It’s a dreadful sight: you get home from taking your dog on a nice long walk and spot a tick on its body. Your first reaction might be panic. It’s important to stay aware of ticks and remove them from your dog as soon as possible. It’s also important to educate yourself on diseases ticks can carry to dogs, such as Lyme disease.
What Is Lyme Disease?
Before talking about symptoms or treatment, it’s important to understand what Lyme disease is. Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. Ticks carry these bacteria and can transmit them to another animal when they hook into its skin.
The most common carriers of Lyme disease are certain subspecies of ticks. These include deer ticks, castor bean ticks (commonly found on or around sheep), taiga ticks, and black-legged ticks. Not all ticks carry the disease, but there’s no way to know which ones are or aren’t carrying Lyme disease just by looking at them.
If you live in an area where ticks are common, you should proceed with caution. Of dogs exposed to Lyme disease, only five-10 percent will develop an infection. Many dogs can fight it off. This does not mean you should be less cautious because Lyme disease infections are very serious when they occur.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs
There’s a wide array of symptoms your dog may show if they have Lyme disease. Unlike humans, dogs do not develop the telltale “bullseye” rash that is usually used as an indicator of Lyme disease in humans.
Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs can be:
- Walking stiffly with an arched back
- Not eating regularly (less appetite)
- Joint swelling
- Unwilling to move
- Leg lameness (may start suddenly and persist for three to four days)
- Breathing difficulties
- Superficial lymph node at or around the site of the tick bite
Rare complications that can occur from Lyme disease in dogs are:
- Kidney issues or failure
- Heart complications
- Nervous system disorder
Lyme disease can cause recurring effects. For example, your dog may be fine one day and then have a bout of swollen joints resulting in leg lameness the next. The symptoms can ebb and flow, but the underlying disease is always there and must be addressed.
Treatment for Dogs with Lyme Disease
If your dog is diagnosed with Lyme disease, your vet will likely try an antibiotic-based treatment. Antibiotics work more efficiently when Lyme disease is treated early on. Treating Lyme disease with antibiotics early on allows the antibiotics to work more efficiently.
If you’ve caught your dog’s Lyme disease early, antibiotics and some rest may be all your dog needs to feel better. You will typically have to give your dog their antibiotics once or twice per day (according to your medication instructions) for about 30 days. Dogs may start to show improvements in their symptoms in just 24-48 hours!
It’s extremely important to follow the instructions for the antibiotics very carefully. Never stop giving the medicine because the dog’s symptoms are better. Even if the dog’s symptoms are better, the bacteria are not fully dissolved until the full course of antibiotics is done. Stopping antibiotics early can lead to resistance and harder to cure infections.
Treatment for most cases of Lyme disease can be taken care of entirely at home. If the dog’s Lyme disease is especially progressed or severe, a vet may suggest hospitalization.
Another thing to note is that after a dog gets infected with Lyme disease, it’s never truly gone. Antibiotics help kill off the active infection and get rid of the symptoms, but the bacteria lay dormant in the dog’s body for years to come. For these reasons, dogs can relapse later; you should always be on the lookout for resurfacing symptoms of Lyme disease in your dog.
Preventing Lyme Disease in Your Dog
Lyme disease is no fun – it’s scary and can affect your dog’s quality of life for years. The best way to ease your mind about Lyme disease is to protect your dog against it. Luckily, there are multiple effective ways to prevent your dog from getting Lyme disease!
Use a Flea and Tick Repellent
This should be a top priority when bringing a new dog into your life. You should get your dog on a good flea and tick prevention regimen as soon as possible. Your vet can suggest a good brand. There are tick prevention serums, chewables, and even collars that are safe and approved for use on dogs.
Inspect Your Dog
After any prolonged time outside, you should be doing a tick check on your dog. If you were in an area with especially long grass or wildlife or livestock, make sure you are tick-checking often and thoroughly.
In dogs, ticks will most commonly attach themselves to the feet (between the toes), ears (under or in the ears), under the tail, near the anus, on the lips, or around the eyes. You can check these areas more carefully, but you should check every spot on your dog’s body. Use your fingers to feel under the fur for bumps. Ticks can be small, so take your time to feel around.
Remove Ticks ASAP
If you do find a tick on your dog after an inspection, do not panic. Do not procrastinate on removing the tick, though. You should remove the tick quickly. Get a pair of tweezers and learn how to properly remove a tick. If you don’t know how to do it, just ask your vet to show you. You never know when you will need it! The faster a tick is removed, the lower the chance for Lyme disease becomes.
Keep Grass Short
Ticks love to hide in tall grass. Keep your grass mowed short if your dog spends a lot of time in the yard. Avoid walks or trails with lots of long grass.
Get Your Dog Vaccinated
There is a Lyme disease vaccine available for dogs. Your vet can explore with you whether it’s right for your dog. The vaccines are not 100 percent effective, but they add an extra layer of protection for your dog.
You can think of the Lyme disease vaccine as similar to the human influenza shot, it won’t protect you 100 percent from the flu, but it gives you a really good chance of fighting it off.
The Lyme disease vaccine is typically recommended for dogs who spend lots of time outdoors, live in certain areas, or have previously had Lyme disease. Except in the case of dogs who caught Lyme disease and developed kidney damage as a result, those dogs likely should never get the Lyme vaccine.
There’s a lot to consider, so ask a trusted veterinarian for advice. The Lyme disease vaccine is a great way to add an extra layer of protection on top of tick prevention medication and regular tick checks!
Lyme disease is serious. If your dog gets bit by a tick, make sure to take all the proper measures to avoid Lyme disease. By protecting your dog against ticks, you greatly lower their chance of getting Lyme disease. Make sure to always take protective measures and stay alert for ticks!