Facts Every Dog Owner Should Know About Lyme Disease

May 1, 2019

Each year, Avets’ internal medicine department treats a number of dogs with Lyme disease in the spring, summer, and fall months. Lyme disease can cause significant illness and death if infection is not prevented. Do you know how to protect your furry friend from this warm-weather threat?

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi that is transmitted to humans and animals by a tick bite. Deer, mice, and other small mammals harbor the bacteria, which is picked up by Ixodes ticks—also known as black-legged ticks, or deer ticks—when they feed on an infected animal. Ticks can transmit the bacteria to other animals and humans when they bite. Only dogs, horses, and humans typically develop significant disease. Cats may rarely develop mild symptoms.

Where is Lyme disease found?

Lyme disease is found nationwide, with the highest incidence in regions with large tick populations. The New England states, upper Midwest region, and Pacific coast states have the greatest number of diagnosed cases in humans and dogs. Pennsylvania has one of the highest rates of reported cases, with 13 percent of tested dogs having a positive result in 2018.

How does Lyme disease affect dogs?

Humans infected with Lyme disease often develop a bulls-eye rash, but this is not typically observed in infected dogs. Lyme disease targets the joints, causing chronic arthritis. The most common clinical sign in dogs is sudden lameness, but other symptoms may also be observed:

  • Fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Severe cases may progress to kidney failure and death.

How is Lyme disease diagnosed?

A blood test performed in your veterinarian’s office can detect exposure to Borrelia burgdorferi, but may not accurately differentiate between past exposure, vaccination, and current infection. A dog who receives a positive test may require more in-depth testing performed by a diagnostic laboratory.

How is Lyme disease treated?

Lyme disease treatment includes antibiotics to kill the Borrelia bacteria. Antibiotics are typically administered for four weeks or longer. Low-level infection may persist after treatment and can cause recurrence of clinical signs that requires additional treatment. Our internal medicine department is experienced in treating Lyme disease and can work with your family veterinarian to formulate a treatment protocol for your dog.

How can I protect my dog from Lyme disease?

Protect your canine companion from Lyme disease exposure by preventing contact with ticks with these tactics:

  • If you live in a high incidence area, your dog should receive a Lyme disease vaccine. The vaccine is administered to puppies, then boostered annually.
  • Use a veterinary-approved tick prevention product. Your family veterinarian can recommend a product that best fits your pet’s needs.
  • Ticks mainly live in wooded and grassy areas, but are known to hang out in backyards. Check your pet after spending time outdoors to ensure no hitch-hiking pest is brought inside.
  • Immediately remove any tick you see on your dog. Lyme disease requires more than 24 hours of attachment for transmission, so early detection and tick removal significantly reduces the disease risk.
  • Have your veterinarian test for tick exposure during your pet’s annual wellness visit. If you see a tick on your pet, contact your veterinarian to see if additional testing is required.
  • Clean up potential tick shelter sites in your yard, such as dead leaves, brush, and wood piles.

If you have questions about Lyme disease, contact us today.