Sick dog

Key takeaway

Lyme disease is a disease caused by a bacterium that can affect both dogs and people. Dogs and people get Lyme disease from tick bites, so tick prevention is an important part of preventing Lyme disease. Symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, and swollen joints. Treatment for Lyme disease involves antibiotics as well as any additional treatment that’s required to treat the damage caused by Lyme.

Lyme disease can be a serious medical condition in dogs, but a lot of pet parents don’t know much about it. Lyme disease results from bacteria that’s carried by ticks, which means preventing ticks is an important part of preventing Lyme disease in dogs. However, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs, especially since they can be similar to other medical conditions.

One of the things that makes Lyme disease difficult for pet parents is the fact that dogs with Lyme rarely show symptoms. Dogs with Lyme disease don’t get a rash like humans do, so there’s no physical sign that your dog has Lyme. Instead, you’ll need to look out for symptoms such as a loss of appetite and generalized pain.

If you notice symptoms of Lyme disease or if you find a tick on your dog, you may want to take them to the vet for a diagnosis. Early diagnosis makes it easier to treat Lyme disease, so taking your dog to the vet is an important first step. If your dog has Lyme, here’s what you need to know.

What Is Lyme Disease In Dogs?

Lyme disease is a medical condition that dogs can get as a result of a bacterium that ticks transmit to them.1 This disease can cause a wide range of symptoms and can even develop into a chronic disease if left untreated. While Lyme disease can also infect humans, it’s not contagious which means you don’t have to worry about your dog passing it to you.

Ticks are a type of parasitic arachnid that attach to a person or animal and use them as a blood host. There are different types of ticks, so the type of ticks you’re likely to encounter depends on where you live. Different types of ticks also carry different types of bacteria and diseases, so some ticks don’t actually spread Lyme disease.

While an itchy dog can be a result of a tick bite, there are other medical conditions to consider as well. The only way to figure out what’s going on with your dog is to take them to the vet.

Is Lyme Disease Dangerous for Dogs?

In most cases, Lyme disease isn’t a serious threat to dogs. Some of the early symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs include fever and swollen joints. However, Lyme disease can become more complicated as it progresses, so early treatment is important. In some chronic cases of Lyme disease, it may cause kidney failure which can be fatal. Here are some of the potential dangers of Lyme disease in dogs if left untreated2:

Untreated lyme disease in dogs can lead to several health complications
  • Kidney damage
  • Facial paralysis
  • Seizure disorders
  • Heart issues
  • Death

The serious complications of Lyme disease are considerably more common in dogs who don’t receive treatment at an early stage. As Lyme disease progresses and eventually becomes a chronic condition, complications become more serious and Lyme begins to take a larger toll on your dog.

Can Lyme Disease In Dogs Spread to Humans?

The good news if your dog has Lyme disease is that it doesn’t spread directly from dogs to humans. Like dogs, humans get Lyme disease as a result of a tick bite. Your dog isn’t contagious when they have Lyme disease, so you don’t have to worry about keeping your distance or catching Lyme. That being said, it’s important to keep in mind that there could be more Lyme-carrying ticks around if your dog is infected, so you should still practice good hygiene and watch out for ticks.

What Causes Lyme Disease In Dogs?

Lyme disease in dogs is caused by a type of bacterium known as a Borrelia burgdorferi, which certain types of ticks carry.3 When this bacterium is transmitted from a tick to a dog, it leads to Lyme disease.

How Do Ticks Infect Dogs With Lyme Disease?

Ticks need to find a blood host in order to survive, and dogs are often the easiest hosts to attach to because they’re so low to the ground. When your dog is out in the yard playing or you’re taking them on a walk through the woods, ticks may climb up on your dog and attach to them. These ticks then burrow into your dog’s skin and suck its blood, which is how they spread Lyme disease. However, ticks need to be attached for a minimum of 12 hours before they can transmit disease.

Keep in mind that a tick bite is different from other insect or arachnid bites. Ticks burrow into the skin and stay there for periods of up to two weeks, although most ticks detach in a few days. When a tick attaches to a blood host, it will remain attached until it’s full. You can manually remove ticks from your dog to help minimize the likelihood of them spreading the disease.

When you attempt to remove a tick from your dog, the mouthparts of the tick may stay burrowed in your dog. You can prevent this by avoiding twisting while removing ticks, but the mouthparts will fall out on their own after a while. If you’re not comfortable removing ticks, you can simply take your dog to the vet when you find a tick.

Dog staring at tick

Where Are Ticks With Lyme Disease Commonly Found?

We mentioned earlier that only certain types of ticks carry Lyme disease. If you live in certain regions, you may not have to worry much about Lyme disease. The ticks that most often spread Lyme disease are known as blacklegged ticks or deer ticks. The western blacklegged tick can also spread Lyme.

