Our foster dog, Taylor was diagnosed with Lyme disease and three types of worms. The poor pup was only 6 months old and was diagnosed when he went in for a routine checkup.
Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection that is primarily transmitted to humans and dogs through the bite of an infected tick.
The bacteria that causes Lyme Disease is called Borrelia burgdorferi. When a tick bites a person or a dog, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause an infection.
My goal here is to provide you with all of the research and information I learned during our Lyme disease experience.
As you can see in this photo of Taylor, he looks healthy and happy. You would never know he has Lyme disease just from looking at him.
4 Tips for Preventing Lyme Disease in Dogs
Lyme disease is a serious concern for dog owners, as it can cause a range of health issues for our pups.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent tick bites and reduce the risk of your dog contracting Lyme disease. Learn about the best ways to protect your pet and keep them healthy.
1. Use tick-prevention products
One of the most effective ways to prevent Lyme disease in dogs is to use tick prevention products. These can include topical treatments, collars, and oral medications.
Please check out this chart to help decide which flea and tick control is best for your dog and situation.
I will never use chemical-based flea and tick control on my dogs and always opt for the natural route, such as Only Natural Pet EasyDefense Dog Flea & Tick Control Kits
Resource: Your Ultimate Guide to Dogs and Ticks.
Talk to your veterinarian about which product is best for your dog and make sure to follow the instructions carefully. Keep in mind that these products may need to be reapplied regularly, especially during peak tick season.
2. Check your dog for ticks regularly
Even with tick prevention products, it’s important to check your dog for ticks regularly, especially after spending time outdoors in areas where ticks are common.
Use a fine-toothed comb to carefully search through your dog’s fur, paying close attention to areas like the ears, neck, and underbelly where ticks are most likely to attach.
Ticks can be smaller than a pin head. A lint roller is a great tool to find tiny ticks that aren’t always visible to the naked eye.
If you find a tick, use a tick remover device to carefully remove it, making sure to grasp it as close to the skin as possible and pulling straight out.
Monitor your dog for any signs of Lyme disease, such as fever, lethargy, and joint pain, and contact your veterinarian if you notice any symptoms.
3. Avoid tick-infested areas
One of the best ways to prevent Lyme disease in dogs is to avoid areas where ticks are commonly found. This includes wooded areas, tall grasses, and areas with leaf litter.
If you do need to take your dog into these areas, try to stick to the center of trails and avoid letting them wander off into the brush.
4. Keep your yard clean and tidy
Another important step in preventing Lyme disease in dogs is to keep your yard clean and tidy. Ticks thrive in areas with tall grass, leaf litter, and other debris, so it’s important to regularly mow your lawn, rake up leaves, and remove any other clutter from your yard.
You can also create a barrier around your yard using wood chips or gravel to help keep ticks from entering. Additionally, consider treating your yard with natural tick control products, such as Wondercide, to further reduce the risk of tick bites.
Lyme Disease Vaccination
In 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) vaccine for use in the United States, called TICOVAC.
As always talk with your vet and do as much research as possible before deciding if a vaccination is necessary for your dog.
My holistic vet does not recommend the Lyme Vaccination. And I am always hesitant on giving my dog any unnecessary vaccinations, so I will not be vaccinating any of my dogs.
How did my dog get Lyme disease?
One creepy, crawly … tick!
According to the CDC, “Lyme disease is transmitted by the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) in the northeastern U.S. and upper midwestern U.S. and the western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) along the Pacific coast.”
A black-legged tick must be infected with Lyme and attach to your dog for your dog to contract the disease.
If you live in a heavily tick-infested area, you need to be proactive and protect your dog against ticks. Keep reading for tips to avoid getting a tick bite and Lyme Disease.
Symptoms and signs of Lyme Disease in dogs
For the first week we had Taylor I noticed he was slow to get up from sleeping on his dog bed, his back legs would appear to have fallen asleep. He was not able to jump up onto our couch.
I continued to notice slight weakness in his legs and so I decided to mention it to the vet. Never did I imagine his diagnosis would come back with Lyme disease!
Unfortunately, Lyme Disease symptoms are not always very obvious, and some dogs won’t show any signs. Some symptoms to watch for would be:
- Lameness in the legs (can be shifting from one leg to another, be intermittent, or recurring)
- Stiffness, discomfort, or pain in your dog’s legs
- Swelling of joints in your dog’s legs
- Reduced energy
- Loss of appetite
- Liver failure (this is uncommon)
Depending on how long the dog has had the infection, some dogs may show more severe symptoms, such as kidney damage or heart issues.
However, not all dogs with Lyme Disease show obvious signs, and some dogs may not show any symptoms at all.
Our Taylor didn’t have any symptoms other than the lameness in his legs. If I hadn’t been paying close attention to him and if I hadn’t mentioned it to the vet, he may have gone undiagnosed!
