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Home > Dogs > Lyme Disease in Dogs: Vet Approved Signs, Treatment, Prevention

Lyme Disease in Dogs: Vet Approved Signs, Treatment, Prevention


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Dr. Maja Platisa

Veterinarian, DVM MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Lyme disease (or Lyme borreliosis) is a bacterial illness carried by certain species of ticks. When a dog or a human is bitten by this tick, the culprit of transmission is a spiral-shaped bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transferred from the tick to the bloodstream. Since the bacteria is now in the bloodstream, it travels to different parts of the body causing issues with organs, joints, and overall illness.

How do you know your dog has Lyme disease and where do they get it from?


Where Are Ticks Found?

It is important to note that not all ticks carry Lyme disease. The culprit of this disease is the black-legged tick. According to the CDC, two types of ticks spread the disease while others such as the Lone Star tick, American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, and the brown dog tick are not known to carry the disease at all.

The black-legged tick loves to be around tall grasses, thick brush, marshes, and woods. Typically, it takes about 12 to 48 hours of a tick being attached to your dog for the disease to transmit. Since they are so small, they are easy to miss, and that is when problems can happen. Not every black-legged tick will carry this disease, but precautions are important.

Lyme disease can happen in any state, but overall, most cases are from the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and the Pacific Coast. It may take 2 to 5 months before infected dogs develop signs of illness.

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What Are the Signs of Lyme Disease?

Due to how common this disease has become, there are several signs to look out for.

The most common signs in dogs include:
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Reduced energy
  • Recurrent lameness
  • Stiffness in joints
  • Swelling of joints
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stiff walking
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

More serious cases can cause kidney damage or damage to the nervous system and heart. While these are uncommon, if your dog starts to develop signs like vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, increased urination, and thirst, they may be in kidney failure.

Diagnosing Lyme Disease in Dogs

The first thing you need to do is provide a thorough history of your dog’s health to your veterinarian. This will tell us which organs may be affected and if your dog has any history of medical issues.

From there, a blood test will be done. Typically, there are two blood tests available: the C6 Test and the Quant C6 test. The C6 test detects antibodies against a protein called C6. The presence of antibodies would suggest that there is an active Lyme infection in your dog. The antibodies can be detected about 3 to 5 weeks after a tick bite and will show even if your dog isn’t showing signs of illness.

It can take about 4 to 6 weeks to get the diagnosis from the blood tests, as this is the time for the antibody response to develop. If tested before 4 weeks, the result may be falsely negative.

There are other ways a veterinarian might check organ functions and confirm the disease, like urinalysis, fecal examination, X-rays, and draining fluid from the joints.

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Treating Lyme Disease

Thankfully, treating Lyme disease is a simple process when caught in time, before more severe organ damage occurs. Once your dog is confirmed to have this disease, your vet will start with antibiotics. The most common antibiotic is Doxycycline. This can be given in a pill or even a liquid form, whatever works best for you and your dog.

Typically, the treatment lasts for 30 days, but there could be a need for longer in some cases. If your dog is uncomfortable, there could also be an anti-inflammatory and painkiller to help ease the joint pain and stiffness. In many cases, the treatment is done at home and you won’t have to do anything in the vet’s office after the diagnostics have been done. More serious cases during the treatment would be done in the clinic.

Most times, treatment starts to work within 3–5 days, but if your dog shows no signs of improvement, you need to head back to the vet. From there, your dog would be reevaluated and possibly, a different medication would be used.

Preventing Lyme Disease in Dogs

The best way to go about preventing your dog from getting Lyme disease is to keep your dog away from tick-infested environments. Ticks can’t jump or fly, so they have to crawl onto their host by waiting at the tips of vegetation. When your dog brushes up against that, then the tick quickly grabs on and finds a place to bite. Since the black-legged tick is so small, it does this quickly, and it is almost impossible to see it happen.

If you’ve been in an area with tall grass or an area known for ticks, then check your dog’s coat and skin daily. If you find a tick, remove it by hand. Removing a tick by hand is simple and can typically be done at home. Use fine-tip tweezers or a special tick-removal tool. Burning the tick out or ripping it off will not work and should not be done.

The most effective way to prevent your dog—aside from avoiding tick-infested environments—is to use appropriate tick and flea prevention. Your veterinarian can prescribe and give you a range of prescription flea and tick options that range from collars to tablets.

In some areas where ticks are abundant, there are Lyme vaccines available. You’ll have to talk to your veterinarian to see if the Lyme vaccine is right for your dog.

If you live in an area where ticks are common, keep your grass mowed as short as possible. This will cut down on the worry, but always inspect your dog after play.


Final Thoughts

While not all ticks can carry Lyme disease, you should always inspect your dog for ticks if you are in an area that is known to have them. Talk to your veterinarian about regular flea and tick prevention and the vaccine and if your dog is a suitable candidate for it.

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Featured image credit: Iryna Kalamurza, Shutterstock

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