Lyme Disease in Dogs

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Lyme disease is just one of the illnesses that ticks can transmit to dogs, but it is an important one, particularly in the northeastern U.S., northern mid-Atlantic region, upper Midwest and the northern California coast. Lyme disease is not limited to dogs. It can affect people and other animals as well. It is important to note, however, that people cannot contract the disease directly from dogs; they must be bitten by an infected tick.

"If Lyme disease is diagnosed early enough, a two or three week course of antibiotics will usually lower bacterial numbers to the point where dogs no longer show any signs of the disease."

What Are The Symptoms of Lyme Disease?

Infection with the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi causes Lyme disease. These bacteria are transmitted from one animal to another through the bites of particular types of ticks (e.g., deer or Ixodes ticks). The ticks usually pick up the bacteria from infected wildlife such as deer and rodents. An infected tick needs to be attached to a susceptible animal for at least 48 hours for transmission of the bacteria to occur.

Many dogs that are bitten by infected ticks do not become sick, but if Lyme disease does develop, the following symptoms are typical:

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Painful joints and muscles
  • A limp that may shift from one leg to another or disappear entirely only to return later
  • Reluctance to move
  • With longstanding infections, kidney disease is possible
  • The "bullseye" rash that commonly affects people with Lyme disease is not frequently seen in dogs

The ticks that carry Lyme disease are very small, and symptoms often develop long after a dog has been bitten. Therefore, even if you have not noticed ticks on your pet recently, he may still have Lyme disease.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Lyme Disease


Lyme disease is not the only cause of limping, fever, and swollen lymph nodes in dogs, so your veterinarian will need to run blood work that looks for exposure to Borrelia bacteria and perform other diagnostic tests to rule out conditions that cause similar symptoms.

If Lyme disease is diagnosed early enough, a two or three week course of a certain type of antibiotic, most often doxycycline, will usually lower bacterial numbers to the point where dogs no longer show any signs of the disease. Small numbers of bacteria do still remain in the dog's body so future kidney disease is still possible.

The best way to protect your dog from Lyme disease is to use an effective tick control pet medication. Frontline Plus, K9 Advantix II, or a Preventic collar are all good choices. If you find a tick on your pet, remove it promptly using a pair of tweezers or tick pliers. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull it free, making sure to remove the imbedded mouthparts as well. Flush the tick down the toilet and wash your hands and equipment thoroughly.

A preventative Lyme vaccine is available for dogs that are at extremely high risk for the disease. Talk to your veterinarian if you live or are planning to travel to a part of the country where Lyme disease is prevalent.

The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. This information does not cover all possible variables, conditions, reactions, or risks relating to any topic, medication, or product and should not be considered complete. Certain products or medications may have risks and you should always consult your local veterinarian concerning the treatment of your pet. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

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