You may not realize it, but dogs can pick up Lyme disease from ticks just like humans. The symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs can be fairly subtle unless you know what to look for. That's why it's important to know not only the symptoms but to check your dog regularly for ticks.
What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is one of the most commonly transmitted tick-borne diseases. It was first reported in the United States back in 1975 in Lyme and Old Lyme, Connecticut, where an uncommon number of children experienced symptoms similar to rheumatoid arthritis. These children had all been bitten by ticks. Experts later determined that Lyme disease is typically caused by the spirochete bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi.1 (Interestingly, Lyme disease can technically be caused by several different strains of Borrelia, but burgdorferi is most common in the United States.) The bacteria interact directly with cell tissue, causing an array of issues.
Lyme disease is most frequently carried by the deer tick (also called the black-legged tick), although it can be transmitted by at least three other tick species.2 While it's more common with dogs, Lyme disease can infect cats too.
Where Is Lyme Disease Found?
Lyme disease can be found in every part of the United States, but it is most prevalent in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and Pacific Coast.3 Although tick season typically begins in the spring and continues through the fall, these parasites can be active whenever the temperature rises above freezing (32°F). Dogs usually pick up ticks in heavily wooded areas or environments containing brush or tall grasses. Ticks also live in backyards, where other animals deposit them.
The Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs
Dogs don't exhibit the telltale red rash—sometimes manifested in a bulls-eye pattern—that we humans display, so an infection in your pet may not be as obvious. However, some common symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs or cats include:4
- Appetite loss
- Joint swelling or pain
- Lameness (inability to move the limbs normally)
- Reluctance to move
Symptoms can progress and sometimes be fatal, which is why it's important to get your dog diagnosed if she has any of these symptoms.
A veterinarian will do a physical exam and talk about your dog's history. To determine if your pet has contracted Lyme disease, your veterinarian will typically administer blood tests. The presence of Lyme disease antibodies in the blood may indicate an active infection, and these typically show up about three to five weeks after a tick bite. However, they can sometimes be found even before you notice symptoms.
If the tests come back positive, your dog will receive antibiotics for up to four weeks. Sometimes longer treatment or therapy is needed.
Preventing Lyme Disease in Dogs
Prevention is the best defense against ticks that carry Lyme disease-causing bacteria. Check your pet every day for these parasites, and if you find a tick, remove it immediately. This is important because it typically takes ticks about one to two days to transmit Lyme disease, so removing them quickly can cut down on the risk.5
Knowing how to remove a tick from a cat or dog is vital for all pet owners to learn. Using tweezers, grasp the tick and pull firmly and steadily until it releases and comes all the way out, ensuring that you've removed the head. Drop the tick in rubbing alcohol to kill it, and thoroughly clean and disinfect the bite area.
Protect your pet further with a product that kills ticks, like the Adams Plus Flea & Tick Prevention Spot On for Dogs, which provides flea and tick protection for up to 30 days. The Adams Flea & Tick Collar Plus for Dogs and Puppies kills fleas, ticks, flea eggs, and larvae for up to six months. As an added bonus, these products also repel mosquitoes.* This is important because dogs can get West Nile Virus, which mosquitoes carry.
Protecting your pet isn't enough; you want to keep your home and yard pest-free to protect you and your dog. The Adams Flea & Tick Home Spray or the Adams Plus Flea & Tick Indoor Fogger are great products to use in your home, offering up to seven months of flea protection. Consider using Adams Yard & Garden Spray, which kills fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, ants, and more.
Lyme disease may cause mild symptoms in dogs, but sometimes dogs can have serious reactions to the bacteria. That's why it's important to protect your dog and always inspect him for ticks when you get back home after some outdoor fun.
1. Bay Area Lyme Foundation. "Borrelia Burgdorferi." BayAreaLyme.org, https://www.bayarealyme.org/about-lyme/what-causes-lyme-disease/borrelia-burgdorferi/.
2. Straubinger, Reinhard K. "Lyme Disease (Lyme Borreliosis) in Dogs." June 2018. Merck Veterinary Manual, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/disorders-affecting-multiple-body-systems-of-dogs/lyme-disease-lyme-borreliosis-in-dogs.
4. Meyers, Harriet. "Lyme Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Tests, Treatment, and Prevention." AKC, 15 May 2020, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/lyme-disease-in-dogs/.