What You Need to Know About Lyme Disease in Dogs!

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While most people have heard of Lyme disease, not many know what it is. You may have heard the term at your doctor’s office, or read about it at your veterinarian, but what exactly is it? And how can it affect your dog?

Let’s go over everything you need to know from start to finish so you can help keep your dog safe!

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacteria is commonly spread by ticks that have bitten infected animals, such as rodents. The most common tick to spread Lyme disease is the deer tick, but there are several other species that can pass it on as well. In humans the disease is known for leaving victims lethargic and weak—and the same is true for your pup (though its effects aren’t nearly as potent)!

bug that causes lyme disease

How do dogs get it?

Dogs can contract Lyme disease when they have prolonged contact with an infected tick. In most cases it takes 12 hours or more for the feeding tick to transmit the bacteria that causes the disease. Good preventative care is the key to making sure your pup stays Lyme free!

There are many products currently on the market that either repel ticks or kill them once they have jumped on your pet. Your vet can recommend the best product for you, but always remember to avoid over the counter products like those made by Hartz, as they can frequently cause chemical burns and poisoning. My favorite flea and tick product is Vectra 3D, which is a  monthly, topical, preventative medicine that repels fleas, ticks, and mosquitos—the few it doesn’t repel it kills quickly on contact.

What are the symptoms?

Some of the most common symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs are swollen lymph nodes, sore or swollen joints, fever, reduced appetite, and lethargy. Though in extreme cases kidney issues may present themselves as well. Surprisingly only about 5% of dogs that test positive for the B. burgdorferi bacteria show clinical signs of Lyme disease. It’s always good to keep these symptoms in mind though, as you never know if your dog may be one of the unlucky ones!

five greyhounds

What is the treatment?

Diagnosis and treatment are pretty straightforward and easy!

A simple blood test called the Idexx 4DX snap test can be done at the time of your dog’s annual vaccinations. The 4 test is a heartworm antigen test that not only tells you if your dog is heartworm positive, but also if it has been exposed to the three most common tick-borne diseases: Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis. Many vets routinely do this test, but it doesn’t hurt to call ahead and request your vet have it in stock before your appointment.

If your dog should test positive for Lyme disease, the most common treatment is a month long prescription of an antibiotic called Doxycyline. Some vets are opposed to treatment if your dog isn’t exhibiting symptoms at the time of diagnosis, so a positive diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean your pup has to undergo treatment.

Should I vaccinate?

Vaccinations of any kind are a hot topic right now. Many people are debating whether or not to vaccinate their children, and dogs are no different. There are great points on both sides of the argument for the Lyme vaccination, but the facts seem pretty straight forward.

Those for vaccinating believe that there are no ill-effects from the vaccination, so why not go ahead and protect your dog if you can.

Those against the vaccine believe that it is ineffective and unnecessary. Since only 5% Lyme-positive dogs are symptomatic, and because treatment is so easy for those that do, many argue that the vaccination is more trouble than it’s worth. The vaccination is also a short lasting one, with yearly boosters before tick season being a must if you want full protection.

maltese at the vet

Now that you are an expert on Lyme disease, it’s time for you to take protecting your pup to the next level:

  • Start by having your vet run the 4DX test at the time of your annual vaccinations.
  • If you have decided to vaccinate against Lyme disease, talk to your vet about the best time to administer the vaccination.
  • Get her started on a great flea and tick prevention product like Vectra 3D. Always check your pup over after an excursion to the park, or a hike through the woods, as early detection can make a huge difference when it comes to Lyme disease! Be sure to check the ears, under arms and between toes, as these are frequently missed areas ticks love to hide in!

Some of you may be thinking that preventive care is unnecessary for your pooch, as he lives inside and only goes out when he needs to potty. While this is a valid point, and your dog is definitely less at-risk than one that lives outside, all dogs are at risk. Ticks are just about everywhere in the continental United States and your back yard is no exception. So the next time you second-guess tick prevention remember that all breeds of dogs are susceptible,and it only takes one tick to infect your dog with Lyme disease!

Education is the first step to a healthy life for you and your pet. Now that you know all about Lyme disease and how to prevent it, you can move on to learning about other things, like how to trim your dog’s nails or perform the Heimlich Maneuver! Remember your vet should always be the first person you call when fido is experiencing problems or when you are considering a new medication or diet!


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