Slipping Away: One Teams Journey Through Canine Lyme Disease

I knew there were problems long before my guide/ service dog Thane's diagnosis- long before my good friend Sharon at the After Gadget blog encouraged me to request tick borne disease testing for Thane who by this time was quite literally slipping away from me. He was little by little dying at my side and no one was the wiser.
It all began early June 2009 when I found a dark bump on Thane's lower abdomen. His vet was on vacation at the time so I made a note to keep tabs on this change in him. It disappeared by the next day, leaving behind a large hive reaction. I brought it up to the vet at his next exam, but being from an area where there is not as much tick activity (or so I thought) and having a lifestyle that did not seem to be one where ticks would be a problem (or so we thought), the concept of this being a tick was never raised. After a while I forgot all about it.
Thane had some lameness, but it was thought initially to be either OCD or the new grain free food we were trying.  Since it vanished as fast as it started following the removal of the food and switching to a raw prey model diet shortly thereafter, again nothing more was thought about it.
From GI issues (which were once thought to be a remnant from giardia), to what became wandering lameness to some thinning of his coat to overheating issues to temperament changes, to slow reaction time, cognition and focus related problems- each thing we tested (at my request) came back negative. The symptoms kept moving around from one system to another racking up more and more vet bills with little results other than to treat the symptoms when they presented themselves which goes contrary to my belief system for returning a body to good health.
By spring of 2011, I knew this (whatever it was), was getting worse. His skin and coat had been impacted from a staph infection the previous winter, but never returned to the health it once had. He was running into walls, falling off sidewalks, and becoming hand shy- all signs of vision deficits. This is a scary place to be with a guide dog. He began bruising easily and became slow to clot. He had also entered what I considered a realm of maturity. That's really all messed up for such a young Border Collie! Later I would come to realize, this *maturity* was only his body slowing down as this disease took more and more of a stronghold over him. When the seizure activity began, I knew something was really wrong. I'd been through canine epilepsy before. It's not a road I wanted to travel ever again after Met's journey. Most of Thane's seizures thankfully were much more benign compared to Met. They were something to take note of, but not to fret over- at least not yet.
After going over his symptoms with Sharon (some of which I am sure I left out here), we both felt it pertinent that I request tick borne disease testing on Thane. His symptoms, especially the wandering lameness, which had returned once again sure seemed to point that way. Even after the vet heard the myriad of new symptoms and drew his blood, she told me she would be surprised if this came back positive because she continued to explain, our ticks in Oregon were not diseased. (please do not believe that)
She was surprised indeed. We finally had the answer to years of symptoms that kept moving around his body, from mild symptoms to progressively more serious ones. Thane had Lyme disease. The memory of that bump on his lower abdomen, the hive reaction and all came flooding back. For over two years his body was being ravaged by this bacterium. Before treatment could begin, Thane had completely crashed, unable to be at my side, fighting for the strength to do more than lay near me as we resorted to a home life watching summer pass us by.
My food enthusiast had to be fed multiple times a day to get him to eat and even that required begging on my part to get him to consume what he would. It was truly sad to see what had become of him.
Thane came back to me because of a multi-pronged attack on the disease. He received his antibiotic regimen which by the time it ceases will be nearly a year since his diagnosis. Had I stopped there, there is no question in my mind, that Thane would not have recovered as well as he has/ is continuing to recover. I was truly fortunate (as sad as it is to say that) to have a friend like Sharon who has been fighting multiple tick borne disease for years. Her journey taught her to recognize Thane's symptoms, but it also taught her about using a multi-pronged attack on these deadly bacterium.
I was connected with Stephen Harrod Buhner's TBD protocols initially through his book Healing Lyme: Natural Healing and Prevention of Lyme Borreliosis and Its Coinfections. There is further support including the up to date protocols on his website forum, Buhner Healing Lyme, which I also encourage reading of. When I learned in the introduction of his book, how the spirochete thrives through collagen, so much of the past couple years made complete sense. The protocols for support were great to have, but some herbs have contra-indications and side effects where one must weigh the probative value especially with chronic Lyme. It's important to alter the protocol based on individual need, using it only as a starting point. By doing so, it gave Thane the collagenous support he was in desperate need of.
For those with print disabilities, Buhner's book is available on Bookshare. It also can be purchased from retailers who sell print books. It is well worth the money and frankly, I'd recommend the book to anyone irregardless of whether Lyme disease has touched your life yet. Though there are some things that I feel differently about than Buhner, I strongly believe that our story would have a much different tone and conclusion than it does without the great insights I was able to put into place to help Thane recover.
My point of sharing Thane's story (blog begins July 2011) is to save someone else from going through what we have had to endure. I nearly lost my combo trained guide/ service dog because of this misconception that the ticks we do have are few in numbers and don't carry disease. Thane is proof of the fact that our ticks can and do carry disease. You don't have to live in the North East USA to experience Lyme disease. This disease and other coinfections are spreading rapidly- they are everywhere.
Though tick borne disease testing has a long way to go before the day when no one who is infected is told they are not, it is the best testing approach we have for diagnosing the disease at present. Familiarize yourselves with the symptoms of canine Lyme and other TBD's (unfortunately there is lots of misinformation out there- even more so for dogs than people), do daily tick checks, try not to rely solely on chemical topspot products as a preventative measure as they do not always work as well with ticks as they do with fleas and they can be slower than the transmission of the diseases the tick is carrying. Though there is a canine Lyme vaccine, it was pulled from the market for use in humans. For now the consensus seems to be that its risks far outweigh its benefits. There is also no vaccine for the other more serious TBDs out there. It's not a course I would have taken, even in hindsight. I've learned much through my journey/s, Buhner, and the blog entry  Ticks, Lyme and Related Info on the After Gadget blog.
