Lyme Disease in Dogs and How to Handle it

Lyme Disease in Dogs and How to Handle it

Author WDF Staff


Dog owners hate ticks. They are disgusting little parasites that can transmit many diseases to dogs, humans, and other animals. One of the most common diseases transmitted by ticks is Lyme disease. Most dog owners heard about it, but they are not really sure what it is and how it affects dogs. Here is what you should know about Lyme disease in dogs.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease, or Lyme borreliosis, is a bacterial disease transmitted by some species of ticks. The Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria are responsible for this disease in all species. It lives in the bloodstream of its hosts, where it can get after a Lyme-disease-carrying tick attaches itself to a host. The biggest problem with Lyme disease is that it travels through the host’s body and can cause various issues. It is hard to diagnose and can be confused with other diseases.

Can dogs get Lyme disease?

Yes, dogs can get infected by disease-carrying ticks, and they can get infected with Lyme disease. Dogs are not the only species that can get infected; all tick victims have the potential to get infected by Lyme disease.

Where do Lyme disease ticks live?

Most of the Lyme disease cases happened in the Upper Midwest, Northeast, and Pacific coast. 

Most of the tick migration happened because of climate changes and deforestation. Ticks primarily prey on deer and other wild animals. Since their natural habitat is being destroyed, they started migrating to different parts of the country. These wild animals carry Lyme disease ticks with them.

After the ticks have finished feeding on their hosts, they will detach themselves and fall on the ground. Birds, rabbits, foxes, deers, mice, and other forest animals are unwillingly carrying ticks across the US. Each year, there are more and more Lyme disease cases in dogs happening in areas that were previously Lyme-disease-free.

One of the most common parasites that infect dogs is fleas. Check out this article for more information - Dog fleas and what to do about them.

Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs

One of the biggest problems with Lyme disease in dogs is that it can be challenging to spot. The disease-carrying tick can transmit the disease after it has been attached for more than 24 hours, and by then, it should be pretty swollen. According to PetMD, only about 5 - 10 % of affected dogs show symptoms of Lyme disease. In the feline world, Lyme disease is almost unheard of.

Dog owners rarely think of Lyme disease as a culprit to their dog’s poor wellbeing. Most dogs infected by this disease show little to no symptoms. The symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs are often confused with other illnesses. Most dogs infected with Lyme disease were taken to the vet have been described as “walking on eggshells,” or they have stopped eating. Some of the observed symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs are:

  • Fever
  • Loss of energy
  • Reduced appetite
  • Joint lameness (joint lameness can shift from joint to joint, and weeks can pass until other joints experience lameness)
  • Joint swelling
  • Pain, stiffness, general discomfort

Dog owners mostly notice joint issues, but Lyme disease symptoms are often confused for arthritis in dogs if the dog in question is a senior. In the worst-case scenario, Lyme disease can cause kidney failure, and if that happens, the results can be tragic. Vets have also noticed that some cardiac and neurological effects can occur, although these symptoms have not been thoroughly documented.

Dog mites can cause all sorts of problems. Check out this article for more info - Mites in Dogs and How to Get Rid of Them.

Lyme disease treatment in dogs

Before the treatment for Lyme disease in dogs starts, the vet needs to make sure the dog is infected. They will perform two blood tests: the C6 Test and the Quant C6 test. The first test will confirm that particular antibodies are present. The second test will determine if there is any need for antibiotic treatment. To completely confirm the treatment process, the vet will do a urinalysis.

Dogs can shake their head if a tick has attached itself inside their ears. Here is what you need to know about dogs shaking their head.

The treatment will include a course of antibiotics. The whole Lyme disease treatment in dogs lasts about 30 days, and it is usually very effective. It will get rid of most symptoms and problems in a very short time. Some dogs can have prolonged Lyme disease symptoms, and if that happens, the vet will extend the antibiotic course.

Can Lyme disease in dogs be prevented?

There is an effective way of preventing Lyme disease in dogs - using vet-approved tick and flea repellants. Some of those products will not only repel ticks but fleas and mites as well. There is a whole range of products like collars or topical medications that can drive parasites away from your dog. Here are other general advice from AKC’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. Jerry Klein, on how to prevent yourself and your dog from getting Lyme disease;

  • After walking through woods or grassy areas, check your dog and yourself for ticks.
  • Remove the tick as soon as you spot them on yourself or your dog. Learn the proper tick-removing technique. The sooner you remove them, the smaller the chance of Lyme disease infection. Check out this article for more info - Ticks and how to remove them.
  • Talk to your vet and ask them to double-check your dog for ticks when yo have an appointment.
  • Keep your yard neat. Make sure the grass is cut as short as possible.
  • Vaccination is always a good option. Some dogs might be allergic to certain things in the vaccine, so this might not be the best option for them.

World Dog Finder team

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