Dr. Kurt Venator, DVM, PhD, Chief Veterinary Officer, Nestle Purina Pet Care
Lyme disease in dogs is a bacterial infection spread by black-legged ticks, which can result in fever, loss of appetite, lameness and swollen joints. The clinical signs of Lyme disease can usually be effectively treated with antibiotics and other therapies targeting the specific patient conditions.
How is Lyme disease in dogs caused?
Pet parents often ask veterinarians, how can dogs get Lyme disease when it mostly afflicts people. The truth is that the main species of tick that carries Lyme disease, called a black-legged or deer tick, attaches to both humans and pets.
Once the infected tick has bitten into and burrowed under the skin, it releases the worm-shaped Borreliosis bacterium into the dog’s bloodstream. Once in the blood, it can travel to different areas of the body such as organs or joints. The bacterium is released by the tick between 24 and 48 hours after biting the dog host. Key facts on Lyme disease exposure include:
- Infected ticks, most prevalent in the U.S Northeast, upper Midwest and Pacific Coast.
- Lyme-carrying ticks in states that report high cases of infection.
- Tick season, usually in Spring, in southern New England, east Mid-Atlantic, upper Midwest, West Coast/northern California.
- Grassy, wooded, marsh or sandy areas where ticks are known to live.
- Short trees, underbrush, and grass near rivers, lakes or oceans that host ticks.
- Untreated, high grass lawns in endemic tick areas
Lyme disease is not contagious from dog-to-dog or dog-to human unless the same diseased tick bites additional members in the household.
How to remove a tick
Every pet parent should understand which common areas on a dog attracts these bloodsucking parasites, where to check for them, and how to properly remove a tick. A key step in preventing Lyme disease is the prompt removal of the tick from a dog. The faster a tick is removed, the less likely it is that the dog will experience a secondary illness associated with a tick bite.
If you reside or have vacationed, in any tick-populated states, carefully examine your dog’s ears, the base of the tail, eyes, under the collar, top of the front legs, between the toes and back legs for parasites.
Should you find a tick, remove it easily by following these steps:
- Protect your hands with latex gloves or use tissue paper when working with parasites.
- With a cotton ball, apply rubbing alcohol and dab over tick on the dog’s skin.
- Use a designated tick removal tool, or sharp, fine-point tweezers, grasp the tick firmly as close to the skin as possible.
- Be careful not to grab the dog’s skin, do not squeeze the tick tightly or it will burst.
- Cautiously and slowly pull straight up, do not turn or squash the parasite.
- Dispose of tick by drowning in rubbing alcohol. Keep the parasite in a container.
- Clean the bite on the dog thoroughly with alcohol.
- Disinfect the tiny hole daily where the tick was removed.
- Add antibacterial ointment onto the infected area.
- Give the tick in the container to your veterinarian to examine.
Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs
Clinical signs of Lyme disease in dogs are often generalized and may look like other conditions. Should a dog show visible signs of illness, pet parents may only realize a pup is infected 1 – 2 days after being bitten by a deer tick. Common Lyme disease signs include:
Lyme disease has been a reportable condition since 1991. Confirmed cases of Lyme disease are reported by medical professionals to the Center for Disease Control in the United States.
Which Lyme disease tests, treatments, and tick preventions to use
If a dog is suspected of having Lyme disease, a veterinarian may consult with you on a variety of tests and treatments. Most veterinarians agree that the best prevention against the disease is to avoid tick-populated regions. Conduct a thorough tick inspection of your dog after walking through high-risk areas like wooded and grassy environments; consider the use of targeted vaccinations, and use veterinary-approved preventative tick preparations.
There are a variety of tests and treatments available when it comes to Lyme disease, and a veterinarian can advise on what is most appropriate for your dog. A blood test, such as an antibody test or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, can be performed and the results can be considered in conjunction with the observable clinical signs.