Lyme Disease In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment

Part of hand holding a tick tweezers with tic in it which was on that dog.

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Lyme disease in dogs is a bacterial illness that is carried and spread by ticks and results in symptoms such as high fever, lameness, and swollen joints. Sometimes it can be more serious and cause kidney damage, heart disease, or central nervous system issues. Even though Lyme disease is one of the most common diseases spread by ticks in the world, only five to ten percent of infected dogs will even show symptoms. When symptoms do show up, they can last for a few days, then continue to reappear and disappear for weeks. That is why it is important to see your veterinarian if you spot the signs of Lyme disease in your dog. Here is what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for Lyme disease.

Symptoms Of Lyme Disease In Dogs

Sleeping dog

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The symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs can sometimes last for a few days and fade away only to reappear again over the course of several weeks. If it isn’t treated, symptoms can recur even months after the initial infection. Some dogs don’t show symptoms at all for more than a year after infection, and by that time the disease may have spread throughout the body. Here are some common symptoms of Lyme disease that you should look out for.

  • Lameness that may shift from leg to leg
  • Joint pain
  • Swollen joints
  • Stiffness or arched back when walking
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression or reduced energy
  • Swollen lymph nodes

In some rare cases, Lyme disease can cause more severe complications. Sometimes kidney failure, which may be fatal, can occur. Heart disease and neurological problems are also rare, but known to be caused by Lyme disease. Addressing the disease quickly with your veterinarian will reduce the risk of serious complications.

Causes Of Lime Disease In Dogs

Deer tick on a dogs back

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Lyme disease in dogs is a tick-borne illness caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. This is most commonly carried by the blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick or bear tick, though other species of tick can be carriers, too. Usually the tick has to be attached to the dog for 24 to 48 hours or more to transmit the bacteria. Lyme disease is not contagious from one dog to another animal or human unless a tick that bites the infected dog goes on to bite another. It is generally safe to keep an infected dog with other pets and people.

There are some factors that increase the risk of dogs coming into a contact with a tick that carries the bacteria. In the United States, infections are most prevalent in the Northeast, the Upper Midwest, and the Pacific Coast, so dogs living in or visiting those regions have a higher chance of being exposed to Lyme disease. Younger dogs are also more likely to show symptoms.

Ticks are most active from March to October and are more frequently found in wetlands, wooded areas, bushes, or tall grass. Dogs who walk through these areas are at increased risk, which is why it is important to check your dog thoroughly for ticks after spending time in the outdoors. There are a number of factors that have increased the tick population and instances of Lyme recently, as well, so it is becoming extra important to do tick checks.

Treatment For Lyme Disease In Dogs

Woman picking a tick on dog fur

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Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, so it is typically treated with antibiotics. Doxycycline, tetracycline, and amoxicillin are the most common of these, but others may be prescribed, as well. Usually this treatment lasts for three to four weeks, and your veterinarian may prescribe an anti-inflammatory to help with joint pain or swelling.

Although most dogs recover, some have a relapse infection and may need to stay on antibiotics for longer. Other dogs don’t respond to antibiotics at all and have to be carefully monitored, especially because they are at higher risk for kidney disease.

Prevention of Lyme disease in dogs is important, as well. Avoiding areas of high infestation, including areas of tall grass, underbrush, or other places ticks are common will help. Stay on trails during nature hikes, and always check your dog for ticks after spending time outdoors. Removing any ticks within 24 hours, even up to 48 hours, greatly reduces the risk of Lyme disease being transmitted to your dog.

Tick prevention medication may also be helpful, especially if you live in an area where Lyme disease is common. These are usually given monthly and will help keep ticks from attaching to your dog long enough to transmit disease. Vaccinations are also available for Lyme disease, and are given yearly. Due to risks associated with vaccination, it is not recommended for all dogs, and should usually only be done for dogs that live in areas that are highly infested.

Do you take steps to prevent Lyme disease in your dog? Let us know in the comments below!