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Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs

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You may not realize it, but dogs, like people, can contract Lyme disease from ticks. Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs can be quite subtle if you don't know what to look for. This is why it is important to know not only the symptoms, but also regularly check your dog for ticks.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is one of the most commonly transmitted tick-borne diseases. It was first reported in the United States back in 1975 in Lyme and Old Lyme, Connecticut, where an unusual number of children had symptoms similar to rheumatoid arthritis. All these children were bitten by ticks. Experts later determined that Lyme disease is usually caused by a spirochete bacterium. Borrelia burgdorferi.1 (Interestingly, Lyme disease can technically be caused by several different strains of the virus. Borrelia/Lyme disease, But Burgdorferi most common in the United States.) Bacteria interact directly with cellular tissue, causing a variety of problems.

Lyme disease is most often transmitted by the deer tick (also called the black-legged tick), although it can be transmitted by at least three other tick species.Although Lyme disease is more common in dogs, it can infect cats as well.

Where does Lyme disease occur?

Lyme disease can be found in any part of the United States, but is most common in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and Pacific Coast.3 Although tick season typically begins in the spring and continues into the fall, these parasites can be active when temperatures rise above freezing (32°F). Dogs usually pick up ticks in heavily wooded areas or in areas where there are bushes or tall grass. Ticks also live in backyards where other animals leave them.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs

Dogs don't have the characteristic red, sometimes bull's-eye rash that we humans see, so your pet's infection may not be as obvious. However, some common symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs and cats include:4

  • Anorexia
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Joint swelling or pain
  • Lameness (inability to move limbs normally)
  • Reluctance to move

Symptoms can progress and sometimes be fatal, so it is important to get your dog diagnosed if he has any of these symptoms.

The veterinarian will perform a physical examination and tell you your dog's history. To determine if your pet has contracted Lyme disease, your veterinarian will usually order blood tests. The presence of Lyme disease antibodies in the blood can indicate an active infection, and they usually appear about three to five weeks after the tick bite. However, sometimes they can be detected even before you notice symptoms.

If the tests come back positive, your dog will receive antibiotics for up to four weeks. Sometimes longer treatment or therapy is required.

Preventing Lyme disease in dogs

Prevention is the best defense against ticks, the carriers of the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Check your pet every day for these parasites and if you find a tick, remove it immediately. This is important because ticks usually take about one to two days to transmit Lyme disease, so removing them quickly can reduce the risk.5

It is vital for all pet owners to know how to remove a tick from a cat or dog. Using tweezers, grab the tick and pull firmly and firmly until it is free and all the way out, making sure you remove the head. Dip the tick in rubbing alcohol to kill it, and thoroughly clean and disinfect the bite area.

Protect your pet even further with a tick-killing product like Adams Plus Flea and Tick Treatment for Dogs, which provides flea and tick protection for up to 30 days. The Adams Plus Flea and Tick Collar for Dogs and Puppy kills fleas, ticks, flea eggs and larvae for up to six months. As an added bonus, these products also repel mosquitoes.* This is important because dogs can become infected with West Nile virus, which is carried by mosquitoes.

Protecting your pet is not enough; you want to keep your home and yard pest free to protect you and your dog. Adams Indoor Flea and Tick Spray or Adams Plus Indoor Flea and Tick Spray are excellent products to use around the home, providing flea protection for up to seven months. Consider using Adams Yard & Garden Spray, which kills fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, ants and more.

Lyme disease can cause mild symptoms in dogs, but sometimes dogs can have severe reactions to the bacteria. That's why it's important to protect your dog and always check for ticks when you return home from outdoor fun.

*excluding California

1. Lyme Bay Foundation. "Borrelia burgdorferi". BayAreaLyme.org, https://www.bayarealyme.org/about-lyme/what-causes-lyme-disease/borrelia-burgdorferi/.

2. Straubinger, Reinhard K. "Lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis) in dogs." June 2018. Merck Veterinary Manual, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/disorders-affecting-multiple-body-systems-of-dogs/lyme-disease-lyme-borreliosis-in-dogs.

3. Ibid.

4. Meyers, Harriet. "Lyme Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Tests, Treatment and Prevention." AKC, May 15, 2020, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/lyme-disease-in-dogs/.

5. Straubinger, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/disorders-affecting-multiple-body-systems-of-dogs/lyme-disease-lyme-borreliosis-in-dogs.

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