Lyme Disease in Dogs: Effects, Prognosis, and Prevention

Lyme disease ranks among the world's frequently occurring tick-borne illnesses. In this article, our Gentle Doctor Animal Hospital veterinarians guide you through understanding the outlook, impacts, and ways to avoid this widespread ailment.

What is Lyme disease in dogs?

Lyme disease ranks among the most common illnesses passed by ticks worldwide. These tiny creatures carry bacteria that can be transmitted to humans and animals through their bites.

Ticks don't have wings or the ability to jump. Instead, they slowly crawl up blades of tall grass or to the edges of low-hanging leaves on bushes. There, they patiently wait for a person or animal to pass by. Once they latch onto their target, they start searching for a suitable spot to bite.

If a tick happens to carry a certain type of bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi and bites a dog or a person, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream, causing an infection.

Once inside the bloodstream, the bacteria can travel all over the body, leading to issues like joint pain and overall sickness. To infect a dog, a tick usually needs to remain attached for somewhere between 24 to 48 hours.

Where are ticks carrying Lyme disease found?

Lyme disease can spread in any state, but most cases occur in the Northeast, the Midwest, and the Pacific Coast. Ticks mainly hang out in tall grass, dense forests, and spots like farm fields.

What is the prognosis of Lyme disease in dogs?

Dogs with Lyme disease can often carry the disease in their body without showing any symptoms. However, there are a number of common symptoms to look out for as the disease progresses in dogs:

  • Sensitivity to touch
  • General discomfort or malaise
  • Generalized stiffness
  • Fever
  • Swollen joints
  • Lameness due to inflamed joints
  • Difficulty breathing (this is considered a medical emergency)

If your dog shows any signs of Lyme disease, call your vet to have them checked out. Lyme disease can be treated, but if left unchecked, it could harm the kidneys or even become life-threatening.

Neglected Lyme disease can also lead to lasting problems with the heart and nerves.

How is Lyme disease diagnosed in dogs?

Often, Lyme disease is treated by your vet through a month-long course of antibiotics. Usually, the go-to antibiotic is Doxycycline. If your dog is experiencing particularly painful or stiff joints, anti-inflammatory medication may be prescribed as well.

What's the treatment for Lyme disease in dogs?

If you catch the disease early, your pup's symptoms should go away within the first 3 days of treatment.

But even though treatment usually works well to get rid of Lyme disease signs, some dogs can still test positive for it throughout their lives. If your dog has Lyme disease but doesn't show any symptoms, your vet might not suggest treatment.

Most dogs with Lyme disease will eventually get arthritis.

However, Lyme disease in dogs can lead to kidney problems that could be quite serious. These problems may not be noticed until it's too late. If your vet discovers that your dog's kidneys are affected by Lyme disease, they can keep an eye on it and treat it before it becomes a more serious issue.

How do I Prevent Lyme Disease in Dogs?

After your dog walks in areas with tall grass or thick underbrush where ticks could hide, it's smart to examine your dog and yourself for ticks. Taking off ticks might seem a bit tricky, but if you find one on your dog, reach out to your vet for clear instructions.

Lyme disease is much more severe in humans than in dogs, so checking yourself for ticks is especially important.

Your dog can't give you Lyme disease, so there's no need to worry about them posing a risk to you or your family. However, if they bring an infected tick into your home, it might pass on the disease to you.

Lastly, remember to practice tick prevention all year round. Stay away from places with tall grass, or avoid walking through dense undergrowth. Don't forget to consult your vet about vaccinating your dog against Lyme and always inspect your dog for ticks whenever you take them outdoors.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

For more information about Lyme disease and tick prevention, contact our O’Fallon veterinary team at Gentle Doctor Animal Hospital.