1. Get your dog tested for Lyme yearly, when it is NOT ill, so you will know in advance if your dog is already successfully protected.  2.  Insist on the newest test that differentiates the “age” of the titre.  3.  Keep your dog’s immune system healthy by avoiding over vaccination, feeding a grain-free and/or home prepared/fresh diet, and minimizing stress and toxins in their environment.