Here are the regions where ticks are most commonly found in the United States2:

  • The Northeast (New England, New York, Maine, etc.)
  • The Upper Midwest (Wisconsin, Minnesota, etc.)
  • The Pacific Coast (Washington, Oregon, California)
U.S. regions with high tick prevalence

Blacklegged ticks are typically found in the northeast part of the United States as well as the northern part of the central United States and the mid-Atlantic region. Western blacklegged ticks are typically found on the Pacific Coast, which means there are ticks in several US regions that can spread Lyme disease.

Even if a tick can’t spread Lyme disease, it may be carrying other diseases. Plus, tick bites can cause skin irritation in dogs, so treating your dog for fleas and ticks is an important part of keeping them healthy.

What Are the Symptoms of Dog Lyme Disease?

As a pet parent, it’s your job to keep your dog tick-free and healthy. However, you can’t always spot ticks on your dog, so it’s also important to know how to spot the symptoms of Lyme disease. Here are some of the symptoms you may notice with dog Lyme disease2:

Common Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs

  • Fever: Dogs with Lyme disease often present a mild fever, although it’s important to note that there are several other medical conditions that can cause a low-grade fever.
  • Loss of appetite: If you’ve noticed your dog has suddenly stopped eating, that’s a sign that they may have Lyme or another similar medical condition.
  • Painful, irritated, or swollen joints: You may not notice this symptom until the later stages of chronic Lyme disease.
  • Swollen lymph nodes: You may also notice swollen lymph nodes in your dog’s neck, chest, and groin area.
  • A lack of energy: Dogs who have Lyme disease typically lack energy, so you should take your dog to the vet if they’ve been especially lazy.
  • Intermittent lameness: Lameness, or the inability to use one or more limbs, is another symptom that dogs with Lyme may experience.

While these symptoms are common in dogs with Lyme disease, it’s important to remember that symptoms vary from animal to animal. Some dogs may not show any signs of Lyme disease. If you suspect your dog has Lyme disease, you should take them to the vet as soon as possible for a diagnosis. Your vet can help you determine if your dog has Lyme disease, dog dermatitis, or some other medical condition.

How Long Do Symptoms Take to Present Themselves?

Like many medical conditions affecting dogs, Lyme disease isn’t always apparent early on. In fact, it can take 2-5 months for your dog to begin showing symptoms of Lyme disease, and it may take even longer for some animals.

The clinical symptoms of lyme disease present themselves in 5-10% of infected animals

Another thing to keep in mind is that 5-10% of dogs who have Lyme disease don’t actually show any signs of it.3 While you might notice behavioral changes and other symptoms that indicate your dog has Lyme disease, there’s a good chance that you won’t notice any symptoms at all. This is one of the reasons it’s so important to take your dog to the vet for a checkup every once in a while.

How Is Lyme Disease Diagnosed In Dogs?

Diagnosing Lyme in dogs is crucial to getting your dog the treatment they need. The symptoms of Lyme disease often get worse as time goes on, and chronic Lyme disease can lead to symptoms that can seriously affect quality of life and even cause death in some cases.

To diagnose Lyme disease in dogs, your vet will typically look at the medical history of your dog and the symptoms they’re showing.2 Your vet may also ask about whether or not your dog may have been exposed to ticks, which can help them determine if Lyme disease may be the cause of your dog’s symptoms. If your dog has been exposed to ticks and is showing signs of illness, including lameness and a mild fever, your vet may suspect that Lyme disease is the cause.

A blood test can be performed by your veterinarian to determine if your dog has been exposed to Lyme disease. Further testing can determine if your dog has an active Lyme disease infection that requires treatment.

How to Treat Lyme Disease In Dogs

If you think your dog has Lyme disease, the best thing you can do is take them to the vet right away. Lyme disease tends to get worse with time, so an early diagnosis can help minimize symptoms and keep your dog healthier. Fortunately, there are ways to treat Lyme disease in dogs, and telemedicine for pets makes it even easier.

Your vet will generally prescribe antibiotics to treat Lyme disease in dogs.2 In most cases, 4 weeks of antibiotics is enough to get rid of Lyme disease and get your dog healthy again. These antibiotics often provide rapid relief from joint and limb swelling, but that’s not always the case. Incomplete resolution of symptoms isn’t uncommon, so it’s important to continue talking to your vet about your dog’s condition and whether further treatment is required.

Treating Lyme disease generally involves a bit more than antibiotics in cases of chronic Lyme in dogs. Lyme disease can negatively affect several parts of the body, including the nervous system, heart, and kidneys. Your vet may also recommend treatment to restore function and repair damage to these organs. For some dogs, however, the joint pain caused by Lyme disease never goes away.

Dutch makes it easier to treat Lyme disease in dogs since you can get a prescription from an online vet. We can even work with pharmacies to have your dog’s prescription medication delivered directly to your doorstep, which means you don’t have to load your dog up in the car and take them to the vet.

