Lyme Disease in Dogs: What You Need to Know!

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A brown, white, and tan dog standing outside
Dr. Sara Ochoa DVM author of Lyme Disease in Dogs What You Need To Know

Many people love to hike with their pets. In the spring and summer months, people will notice that they or their dog have ticks on them after the hike. This can be a concern as there are diseases that these ticks carry that can make you and your pet very sick. 

Lyme disease is one of the most common diseases carried by ticks and can be carried without ever showing symptoms.


What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial disease caused byspiral-shaped bacteria calledBorrelia burgdorferi.Lyme disease is a bacterial illness spread through both animals and humans via ticks. Once you or your dog is bitten, the disease can spread almost anywhere in the body affects everything from joints to organs and even skin.

Lyme disease is named when a number of cases appeared in 1975, all of them in Lyme, Connecticut.While Lyme disease can be seen anywhere in the United States, 95 percent of cases are seen in the northeast, upper Midwest, and Pacific coast. The removal and destruction of natural habitats and the travel of animals have caused the massive spread of this disease.


Where do you get Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is transmitted to the dog by theIxodes tick. When the tick bites your dog, they inject the bacteria into your dog’s bloodstream, where the bacteria then multiply and can spread all over your dog’s body.

Your dog can pick up these ticks when they go outside to use the bathroom. You do not have to go for a walk in the woods to get ticks, and they are more commonly seen in tall grass and wooded areas.

Ticks will climb to the top of a blade of grass and wait until an animal or unfortunately, your dog brushes by where they will quickly transfer on to them. For your dog to get Lyme disease, the tick must stay attached to your dog for 24 to 48 hours.


Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs?

A female veterinarian checking a small tan dog for ticks

There are many symptoms that can be seen with Lyme Disease. One of the most commonly seen signs is pain and lameness in the legs. This lameness can last for only a few days then move to a different leg or joint, called shifting leg lameness. Other signs that you may see are

  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Stiff walking
  • Stiffness and pain
  • Joint Inflammation

These symptoms can progress to kidney damage and ultimately result in death.


How is Lyme Disease Diagnosed?

A veterinarian will perform a physical exam and run a blood test for Lyme disease. They will also check organs such as the liver and kidneys to confirm proper function. Lyme disease can also affect other body organs.

There are two different blood tests that can check for Lyme disease. These are:

  • C6: This test detects antibodies that are normally present with Lyme disease occurs in dogs.
  • Quant C6: This one is very similar to the first but done with urine. This is the final determination on whether or not a dog has an active Lyme disease infection.

A sample of joint fluid from the swollen joints will be collected to make sure that there is not a secondary infection in the joints that will also need to be treated.

Most dogs living in the northeast will test positive for Lyme disease. While a dog that is not currently showing any symptoms will be closely monitored for signs of the disease. If your dog starts showing signs of Lyme disease, treatment will then be started.


Treatment for Lyme Disease

While the treatment for this disease depends on the signs that your dog displays, only about 10 percent of dogs who are infected with Lyme disease will show symptoms, the treatment includes antibiotics usually doxycycline for 4 to 6 weeks. If your dog is very sick, they may need to be hospitalized with IV fluids and supportive care for a few days until they can go home and continue with their treatment.

Most of the time, anti-inflammatory drugs are also prescribed. CBD Oil can help with inflammation reduction as well, in addition helping increase your dog’s appetite and depression issues


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Prevention

Tick Prevention

Giving tick prevention will help kill any of the ticks that your dog may come into contact with. Many people believe that they do not have to give tick prevention year-round, but even a few days of warmer weather during the winter months ticks can be found. Year around tick treatment is recommended.

There are many products on the market that can help prevent ticks. There are topicals, oral chews, and tick collars. Talk to your veterinarian for help finding the product that works the best for your pet. Some oral tick prevention can have unwanted side-effects like upset stomach, so a topical may be more suitable for your dog. Your veterinarian can help find what works best for your dog.

Daily Tick Checks

Since a tick has to be attached for 48 hours to transfer Lyme disease, checking your dog for ticks every day is a good practice. Since many dogs have long thick fur, this is not the best way to prevent the disease but can be used in combination with other preventative measures to make sure your dog is tick free. 

Keeping your grass cut short

Since many of these ticks like to live in tall grass and wooded areas, keeping the grass in your yard trimmed short will help prevent the tick from reaching a good vantage point where it can easily hitch a ride on your dog or your pant leg.  Also, not walking your dog in very tall grassy areas that can possibly be infested with ticks is recommended.

Vaccines

There is a vaccine for Lyme disease. Your pet will receive one vaccine then a booster in 3 to 4 weeks, followed by a booster each year. Depending on what veterinarian you talk to will have different opinions on the vaccines.  

Not all dogs will need to be vaccinated for Lyme disease. If you do not live in an area where Lyme disease is prevalent, then your dog will not be vaccinated for Lyme disease.


Lyme disease is all too common but often goes undiagnosed for months to years. Some dogs that are infected simply do not show more severe symptoms. The problem is that Lyme disease is so common it isn’t given the proper respect it should.

Lyme disease is a dangerous disease that can result in death if it is not treated. Even with treatment, Lyme disease can cause secondary infections that sometimes cause permanent damage to joints, liver, and kidneys and may result in life-long medications.


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Meet The Author 

Dr. Sara Ochoa DVM

Since she was a little girl, she knew that her dream was to become a veterinarian. With a tremendous passion and love for animals that makes her a great source of knowledge for others. She lives happily with her husband Greg and her babies Ruby the Schnoodle, and Bam-Bam the bunny.