Everything You Need To Know About Lyme Disease In Dogs (According To A Vet)


Last Updated: May 11, 2023 | 5 min read | 2 Comments

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Lyme disease is a fairly common illness in dogs, just as it is in humans. And cases continue to rise in both species every year. Despite widely available preventative measures for dogs, the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CACP) reported that confirmed cases in the U.S. rose over 43% between 2017 and 2021. Here’s everything you need to know about spotting the symptoms, preventing, diagnosing, and treating this expensive tick-borne illness. Symptoms can take months to develop so it’s important to keep an eye on your pup long after a tick bite.

What Is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is an infectious illness caused by ticks. Ticks often carry the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, responsible for transferring Lyme disease through a bite that then gets into our bloodstream. Ticks pick up this bacteria by feeding on infected hosts, most commonly mice.

Who Can Get Lyme Disease?

Dogs, cats, and people are all at risk of developing Lyme disease. You can’t get infected by touching your pet. You can only get infected through a tick’s bite. Ticks are commonly found in tall grassy, wooded, or sandy areas, so avoiding them is difficult.

When & Where Are Ticks The Most Active? (According To A Vet)

Ticks tend to be most active in the warmer months in the northern hemisphere, although they can attach year-round in many parts of the USA. Your vet will be able to tell you when ‘tick season’ starts in your area – and once it does, you should use regular tick-preventative treatments to prevent ticks,” says veterinarian Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, MRCVS.

The species of ticks and their abundance varies geographically, but the increased movement of animals means that these ticks are establishing themselves in new areas. While the brown dog tick has historically been found throughout North America, the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick has traditionally been found in the Rocky Mountains and Canada. The Gulf Coast tick is usually found on the Gulf Coast, while the Lone Star tick is mostly reported in the Southeast/Eastern USA. This means that the diseases commonly spread by these ticks can vary depending on the area of the country – Lyme disease, which is spread by Ixodes ticks, is more prevalent in the Eastern states and the Pacific coastal regions” says Woodnutt.

Woodnutt says “Surveillance studies have recently found a tick called D. reticulatus, which was not previously recorded in the UK. It has been found on untravelled dogs but is assumed to have been brought in by pet travel. There appears to be an established pocket of these ticks in the east of the UK now.”

What Are The Potential Hazards Or Illnesses Associated With Tick Bites?

According to Woodnutt, “Because ticks move from host to host, feeding is a common route for spreading diseases from pet to pet. It’s estimated that about 10% of tick species are vectors for disease. This includes the most common ticks in the United States. So it’s no surprise that pets in the US get diseases from ticks.”

The most common illness that dogs catch from ticks is Lyme disease, caused by a bacteria called Borrelia Burgdorferi. This is widespread in the USA and is becoming more common in the UK. There are other tick-borne diseases that affect dogs, including canine Babesiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Ehrlichiosis. Tick paralysis is also a concern.”


Is there a vaccine for Lyme disease? There was a human vaccine for Lyme disease until 2002, when it was discontinued because there wasn’t enough demand. But dog and cat vaccines are still available, However, it isn’t recommended for all pets and breeds. Ask your vet about whether your pet is a prime candidate for this vaccine.

There are still other precautions you should take to avoid Lyme disease. You should check your dog for ticks after hiking or any other outdoor excursions.

  1. Be sure to protect yourself as well and wear a pair of gloves and long sleeves while you check your pet.
  2. Common areas where you can find ticks include the ears, shoulders and belly but be sure to check the rest of your dog’s body.
  3. Remove any ticks you find with a pair of tweezers.
    1. Use fine-tipped tweezers.
    2. Grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
    3. Pull upward with steady, even pressure.
  4. After removal, clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or soap and water.

You should also try to apply some tick repellent to your dog to help deter ticks. Talk to your vet about the best repellent for ticks in your area. We have suggestions for homemade tick prevention, as well as products available on the market that help prevent ticks.

Symptoms Of Lyme Disease In Dogs

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Lyme disease symptoms typically take a couple of months (or more) to appear. There are three states of Lyme disease, and your dog may show signs of any of the three states and progress to others, depending on the case.

If you notice your dog has a sudden occurrence of these symptoms, you should immediately schedule an appointment with your vet.

Acute Lyme Disease

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Anorexia
  • Acute arthritis in one or more joints
  • Shifting lameness from one leg to another
  • Swollen joints that may be warm to the touch

Subacute Lyme Disease

  • Persistent lameness
  • Inflammatory changes in the joints
  • Arthritis

Chronic Lyme Disease

  • Cardiac issues (e.g., arrhythmias)
  • Neurological signs
  • Arthritis
  • Kidney damage

Lyme Nephritis

In rare cases, kidney damage can turn into Lyme nephritis, which can be fatal.

  • Anorexia
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle wasting
  • Lethargy
  • Bad breath
  • Elevated creatinine and blood urea nitrogen
  • Excess fluid

Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are predisposed to developing Lyme nephritis, so you need to give extra attention to these breeds.

Dog With Lyme Disease

The video below shows a Beagle suffering from Lyme disease. It’s heartbreaking to see a dog like this, but fortunately, his pet parent took him to the vet to get the medical care he needed. This video can help give you an idea of a dog’s symptoms who’s suffering from Lyme disease.

How To Treat Lyme Disease In Dogs

If you think your dog has Lyme disease, you should take your dog to the vet immediately. The vet will conduct a blood test to see if your dog tests positive for Lyme disease. If positive, your vet will prescribe antibiotics to help eliminate the bacteria from your dog’s bloodstream.

Treatment is a long process, and sometimes your vet will have to alter the prescribed antibiotic because the bacteria can become immune to certain medications.

Be sure to follow your vet’s instructions with administering any medication to your dog. Most antibiotics require the full course of medication to ensure the infection clears from the dog’s system.

Can Lyme Disease Impact A Dog’s Life Expectancy?

Unfortunately, Lyme disease can negatively affect a dog’s life expectancy. There can be irreversible damage to the kidney, heart, or nervous system. This damage can ultimately reduce the quality and longevity of a dog’s life.

How Much Does It Cost To Treat Lyme Disease?

A long treatment course sounds pricey, doesn’t it? The initial bloodwork for the Lyme disease test costs around $80. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, you must focus on treatment for your dog’s Lyme disease.

Antibiotics aren’t cheap, and in some areas, a two-week supply can cost $400 or more. Blood tests are also needed, which cost about $80, and an exam fee can be $40 or more. How can you reduce these costs?

Consider pet insurance for this or any potential emergency you and your pet may happen upon. So long as it was not a pre-existing condition, pet insurance companies will pay for treatment medications, blood tests and potentially exam fees.

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