- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Summer is coming up, which means that tick season is almost upon us, and your dog may be at risk of contracting Lyme disease. As a veterinarian, I’d like to share with you everything you need to know about this disease, including what it is, how it’s treated, and how you can prevent it in your dog.
Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted to dogs through ticks. Thankfully, only one type of tick—the black-legged tick—is known to spread the disease. If left untreated, this disease can cause your dog painful arthritis and kidney problems.
How Do Dogs Get Lyme Disease?
The good news: Lyme disease isn’t contagious, so your pet can’t contract it from another dog or person.
The bad news: ticks live in many of the wooded areas where we like to take our dogs for walks and hikes. While out for a stroll with your pup, an infected tick could sneakily jump on your dog and attach to their skin.
Since the tick must sample your dog’s blood before producing the bacteria in its saliva, a tick has to attach to your dog for 48 hours in order to transmit Borrelia burgdorferi. Unfortunately, once the bacteria enters your dog’s system, it sticks around for a while. Even with treatment, the disease can remain in your dog’s skin, joints, connective tissue, and nervous system for months.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs
Most dogs don’t show clinical signs of this disease because the signs are related to the host’s inflammatory response to the bacteria. Every dog reacts differently. Signs to look for include:
- Changes in behavior or appetite
- Shifting limb lameness/arthritis (i.e. one leg seems lame and then it changes to a different leg)
- Irregular heartbeat (uncommon)
Treating Lyme Disease in Dogs
If you see or have seen a tick on your dog, I recommend you take them to the vet to get tested for Lyme disease antibodies in their blood. Your veterinarian may then want to perform other clinical tests to look for signs of kidney disease since the immune reaction against Borrelia burgdorferi can cause a serious kidney condition.
Treatment with antibiotics is usually an effective treatment for Borrelia burgdorferi but relapses do occur. For pain relief, your vet will likely prescribe NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
If your dog has already tested positive for Lyme disease but isn’t showing clinical signs, you can have them vaccinated to prevent new infections.
Preventing Lyme Disease in Dogs
Dogs are very fortunate: there are a variety of tick prevention medications available for them and a vaccine to prevent Lyme Disease. Lucky dogs!
Insecticides are a good place to start because they kill ticks and prevent attachment. Monthly treatments during tick season should prevent ticks from attaching to your dog. If you live in an endemic area where the prevalence of infection is high, then it’s worth considering having your dog vaccinated with the Lyme vaccine.
Unlike other vaccines, the Lyme vaccine prevents transmission from the tick instead of priming the dog’s immune system to the produce antibodies that kill the bacteria. This a benefit since there’s no potential harm to the dog or change to their immune system.
Frequent grooming can also remove ticks that are hanging out in your dog’s coat waiting to attach to the skin. A daily check for ticks on your dog, especially after a hike or walk, and then removing them immediately will prevent transmission of Lyme Disease.
You can remove ticks by using fine-tipped tweezers, making sure to grab the tick close to the dog’s skin, removing the tick entirely. Check out the CDC’s website for more information on tick removal.
If you take these precautions, you’ll significantly decrease the chances of your dog contracting Lyme disease, and you’ll be able to enjoy the great outdoors with your dog without worrying about ticks.