Understanding Lyme Disease Ticks Affecting Dogs

Understanding Lyme Disease in Dogs

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You may have seen various celebrities in the media recently discussing their battle with Lyme Disease. Singers Avril Lavigne and Shania Twain had their careers derailed for years by it and actors Alec Baldwin and Ben Stiller both suffered a similar fate. You may also even know people personally affected by the disease, especially if you live in the Northeastern United States.

What you may not know is that Lyme Disease can be as much of a problem for dogs as it is for humans.

What Is Lyme Disease?

Encephalitis Virus

Lyme Disease infected tick arachnid insect on a dog

Lyme disease, as far as common canine illnesses go is one of the 'newer' diseases that dogs, pet parents and veterinary medicine professionals should be aware of.

Named after an outbreak of a then completely mysterious disease in Lyme, Connecticut in 1975, Lyme Disease is a tick-borne disease that can affect both humans and dogs. Just who - or what - is infected is purely up to chance.

The disease is caused when a tick carrying the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium bites its 'victim'. If the bacteria enters the bloodstream it can spread rapidly and lead to a number of different, sometimes long term and debilitating problems that can significantly impact the 'victim's' overall health and well-being.

Did you know that not all the species of ticks feed 365 days a year but there are different species that are active all 12 months of the year?

Are certain dog breeds more at risk for Lyme Disease?

As mentioned, Lyme Disease is not a traditional infection, it is caused only by the bite of an infected tick. This means that any dog could fall victim, unless perhaps they spent their lives inside in the presence of no other animals.

There are certain risk factors though.

One of the biggest is where you - and your pup - live.

95% of the cases of Lyme Disease diagnosed every year in humans and dogs occur in the North East, the Upper Midwest and along the Pacific Coast.

In recent years however, thanks to things like deforestation and changing climate patterns Lyme Disease is now being found in places it never has been before.

The ticks that carry Lyme Disease are not, as some people think, always deer ticks. Many thrive in long grasses far away from deer populations. This is the perfect place for them. Ticks can't fly, so to bite they must 'attack' their victim from the top of a blade of grass or something similar. This is why so many people and dogs diagnosed with Lyme Disease are those who like to go for long walks in the 'countryside' and encounter lots of long grasses and dense bushes.

If your dog is a longer haired breed, they may be at greater risk because it will be harder for you to spot that a tick has latched on to them. That is the other problem with these ticks. They don't just bite and fly away, they can't. So they latch on to their victims and keep feeding, and, if they are infected with the Lyme Disease bacterium, keep 'injecting' that too.

How to tell if your dog has Lyme Disease from a tick bite?

Usually the first time a dog owner is aware of the possibility that their pup may have a problem is when they realize they have been in contact with, and bitten by a tick. Not all ticks carry Lyme Disease bacteria, some just bite and cause pain. However, there is no way to tell the difference between a Lyme Disease carrying ticks and a more benign one.

Therefore, if your dog is bitten by a tick prompt removal is a must. You can't just pull the tick off though, it needs to be removed carefully with tweezers. You should keep the tick once you remove it and place it in an airtight container - a simple Ziploc baggie is fine - so that your vet can test it at a later date.

Occasionally a tick will die, and fall off its host, before it is spotted, so in some cases pet parents may not know that their pup was bitten at all. In this case, some telltale symptoms of possible Lyme Disease include:

These can also be symptoms of other diseases, so the first thing you should do is take your pup to the vet as soon as possible. If you know that your dog has suffered a recent tick bite they should visit their vet as a precaution anyway, even if they seem just fine.

This useful infographic from WebMD shows you where ticks hide, useful to know when inspecting your dog.

Where ticks hide on a dog

Preventing Lyme Disease in dogs (Source: WebMD)

How Is Lyme Disease diagnosed?

Vets obtain a definitive diagnosis of Lyme Disease via a series of urine and blood tests. These tests, known as C6 tests, are designed to detect antibodies against a protein called “C6”. If they are present that indicates an active Lyme Disease infection. Further testing then determines if the pup needs more extensive treatment.

It can be three to five weeks after a dog is bitten before the C6 antibodies show up in the bloodstream. If you have the tick that bit your pup however that can be tested more quickly to determine if it was a threat or not and help speed diagnosis and possible treatment.

How is Lyme Disease in dogs treated?

A course of antibiotics , for example Doxycycline, usually for at least 30 days, is the usual primary treatment for Lyme Disease in dogs. This alone is not always enough to solve the problem though and secondary treatments may be called for to address problems that have arisen as a result of the infection, especially and damage to joints or organs.

Recovery and prevention in dogs with Lyme Disease

How long it takes for a dog to recover from Lyme Disease is very much an individual thing. It will depend on a number of different factors and your vet will be your best guide when it comes to helping ensure your dog recovers as quickly and fully as possible.

How long it takes for a dog to recover from Lyme Disease is very much an individual thing. It will depend on a number of different factors and your vet will be your best guide when it comes to helping ensure your dog recovers as quickly and fully as possible.

In terms of prevention there are a number of things you can do. There is now, in fact, a Lyme Disease vaccination available, but it is not suitable for all dogs and, like the flu vaccine, may not be 100% effective.

Aside from the Lyme prevention vaccine, don't delay, you cannot even be a week late on giving your dog his next flea and tick treatment!

There are some practical things you can do as well, especially if you're usually hiking, backpacking or camping with your dog, which is something I do with my dog during the warmer months.

Here are some of them:

  • Avoid walking in long grasses and try to stay 'on the beaten path' as much as possible.
  • Inspect your dog - and yourself - for ticks - after every walk
  • If you find a tick, remove it promptly and make an appointment with a vet (or a doctor if a tick bit you) Lyme disease is not a communicable infection - you can't catch it from your dog and vice versa - but if one of you has been bitten the chances are good that the other one was too.
  • Make use of one of the many tick repellent products for dogs that are on the market right now. Talk to your vet about the right one for your pup.

Everyday inspection and the use of topical parasiticides are super important for your fur baby..

I've used Fron​t​line Plus on my dogs for years. I think K9 Advantix is equally as good at preventing Lyme Disease in dogs. (Advice: the regular Frontline, without “plus” in the name, does not give any protection against ticks… JUST fleas.)

The ticks that I would miss during regular inspection simply froze in their tracks when they ingested the Frontline Plus in my dog’s system.

Oftentimes though, ticks won't even latch onto a dog’s skin if Frontline Plus or K9 Advantix has been applied within the last 30 days - it's that effective at preventing Lyme Disease.

The good news is that a great deal of research is currently ongoing into Lyme Disease and how it can be better treated in dogs and in humans. Until more is known, however, the best thing you can do for your dog and yourself - is remain vigilant when outdoors and consider avoiding areas known to be a ‘hot-bed’ for Lyme Disease infected bugs.

Share Your Experience: Have a story about Lyme Disease in dogs? Share it with us by leaving a comment below.

If you are concerned about your pet, visit or call your veterinarian – he/she is your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your dog. This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet.

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