Ticks Getting Under Your Skin? How to Prevent Lyme Disease in Your Dog

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs?

Lyme disease, also known as Lyme borreliosis, affects both humans and dogs. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it’s the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the United States. Lyme is a complex inflammatory disease caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which is found in infected ticks.

Ultimately, this disease is known to attack many systems in your dog’s body and is transmitted through specific species of tick: the blacklegged deer tick (ixodes scapularis). It is most commonly found in the eastern and upper midwest of the United States.

Humans bitten by a tick with the bacteria will notice the “bullseye”-shaped rash at the bite area. Finding a rash like this on your dog’s skin is not so clear-cut, especially if they have thick coats.

Ticks that carry Lyme disease can be found in the warmer months of the year in many environments that have tall grass, wooded areas, and marshy spots near lakes, rivers, and creeks.

It is imperative that both humans and their dogs protect themselves against tick bites. High-risk outdoor activities include camping, hiking, and swimming in natural bodies of water.

The symptoms

sick dog in bed with thermometer

Common symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs, as listed by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), include:

  • joint pain
  • joint swelling
  • lameness/limping
  • fever
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • lack of appetite
  • weight loss
  • kidney failure
  • nervous system issues
  • decreased activity
  • loss of appetite

No two cases are exactly alike. In addition, most dogs do not experience immediate clinical signs of Lyme disease. It can take 2-5 months to show the typical symptoms.

In order to effectively determine if your dog has Lyme and not anaplasmosis, your veterinarian will take blood tests for antibodies.

Catching Lyme disease early in dogs can be extremely advantageous in their recovery. If caught early enough, you can avoid more serious symptoms like kidney disease. Talk to your vet if you suspect your dog has Lyme.

How is Lyme disease treated?

girl hiking with dogs

Veterinarians will provide dog owners with a recommended 30-day supply of an antibiotic treatment like doxycycline. In some cases, especially those where the disease has begun to target a dog’s kidneys, the dosage will exceed 30 days. Rimadyl may also be prescribed to assist with joint pain.

Lyme disease is known for masking itself within your pet’s body. Thus, even the best veterinarian can never really be sure if the disease has been omitted.

Regardless, DVMs today can be sure that over time and with the right antibiotics, the bacterium in your pet’s body will undoubtedly decrease.

How do I prevent Lyme disease in my dog?

Tick control. The top two preventative measures pet owners can take to avoid Lyme disease are to 1) get the Lyme vaccination, and 2) give them topical or oral flea & tick prevention medication consistently.

Pet owners with yards can also keep the grass short, check their pet daily for ticks by using a tick comb, and avoid allowing their furry friend to go in areas where wildlife frequents.

In general, do what you can to keep your dog from getting exposed to not just black-legged ticks, but all common ticks.

Tick removal tips

If you find a tick on your dog, you need to remove it as soon as possible. It’s not as simple as swatting it away, though. Tick removal is a delicate process.

You will need:

  • tweezers or tick remover tool
  • ​gloves to avoid letting the tick make contact with your skin
  • something to put the tick in for testing
  • isopropyl alcohol

Carefully grab the tick with the tweezers and pull it out in a straight, slow, and steady motion. Slow and steady is key to removing the entire tick. If a part of the tick remains infection could spread through the bite area.

Clean your dog’s wound and the tweezers with isopropyl alcohol. Keep the tick in a plastic baggie or Tupperware in case your dog displays any symptoms of illness in the coming weeks. Your veterinarian will need to identify the kind of tick or test it for bacteria.

Be safe

hiking with your dog at dog-friendly national parks

Lyme disease in dogs is preventable. As long as you take the right precautions by using anti-tick and flea medications and avoiding tick-heavy areas, you can keep your pet safe. If you have any more questions or concerns about Lyme disease in dogs, contact your veterinarian for more information.

Are you a pet parent taking care of a dog with Lyme disease? We’d love to hear how you keep your dog comfortable and how you manage their symptoms.