Canis ISSN: 2398-2942

Arthritis: borrelial

Synonym(s): Lyme disease

Contributor(s): Kyle Braund, John Innes


  • Cause: a multisystemic inflammatory disease associated with infection by the tick-borne spirochaeteBorrelia burgdorferi Borrelia burgdorferi , primarily transmitted by ticks of theIxodesgenus.
  • Mono-articular or pauco-articular inflammatory arthritis, seen in Lyme disease, occurring weeks or months after exposure to ticks (see Borreliosis Borreliosis ).
  • Immune mediated joint disease (Type 2 idiopathic polyarthritis).
  • Signs: may be concurrent systemic illness, acute lameness.
  • Diagnosis: serology, synovial fluid examination, cytopathology.
  • Treatment: doxycycline Doxycycline , amoxicillin Amoxicillin.
  • Prognosis: good in most cases.
  • Seasonal incidence consistent with seasonal changes in tick activity.



  • Infection by spirocheteBorrelia burgdorferi Borrelia burgdorferi.
  • Primary agent in the United States isBorrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto.
  • Virulence can vary depending on certain variable detectable antigens including outer surface proteins (Osp) A and B.


  • Infection with tick vector:
    • Ixodes ricinus(Europe) Ixodes ricinus.
    • Ixodes dammini/Ixodes pacificus(USA).


  • Borreliosis affects primarily dogs and people.
  • It occasionally infects horses, cattle and cats.
  • Ticks initially feed on the first host which is the white-footed mouse (Peromysius leukopus) in the USA. If the mouse is infected with the bacteria, then the tick larvae become infected.
  • The tick larvae lay dormant over the winter and molt to the nymph stage the following spring. The nymphs then may infect more mice and other susceptible hosts when they feed.
  • Nymphs may also become infected if they feed on white-footed mice that harbor the bacteria.
  • Nymphs mature into adults in the fall and attach to deer and other mammals at that time. After engorging on the host's blood, the females drop off. The males may remain attached throughout the winter.
  • Spirochetes are transmitted form biting tick to host after 48 hours.
  • Pathogenesis of the clinical syndrome is produced primarily by the host reaction to the organism, which can survive for long periods in various tissues.
  • Positive antibody titers persist in naturally infected dogs for several years.
  • This may be due to persistent infection or re-exposure.
  • Persistent infection byB. burgdorferi→ persistent antigenic stimulus → immune-mediated response → non-erosive polyarthritis.


  • Weeks - months after exposure to ticks.
  • Episodes of lameness typically last only a few days; repeat episodes may occur.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Speck S, Reiner B & Wittenbrink M M (2001) Isolation of Borrelia afzelii from a dog. Vet Rec 149 (1), 19-20 PubMed.
  • Härter L et al (1999) Upregulation of inducible nitric oxide synthase mRNA in dogs experimentally infected with Borrelia burgdorferi. Vet Immunol Immunopathol 67 (3), 271-284 PubMed.
  • Boon G D (1997) Synovial fluid analysis - a guide for general practitioners. Vet Med 92 (5), 443-451 AGRIS FAO.
  • Magnarelli L A et al (1997) Serologic diagnosis of canine and equine Borreliosis - use of recombinant antigens in enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays. J Clin Microbiol 35 (1), 169-173 VetMedResource.
  • May C et al (1990) Lyme disease in the dog. Vet Rec 126 (12), 293 PubMed.
  • Roush J K, Manley P A & Dueland R T (1989) Rheumatoid arthritis subsequent to Borrelia Burgdorferi infection in 2 dogs. JAVMA 195 (7), 951-953 PubMed.
  • Ellison R S (1988) The cytologic examination of synovial fluid. Semin Vet Surg 3 (2), 133-139 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Bennett Det al(1992)Lyme disease in animals.Vet Annual, 32.
  • Appel M J G (1990)Lyme disease in dogs and cats.Comp Cont Ed Pract Vet12, 617-625.