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Lyme Disease in Dogs

Lyme disease can be fatal in dogs.

Lyme disease is a serious illness in humans, but it can also affect dogs.

What Is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is an illness caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacteria is carried and transmitted by certain ticks in the Ixodes family. They are also called deer ticks.

Lyme disease is more common in certain areas of the United States than others, especially the upper Midwest, Northeast, and mid-Atlantic. However, its range seems to be spreading, and more cases are turning up in increasingly large areas.

Signs of Lyme Disease in Dogs

Dogs that are infected with Lyme disease may show some of the following signs:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Lameness
  • Joint swelling
  • Decreased or absent appetite

It's important to note that some dogs don't show any signs of Lyme disease. Those that do may have signs that wax and wane, appearing for a few days to a week, disappearing for a while, then returning.

Long-term, Lyme disease can attack a dog's kidneys, nervous system, heart, and joints. Signs of these conditions may develop over time, and they can be fatal.

Lyme disease can be elusive and difficult to diagnose in dogs because the tick may not have been noticed and the signs can be vague and intermittent.

Diagnosis of Canine Lyme Disease

Lyme disease in dogs can be diagnosed through blood tests sent to the lab or via a SNAP test in the veterinary clinic.

Many veterinarians, especially in areas where Lyme disease is prevalent, are using SNAP tests that combine Lyme and heartworm tests. Because some dogs don't show signs of Lyme disease, routine testing can be helpful to catch infections.

Treatment of Lyme Disease in Dogs

Lyme disease in dogs is treated with a long course (usually around 30 days) of antibiotics.

Other medications may be necessary to control signs, such as pain and inflammation. Relapse of the illness may require further treatment.

Prevention of Canine Lyme Disease

A vaccination is available that can protect dogs against Lyme disease. Your veterinarian is best suited to help you determine whether Lyme vaccination is a good idea for your dog. The area in which you live, your travel habits, your dog's lifestyle (hunting, etc.), and individual risks for vaccine reactions all play a part in your veterinarian's recommendation.

Tick control is crucial for avoiding Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses that don't have vaccinations.

Flea and tick preventatives can help, but there isn't a product that can prevent 100% of ticks from attaching to your dog.

A tick must be attached to your dog for well over 24 hours before it transmits the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that causes Lyme disease, so frequent inspection of your dog and removal of ticks is important. Check your dog for ticks daily, and especially after a romp through the woods or tall grass. You can learn more here: "How to Find Ticks on Your Dog."

If you do find a tick on your dog, don't do anything to traumatize it, such as heating it up, putting an irritating substance on it, or twisting it. Doing such things can stress the tick and make it release its gut contents, including Lyme bacteria, into your dog. Instead, grasp the tick as close to your dog's skin as possible with tweezers or a tick removal tool and pull straight out with firm pressure. Learn more: "How To Remove Ticks."

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