My Open Letter to Dog Lovers About Lyme

In the middle of my first year of recovery with Chronic Lyme, after being misdiagnosed, I decided to get a puppy.  You spend so much time alone and feeling ill that many sufferers find comfort in a furry friend.  Our previous beloved pet was a Border Collie and Labrador Retriever mix.  She loved to run with me, hike, kayak, atv, many of the things I could no longer do.  But we decided a similar dog mixed with a quieter breed would be appropriate and fell love with "Aggie" a Border Collie/Great Pyrenees cross.

Having a dog was great motivation to get up and go for a walk most days, regardless of how sick I was.  She was great company and would just hang out beside me when I was too ill to do much else.  One day following a hike, I discovered an engorged black legged tick on her.  Unfortunately, it was days before her 3 month appt where she would have started the preventative tick/Lyme treatment.  I saved the tick to show my vet and she felt it was not a concern because it was not engorged (although it did seem so when it was attached).  Regardless, it was too early to test and I was sent back home with preventative meds and the tick. 

After a month I became concerned with her loose stool and called the vet, concerned it might be Lyme. The amazing thing about vets is they have the best understanding of Lyme.  The treatment animals receive by the veterinarian community is far superior to what any human receives by the medical community.  While I was serving as a lyme patient witness to the Federal Government, one MP asked the expert Doctor "are you trying to suggest that the data and treatments animals receive are better than what humans receive?" to which the medical Doctor responded, "I am not suggesting, I am telling you it is a fact."

So when the Vet told me loose stool wasn't necessarily an indicator or lyme, I let it go.  I was a little surprised as it can be a common symptom in humans, especially since fever and the flu are early symptoms of Lyme in humans.  But she was a young puppy, eating many new things and new to me, so it was hard to determine what was out of character for her.   I also knew I was probably hypersensitive because I didn't want anyone to struggle as I have with this disease.  

A few months later, I knew it was getting to be too much.  I called theVet and insisted she be tested for lyme.  A quick in clinic test and she reported "I guess your instincts were right - she is positive for lyme."  

And here becomes the very important part of this story:
The Vet then stated "typically we would not treat her with anything since she is not showing symptoms, just the presence of lyme in her system.  So I have to ask why were you so adamant she be tested for Lyme".  That is when I stated it was because she is symptomatic for Lyme.

She is showing many of the same symptoms of Lyme that were missed when I first started to get sick.  

1) She was panting and feverish more and more.  Some nights she would get me up to let her outside to just sit in the cold.  
2) She was happy to go for a long walk and play hard, but seemed to be very lethargic the following day or two
3) She drank more water than any dog I knew
4) Her shedding was increasing
5) Her eyes were bloodshot regularly
6) She appeared clumsy and would trip once in a while
7) Even though she wanted to jump up on a couch or something she seems hesitant and it looked like she had to coax herself to push off to get up
8) Loose stool that seemed like it was getting better, then return

The one thing I remember clearly with this my illness is that just as you think you are getting better, it all of a sudden returns and maybe worse.  It was a cycle, that makes you think you are better, then sick with something else.   So in a dog it is even harder to detect because the cycles make you think they are unrelated and our furry friends can't let us know how much they are suffering.  A dogs natural instinct for survival is to hide suffering as that would make them vulnerable in the wild.  So you can never expect to know how bad it really is and well, Lyme is called the invisible disease for a reason. 
Aggie after 6 weeks of antibiotics.
Symptoms are gone and she is doing well.  

The vet explained that the symptoms they are looking for are limping, stiff joints, loss of appetite, etc.  And that is right, but for me that was three years into my diagnosis.  It is chronic then - recovery is much tougher at that point.  We want to catch this disease early, so it is treatable and responds to antibiotics.  I was adamant she receive treatment.  I was confident the signs were early Lyme and I don't want what comes next in the progression of this illness for anyone, human or animal.  

I share this with you because Lyme is still a very misunderstood disease.  Humans are treated even less than animals in Canada and once its chronic cannot get treatment at all in this country.  It was hard for me to be sure I wasn't over reacting.  She also had Great Pyrenees in her and I was less familiar with that breed.  Some of the symptoms at first could have been attributed to her breeding.  But they progressed and seemed more extensive than they should be.  And I have been there, I too passed them off many symptoms for a while and look where that got me.  I was not going to have the same thing happen to new best friend.  

The other thing I know with Lyme is many of the symptoms seem minor on their own, but they start to build and add up. You need to keep a running list of what is happening.  Minor symptom after minor symptom will start to add up over time and you may have a valid concern.  Lyme symptoms were very hard for me to explain to my doctor for years.  It is close to impossible for a dog to let us know what is happening before its too late.  I wish Lyme was better understood and treated in humans in Canada because I believe this information could also help our furry friends when they can't describe what they are feeling.  

If your dog tests positive for Lyme, please don't assume they are not symptomatic.  It is a horrible, hidden disease.  Vets are not only better diagnosticians than doctors, they are also very willing to properly treat animals for the illness,  yet it is still complex and sometimes misunderstood illness. If anything just be aware.  You don't want your pet to suffer silently. 

One other note about Lyme: don't assume that because they were treated with an antibiotic that the illness is gone.  The vet told me that day she had a dog who was treated but the illness returned.  She wasn't sure whether the dog had been bitten again or not.  I explained to her the there are many scientific studies proving the persistence of the Lyme bacteria.  Treatment can attempt to kill it all but fall short.  The longer someone has the illness the harder it is to treat.  It is possible for someone to recover with antibiotic treatment but have it still return.  It just means not all of the bacteria was killed off.  So monitor for symptoms long after treatment, just in case. 
This letter is dedicated to our previous, lost, loved dog, Keesha, who we now know suffered in silence, for years, with Lyme.  I am sorry my friend that you struggled more than we knew.  If I knew better, I would have done better.  Now I know better.  You are so missed. 





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