Lyme Disease: A Dog Owner’s Guide

Lyme disease is an illness that affects both animals and humans – a zoonotic disease – and is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is transmitted through tick bites and can be hard to detect, but will cause recurring health problems. With spring right around the corner, you’ll be spending more time outside – it’s important to make yourself aware of how to protect yourself and your pets from ticks.

dog and human preventing lyme disease

The disease is spread primarily by the deer tick. Deer ticks are usually found in forests or grassy, wooded, marshy areas near rivers, lakes or oceans. It got its name from numerous cases in Lyme, Conn., in 1975, and has since been reported in humans and animals across the United States and around the world. It appears primarily in specific areas including the southern New England states; eastern Mid-Atlantic states; the upper Midwest, and on the West Coast, particularly northern California.

Anytime Lyme disease is discovered in a lab or by a doctor, it is reported to the CDC. You can find a map from the CDC detailing confirmed cases of Lyme disease throughout the years right here.

Preventing Lyme Disease

Taking preventative measures to make sure your pets don’t get Lyme disease is the best way to protect them. It is best practice to keep your dog up to date on all their vaccines and worm treatments year-round, and especially important in the warmer months, even during the last weeks of summer.

  • Use reliable tick-preventive products. Speak with your veterinarian about what tick preventive product your pet should use.
  • Discuss with your veterinarian to decide whether to vaccinate your dog against Lyme disease. This may depend on where you live, your pet’s lifestyle and overall health, and other factors.
  • When possible, avoid areas where ticks might be found.
  • Check for ticks on both yourself and your animals after being outdoors.
  • Keep lawns and yards well maintained, and clear shrubbery next to homes.
Dog treated for fleas and ticks in a field

As mentioned above, your dog may not need to be on Lyme Disease prevention medicine. However, it is a good idea to ask and confirm with your vet. If you decide your dog should be vaccinated against Lyme disease, you will typically need an initial vaccine followed by a 2-4-week booster and annual boosters after that.

Lyme Disease in pets – symptoms and treatments

Your pet may be infected for 2-5 months before they show any of the following symptoms:

  • Decreased activity
  • Joint swelling
  • Lameness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever

“Symptomatically, Lyme disease can be difficult to distinguish from anaplasmosis because the signs of the diseases are very similar, and they occur in essentially the same areas of the country. Lyme disease is diagnosed through a blood test that shows whether an animal has been exposed to the bacterium.” – American Veterinary Medical Association

These symptoms can come and go and range in severity. Joint swelling can range from days to weeks and may move from different joints or affect all joints at once.

Thankfully antibiotics usually provide effective treatment for Lyme disease. However, always follow your vet’s advice on follow-up aftercare for your pet.

Hiking trails with dogs

Lyme disease is not contagious or transferrable from one animal to another, except through tick bites. However, if you have more than one pet and one is diagnosed with Lyme disease, your veterinarian might recommend testing any other pets who may have been exposed to ticks at the same time. It is also best practice to get the whole family (human and non-human) tested because people and their pets often can be found together outdoors as well as indoors. If anyone in your household is diagnosed with Lyme disease, speak to your vet and doctor who can advise about further evaluation or testing.

Share this blog with your friends so they can protect their pets from Lyme disease too.