Pay close attention to your dog, he will give you clues about how he is feeling. Your dog can’t speak like you and me, so it’s our job to listen to his body language!
How veterinarians diagnose Lyme Disease
Veterinarians diagnose Lyme disease in dogs through a combination of clinical signs, medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests. Here is an overview of the diagnostic process for Lyme disease in veterinary medicine:
- Medical History: The veterinarian will begin by gathering information about the dog’s medical history, including any recent tick exposure or presence in endemic areas.
- Physical Examination: The veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination, looking for signs and symptoms associated with Lyme disease. These may include lameness, swollen joints, fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
- Blood Tests: Blood tests are crucial for diagnosing Lyme disease in dogs. The two primary types of blood tests used are:
- Antibody Testing: The most common initial screening test is the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) or indirect fluorescent antibody (IFA) test. These tests detect the presence of antibodies produced by the dog’s immune system in response to the Lyme disease-causing bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi. If the initial screening test is positive or inconclusive, further testing is typically done.
- Western Blot Test: The Western blot test is a confirmatory test that verifies the presence of specific antibodies to Borrelia burgdorferi. It helps differentiate active infections from past exposure or vaccination.
- Urine Tests: Some veterinarians may perform urine tests to assess kidney function, as Lyme disease can potentially affect the kidneys in severe cases.
It’s important to note that the interpretation of test results can be complex. False positives and false negatives can occur, so the veterinarian will consider the test results in conjunction with the dog’s clinical signs, medical history, and exposure to ticks.
If the dog tests positive for Lyme disease, treatment options such as antibiotics will be discussed, along with any necessary supportive care measures to manage symptoms and complications.
Treatment of Lyme Disease in Dogs
Lyme Disease can be successfully treated in dogs with antibiotics, but it is crucial to catch the infection early on. Additionally, preventing tick bites is an important step in keeping your dog safe from this disease.
Regular check-ups with your veterinarian and proper follow-up care are also crucial for dogs that have been treated for Lyme Disease to prevent any long-term effects.
Our vet confirmed that our foster dog had Lyme disease by performing a blood test. Then prescribed an antibiotic called Doxycycline. Taylor took two of these pills once a day for 28 days.
After he completed the round of antibiotics, the vet performed another blood test to confirm the antibiotics worked and no longer tested positive for Lyme.
Does Lyme disease in dogs have long-term effects?
In case of early detection, your dog’s symptoms should disappear within the first 3 days of treatment. However, although treatment is generally effective at eliminating signs of Lyme disease, your dog may test positive for the rest of their life.
If your dog is asymptomatic but has tested positive for Lyme disease, your veterinarian may suggest not treating them.
Unfortunately, most dogs infected with Lyme disease eventually develop arthritis.
If Lyme disease is left untreated, it can result in potentially serious kidney, heart, and neurological issues. If your veterinarian identifies any issues with your dog’s kidneys due to Lyme disease, they will monitor and treat the condition before it causes any more severe problems.
Is Lyme Disease Contagious?
I am always very concerned about our foster dogs getting our resident dogs sick. With every new foster we bring in, we are taking a chance at our dogs contracting something from them. I always check for worms in new foster dogs, since that is the most common issue we see.
But the good news, is we do NOT have to worry about Lyme disease. It is not contagious in any way. The only way to contract Lyme is to be bitten by an infected tick.
Lyme disease is NOT transmitted from one dog or pet to another dog or pet, it can NOT be transmitted from pets to humans either. Being bit by an infected tick is the only way Lyme disease is transmitted.
Lyme Disease Important Facts
An infected tick must be attached to your dog for 36 to 48 hours to transmit Lyme. That means you should be checking your dog frequently for ticks. If you find a tick on your dog, remove it immediately.
You can save the tick and send it in to be tested for Lyme disease. Here is a great place to learn about tick testing: https://web.uri.edu/tickencounter/testing/
Although unlikely, in severe cases Lyme disease can cause kidney failure and death. But don’t panic, this is rare. Talk to your vet if you are worried about it.
Once infected with Lyme Disease, a dog will always have the bacteria in his body. Therefore, relapses are possible, and owners should be on the lookout for lameness, unexplained fever, or swollen lymph nodes. Most dogs will live a long happy life with no complications.
Lyme Disease Resources
Lyme Disease Prevention in Dogs Month was created by the Lyme Disease Foundation. It runs through April and aims to spread awareness on how to prevent, identify and treat Lyme disease in dogs.
It’s very important to be aware and proactive in the treatment and prevention of Lyme Disease in dogs.
Prevention is the key to avoiding Lyme Disease. Using chemicals can be scary, but there are natural ways to keep ticks away.
Whatever you do decide, protect your dog against ticks in some way, whether it be avoiding areas with heavy tick infestations, using chemical flea and tick medications, or a layer of natural remedies.
How do you prevent ticks in your dog? Please comment below and help our Rescue Dogs 101 community decide how to best protect their dogs.