Male veterinarian examining great dane on cancer in vet clinic

Summer is around the corner, and with the heat come along pests that pester our four legged friends. Ticks, top the list of parasites, and pet owners get wound up about these bugs that wreak havoc in your pet’s life. And, when left unattended a tick infestation can cause other health complications too!

Facts about Lyme Disease every Dog Parent should Know

Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria which is carried by certain species of ticks.

Deer ticks, Taiga ticks Western black-legged ticks, and Sheep ticks are the most common vector ticks for this disease. These ticks also carry other blood-borne diseases such as Canine Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Anaplasmosis. When a tick bites an infected rodent or deer, and later attaches itself to a dog’s skin for a meal, it passes the Lyme disease to the unsuspecting animal.

The transmission of these ticks can happen suddenly and quickly, with the possibility of the infection worsening the longer the ticks are attached to your dog’s hair. It is therefore prudent to check your dog for ticks at least twice every day during tick season which is in May and June.

That said, just because a tick carrying the disease attaches itself to your pet, it does not mean he will get the Lyme disease. In fact, only a small percentage of dogs exposed to the bacteria actually get infected. The symptoms of the disease in dogs are a lot different from human symptoms.

For instance, human beings may develop a red rash at the site of the bite, but your dog will not. Most dogs infected by the bacteria rarely exhibit any symptoms and the bacteria is only discovered through a blood test. And, this is why most vets recommend a routine blood test to ensure your dog is in good health.

If your dog does develop symptoms of the infection, it can be well after the bite — even months later. Some of the symptoms of Lyme disease are as follows:

  • Lethargy
  • Swelling in the joints
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen lymph nodes that hurt
  • Lameness or stiff walk
  • Depression
  • Difficulty breathing

In some rare cases, the infection can progress into kidney disease and kidney failure that may be life threatening. So, if your dog has been diagnosed with Lyme, ensure that you schedule regular blood tests to monitor kidney health. In some other cases, your dog may also develop a nervous system or heart problem after being infected with the Lyme bacteria.

Is your dog at risk for getting Lyme?

You will be surprised to know that Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases across the globe. Like we already mentioned, not all ticks that are infected carry the disease. But your dog stands a higher risk of getting infected if you live in and around wild life or where rodents and deer live. Ticks also like to remain on bush limbs such as Manzanita bushes and when you or your dog brush up on the bush, they climb onto your body or your dog’s that way.

Most breeds of dogs can resist the bacteria, however 10% succumb to the disease. The sooner you remove ticks off the fur of your dog, the lesser is the risk of him or her getting infected. Removal of embedded adult ticks within 24 hours can curb the transmission of the infection.

Larval tick nymphs too can transmit the bacteria. If you suspect your dog has ticks, and is exhibiting the above mentioned symptoms, consult a vet immediately. The longer the time between the diagnosis and treatment, the more difficult it is to treat the disease.

Treating Dog Lyme Disease

Once diagnosed with Lyme, your dog will be treated as an outpatient unless its condition deteriorates due to severe kidney failure. Doxycycline is the most administered antibiotic, and the treatment may run a course of at least four weeks, and longer in some cases. The vet may also suggest an anti-inflammatory if your dog is in excruciating pain.

However, it is important to know that an anti-biotic course may not help in completely eliminating the burgdorferi bacteria. The symptoms may reduce but return at a later date and the risk of contracting kidney disease continue to loom large.

There are several vaccines available on the market that prevent your dog from contracting Lyme disease. Your vet will give your dog an initial shot and a booster is administered several weeks later, followed by annual vaccinations.

A primary way to prevent your dog from contracting Lyme disease is tick avoidance. Here are some tips from experts at the CDC:

  • If your dog spends a lot of time outdoors, be sure to check his or her coat for ticks every day.
  • If you find ticks, remove it immediately.
  • Ask your vet to check for ticks every time you take your dog for a routine checkup.
  • Keep your yard clean by clearing tall grass and mowing and raking it regularly. This will keep your yard tick-safe.
  • Use medicated powder and other tick and flea prevention products prescribed by your vet.
  • Cutting down and eliminating some of the bushes on your property.

Your dog is no less than a family member, and the onus of protecting its health falls upon you. Have your vet test your dog for tick-borne diseases annually. After all, prevention is better than the cure!