When a tick infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bites a Labrador retriever or any other breed of dog, the dog may begin to experience joint pain or arthritis. Lyme disease--the disease caused from an infected tick--can affect the dog’s immune system if the infection isn’t immediately diagnosed. Over time, Lyme disease can lead to kidney damage. Labrador and golden retrievers are especially prone to glomerula disease and its more severe form called nephritis (nephrotic syndrome).
How Glomerula Disease and Nephritis Occur
Lyme disease can be devastating to a dog’s immune system, especially when it harbors in the dog’s body for a long period of time undetected. A dog’s immune system naturally tries to fight off the infection and in doing so releases large amounts of antibodies. The antibodies linger in the kidneys, leading to kidney disease (glomerula or nephritis).
Effects on the Body
The glumerula is a very small but important part of the kidney responsible for separating urine from blood. It’s essentially a filtration system that feeds the blood to other parts of the dog’s body and channels urine out of the dog’s body. A Labrador with glomerula disease has holes in his filtration system, which allows good proteins to pass out of the body in the urine, instead of being circulated to the body. Nephrotic syndrome occurs when large amounts of proteins exit the body in the urine, leading to other more severe complications.
An early sign of kidney damage is an increase in water consumption. Water is needed to produce urine, which allows toxins to be naturally expelled from the body. If a dog is unable to consume enough water to eliminate toxins from his body, a buildup occurs. Monitor the Labrador’s weight as weight loss is another sign of the disease. Labradors with nephritis may have high blood pressure, blood clots, and swelling of the limbs caused by the body retaining too much fluid.
All dogs diagnosed with Lyme disease, but especially Labradors and golden retrievers, should be screened regularly for kidney disease. A simple urine culture is taken by a veterinarian to test the dog’s protein levels. Loss of proteins indicates kidney damage. When protein loss is found together with high blood pressure and swelling in the dog’s extremities, the diagnosis is usually nephritis.
Veterinarians at Mar Vista Animal Medical Center recommend treatment consisting of one or all of the following: low-protein and low-sodium diet, ACE inhibitor, a low dose of aspirin, and an omega-3 fatty acid supplement for Labradors and other dogs suffering from glomerula disease caused by the Lyme disease. A protein-rich diet actually causes the condition to worsen and depletes proteins faster, which is why a low-protein diet is recommended. An ACE inhibitor like enalapril lessens the rate of protein loss in canines. Aspirin and omega-3 supplements are anti-inflammatory medications to relieve swelling associated with glumerula. Veterinarians Astrid Nielessen and Johanna Heseltine of www.dogstuff.info claim that nephritis doesn’t respond to antibiotics or other drug therapies used to treat arthritis caused by Lyme disease. This is the main reason why the prognosis is so grim.
Purina Pro Club unfortunately reports that a dog diagnosed with nephritis generally dies within weeks unless it’s caught early enough to allow aggressive treatment to be administered.