How to Prevent Lyme Disease in Dogs

How to Prevent Lyme Disease In Dogs

While protecting your dog from Lyme disease may seem difficult, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce your dog’s risk of developing Lyme. Preventing Lyme is all about being a more attentive owner, so you can do it as long as you’ve got the time.

The first thing you need to do is use a preventative tick treatment to keep ticks away from your dog. You should be using flea and tick treatments on a regular basis as a pet parent, so talk to your vet if you’re not using medication to prevent ticks. Most of these medications last for a few months, so you’ll need to administer a new dose every 12 weeks or so.

You should also check your dog for ticks regularly, especially after they’ve spent time outside or in an area where ticks may be present. Tall grass, brush, and forests are common hiding spots for ticks, so take some time to comb over your dog after you’ve gone for a hike. All you have to do is run your hands over your dog’s coat until you feel a lump. A closer look at the lump should tell you whether it’s a tick or some other problem.

If you do find a tick, you should remove it with tweezers, being careful not to break the tick and leave the mouthparts burrowed in your dog. If you’re not sure how to remove a tick, there are plenty of videos online.

Brushing your dog regularly is also a good way to prevent ticks and Lyme disease. Not only that, but brushing your dog is also a good way to keep their coat healthy, so you should be brushing your dog once every week or two.

If you live in an area where there’s a high concentration of ticks (especially ticks that carry Lyme disease), you might want to talk to your vet about getting your pet vaccinated for Lyme disease. Keep in mind that this isn’t necessary if you live in an area where deer ticks are uncommon, so you probably don’t have anything to worry about if you live in the southern United States or another area where these ticks don’t live.

Lyme Disease In Dogs: Frequently Asked Questions

What happens to a dog with Lyme disease?

When a dog gets Lyme disease, they may not show any symptoms for a while. Symptoms of Lyme disease tend to present after a few months, but only 5-10% of dogs who have Lyme disease will show symptoms. Treating Lyme disease early on is important because it minimizes the complications that result from Lyme.

While dogs with Lyme disease typically experience symptoms such as fever and lameness, these are just some of the complications that can arise from Lyme. Left untreated, Lyme in dogs can eventually cause issues with the heart, kidneys, and nervous system. These complications can lead to death in rare cases. Some dogs may also experience lifelong complications after contracting Lyme disease. However, most of the time dogs with Lyme are fine as long as you take them to the vet and get them started on antibiotics early on.

Can Lyme disease be cured in dogs?

The good news about Lyme disease in dogs is that it can be cured. Because Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium that’s passed from ticks to your dog, it can be treated with antibiotics. In most cases, Lyme disease can be treated with 4 weeks of antibiotics, but some dogs may require additional treatment.

In addition to using antibiotics to get rid of Lyme disease, your vet may also recommend treatment for the complications caused by Lyme disease. In chronic cases of Lyme in dogs where the heart, kidneys, and nervous system have been affected, your vet may recommend long-term treatment to help provide relief from Lyme complications.

How do you treat Lyme disease in dogs?

Treating Lyme disease in dogs is typically as simple as visiting your vet to get a prescription for antibiotics. 4 weeks of antibiotics will typically get rid of Lyme disease in dogs, which is why it’s important to get a diagnosis as early as possible.

Depending on the case, Lyme disease may require additional treatment. Lyme disease can cause long-term complications including joint and limb problems, heart problems, kidney problems, and nervous system problems. If your dog has any of these complications as a result of Lyme disease, you should talk to your vet about long-term treatment options.

Final Notes

Recognizing the signs of Lyme disease and knowing how to check for ticks and remove them is important if you’re a pet parent. You should check your dog for ticks after they’ve spent time in the forest, brush, or tall grass. If you find a tick, you can remove it with tweezers. Because the symptoms of Lyme in dogs can be hard to recognize, regular checkups are an important part of preventing Lyme disease.

Whether your dog has ear mites or Lyme disease, Dutch can help. Dutch connects you with vets who can provide online help, including prescribing the medication you need to treat your dog. Thanks to Dutch, you can even get prescriptions delivered to your door. When it comes to pet care, Dutch goes above and beyond for pet parents.

References

  1. Meyers, Harriet. “Lyme Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Tests, Treatment, and Prevention.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 8 Apr. 2022, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/lyme-disease-in-dogs/.

  2. Straubinger, Reinhard K. “Lyme Disease (Lyme Borreliosis) in Dogs.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 18 Apr. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/disorders-affecting-multiple-body-systems-of-dogs/lyme-disease-lyme-borreliosis-in-dogs.

  3. “Lyme Disease.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 7 May 2019, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/animal-health-diagnostic-center/laboratories/serology-immunology/lyme-disease.