You may be wondering exactly where things stand for Thane today and just how we managed to pull this *rabbit out of the hat*. I think the biggest factor in our success, well actually two of them were that 1) I was not willing to accept defeat- not without throwing everything possible into the fight and 2) I had the people and resources available to me that allowed me to provide Thane with the right protocol which even from the start was not the norm for treatment of Lyme disease.
In the Veterinary field, treatment for Lyme and other TBDs needs improvement. Diagnosis is as pitiful as it is for humans. IDEXX labs offers the best tests available (Quantitative C6), but if you happen to be working with a vet who does not have a relationship with that lab (the case for me), you use the best test available (which unfortunately does not provide the exact titer if it is negative)
Many vets still feel treatment is not necessary until an animal presents with symptoms. Even then, when treatment occurs, it's quite short (generally one month) which results in the dog testing positive again and again because the disease is never fully eradicated. Though some cases could actually be new infections in the same individual, it's more than likely the result of individuals with chronic Lyme not being treated for a long enough duration. This can result in cyst forms of the spirochetes releasing after the coast was clear of treatment and thus re-infecting the host.
I can't emphasize enough how important it is to treat long enough to assure eradicating the disease. If caught early and especially when caught before symptoms present, this disease can be easily cured with an inexpensive antibiotic regimen if purchased from a regular pharmacy. For us, we wound up at a specialist which I see for the true gift it was now. Though I lead towards natural treatment options first- Classical Homeopathy, TCM, supplemental protocols- I knew that Thane had been ravaged for far too long to consider that as my course of action. This is one disease that I believe needs to be hit hard and for a long enough duration to truly eliminate the disease and any potential to return.
If we had tested Thane for Lyme back in 2009, so much would be different today. I can't go back for us. I can however encourage you to consider testing for TBDs at your annual checkups no matter where you live or what kind of lifestyle you lead. Thane got his tick bite most likely right here in our small town. Thane (and future dogs to come) will be tested regularly from here on out. I do not want to go through this nightmare ever again. Testing may not be cheap (see Thane's Protocol and Helpful Resources link) but it is a lot cheaper than the treatment to save a dogs life and re-build its immune system from chronic Lyme disease. I only wish I had adopted this testing approach a lot sooner.
So how is Thane today? Thane's labs came back as Lyme negative on February 17, 2012 Of course I was celebrating when they did. He had quite literally come back to life in that last month of treatment. Due to how ravaged Thane was from the Lyme (including layers of skin seeming to melt off as though burned at times due to how impacted they were from the bacterium) and the limited time he seemed symptom free (other than still waiting on skin and coat return), it is still important to continue the antibiotic and supplemental protocols. I anticipate that supplemental protocols or at least the collagen support one will be continued for life due to the extreme nature of his collagen based symptoms (eyes, skin, joints), but at the minimum one year post negative test and symptom free are recommended on the supplement protocols.
Thane is dramatically improved from the dog who collapsed unable to do much more than lay under my desk or at my side. He spent a lot of his day just laying in his crate or on his cooling pad in those days. Today Thane no longer runs into walls or falls off sidewalks. He no longer limps on one leg or another. His skin is mostly clear and new undercoat is slowly growing in. As of this writing (March 18, 2012) he has not had a seizure in eight months. His eyes seem clear of disease, allowing him to take up his full job again- sunny, cloudy, pouring rain, or in the dark, he is back in harness. His focus can be off at times, but that too is improving. His temperament is back to the dog I knew before Lyme, and boy howdy the energizer bunny has returned!
Update: May 2012
Following the elimination of antibiotics, side effects to some protocol items, and seasonal shedding, Thane has had some setbacks- skin and coat issues- lets call it what it is, alopecia, focus issues, possible eye symptoms returning after the elimination of a supplement beneficial to eyes (but too much for his skin's collagen needs presently), flea and flea medication issues resulting in stressful work conditions- all have had me taking a step back with him.
It is like we are in training again and I must make the appropriate decisions about what outings are good for him and which ones I need to do solo. It's been a hard time for sure. I often find myself angry about this whole situation because it did not have to happen. Until Veterinarians are held accountable for their inaction, there are going to continue to be cases like Thane's or worse, those who never get the answers as to why their dogs are dying before their eyes. I had a wonderful combo trained guide/ service dog who will probably never be the dog he was pre-Lyme again.
All of  the time, money, and training hours we endured to create this working partnership only to have Lyme reduce it to what it is today. It is infuriating, not to mention that this has wiped me out financially so if it comes back, difficult decisions may have to be made. I don't even want to think about that right now. 

Update: July 2013
Thane is finally thriving! After finally getting him the treatment he has needed for years for hypothyroidism (another long story) and a short relapse of Lyme handled (not a surprise with how long he had Lyme which gave the bacterium ample time to cloak itself in forms impenetrable by some treatment protocols), he is truly returning to the dog I once knew/ experienced before. The horrors are behind us and life for him is finally what I call good again. Hopefully we won't have another vet interfere so much in our partnership and his health again.

© 1997 - 2013
by Karyn LaGrange