Lyme Disease in Dogs and Cats
Nobody likes getting sick, and it’s especially difficult to see our beloved pets not feeling well.
Lyme disease is a widespread disease that affects both animals and humans. Today, we’re going to break down what Lyme disease is, symptoms of Lyme disease, Lyme disease treatments, and how to protect your pet from getting Lyme disease.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a tick-borne disease that affects both animals and humans. A tick is a type of parasite that will land on a human or animal and feed on their blood. A tick bite exposes the human or animal to any diseases that the tick carries.
Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria, Borrelia, which is carried by Black-Legged Ticks, otherwise known as Deer Ticks. A Deer Tick will need to attach to the host for 36 to 48 hours to complete Borrelia’s transmission to its host. (1)
Lyme disease occurs most often in the Northeastern, upper Midwestern, and West Coast areas of the United States and southern Canada.
Lyme disease frequently occurs in dogs but rarely affects cats. Experts are not entirely sure why this is, as cats can be affected by Borrelia infected ticks. However, they rarely contract Lyme disease. (2)
What Are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Pets?
There are a variety of symptoms of Lyme disease to watch out for in pets. Interestingly, Lyme disease symptoms will not show up in pets until two to five months after the tick bite. (1)
Here are the most common Lyme disease symptoms in pets:
- Swollen joints
- Lethargy or sluggishness
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty breathing
- Lameness (Please note that this can occur in spurts or be continuous)
- Generalized pain
- Rashes (typically circular and around the bite mark area)
According to the Veterinary Centers of America, Lyme disease symptoms are most regularly summarized as sudden, generalized pain and limping, as if a dog was walking on eggshells. (3)
Untreated Lyme disease can lead to severe problems, such as kidney failure, heart problems, and neurological changes.
If you suspect your pet has Lyme disease, immediately consult with your veterinarian.
How is Lyme Disease Treated?
Lyme disease is typically diagnosed after a veterinarian examines your pet for common symptoms and uses blood tests to detect the Borrelia bacteria in their bloodstream.
After diagnosis, antibiotics are used to fight the bacteria. Typically a pet will be placed on a four-week regime of several antibiotics to fight the infection. (4)
How to Protect Your Pet From Lyme Disease
The best way to protect your pet from Lyme disease is to prevent your pet from being exposed to ticks. Ticks typically live in areas that are wooded, grassy, or sandy. Unlike other insects, ticks cannot fly or jump great distances, so they rely on dropping from a higher area, such as tall grass or plants, onto their prey.
To protect your pet, prevent them from running through tall grass or wooded areas. Protect your pet by checking them for ticks after a walk and keeping them out of shaded areas with plants, tall grass, or overgrowth. In more urban areas, ticks can be found at dog parks, so you should check your pup for ticks after spending time there. You can also check our blog Flea and Tick Prevention: Vet Q&A for more advice on tick prevention.
Lyme Disease Vaccinations For Pets
If you have a dog, there is a vaccine available to protect against Lyme disease. Dogs will need to be vaccinated twice initially, with a period of two to four weeks in between the first and second shot. After the initial dosage, your pup will need a vaccination once a year to maintain their immunity. Please speak with your veterinarian about your dog’s risk level of getting Lyme disease and their overall health to determine if this is a good choice for your pet. (3)
On the other hand, cats do not yet have an approved vaccine to protect against Lyme disease. Fortunately, cats are at a significantly lower risk of getting Lyme disease. (2)
Tick Prevention Products
There are many tick prevention products that you can purchase over the counter or through your veterinarian to help prevent ticks from latching onto your pet or products to kill ticks found on your pet. Topical products are especially popular for their convenience and easy application.
If your pet is at a high risk of being exposed to ticks, you may also consider giving them a chewable designed to prevent disease transmission from ticks.
Always speak with your veterinarian before giving your pet any medications or using new products on them.
Prevention is the best way to help your pet avoid Lyme disease. Whether this is a Lyme disease vaccination, a chewable product, or topical tick prevention product, consult with your veterinarian about the best option for your pet.
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Sources (1) American Kennel Club (2) Cornell Feline Health Center (3) Veterinary Centers of America (4) Merck Manual Veterinary Manual