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Lyme Disease in Dogs

Dogs love the outdoors, they love running in parks, forested areas and some love going for a swim especially on a hot summer day. As much as we try to protect our dogs from harm, whether in a city dog park or out on a nature walk in the country, sometimes our dogs encounter ticks, which if not properly treated can result in your dog becoming infected with the bacterium that causes Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi).  

Most dogs who have been bitten by a tick will not contract Lyme disease. It is thought to take 36-48 hours before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted, so getting a tick removed as quickly as possible is very important.

Can Dogs get Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease in your dog is transmitted through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick (deer tick, Ixodes scapularis or Western blacklegged tick, Ixodes pacificus) that is infected with the bacteria. When an infected tick bites a dog, the bacteria can be transmitted to the dog and cause Lyme disease - they can't pass the illness to humans, however when both humans and dogs are in the same environment they are both at risk of being bitten by an infected tick.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs

Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs may include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, joint pain or stiffness, and swollen lymph nodes. In some cases, dogs with Lyme disease may develop more serious complications such as kidney disease or nervous system disorders.

Lyme Disease in Dogs: Treatment

If you suspect that your dog may have Lyme disease, it's important to take them to your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment. Treatment typically involves a course of antibiotics, and with prompt treatment, most dogs with Lyme disease can recover fully. 

To help prevent Lyme disease in your dog, it's important to use tick prevention products, such as tick preventative tablets or topical treatments, and to check your dog for ticks regularly, especially after spending time outdoors in areas where ticks are common.

Can Lyme Disease Be Cured in Dogs? 

Yes, Lyme disease in dogs can be treated and cured with appropriate veterinarian intervention. The disease can cause a range of symptoms in dogs, including fever, lethargy, lameness, and swollen lymph nodes.

To treat Lyme disease in dogs, veterinarians can prescribe a course of antibiotics such as doxycycline. The length of treatment will depend on the severity of the infection, but it usually lasts for several weeks. In addition to antibiotics, supportive care such as pain relief medication, fluids, and rest may be recommended to help manage the dog's symptoms and aid in the recovery process. It's important to note that while Lyme disease in dogs can be cured with treatment, it's essential to prevent tick bites and promptly remove any ticks found on your dog to reduce the risk of infection. Speak to your veterinarian about the best preventative measures for your dog, including tick control products and vaccines.

Where Lyme Disease in Dogs Comes From

If you have a dog that spends time outdoors in areas where ticks are common, it is important to talk to your veterinarian about tick prevention and treatment options.

Always check your pets and yourself for ticks after walks or when bringing them in from outside. Ticks are often too small to see when they first get on your pet, prior to being engorged with blood, so inspect carefully. A comb can be used to help spot ticks that may have attached to your pet. The sooner these ticks are discovered, the less chance they have of transmitting harmful bacteria.

What to Do If You Find a Tick On Your Dog

If you discover a tick that has bitten your dog, follow these instructions from Alberta Health to remove it safely:

  • Using tweezers, gently grasp its head and mouth parts as close to the skin as possible.

  • Without squeezing the tick, slowly pull the tick straight up off the skin — do not jerk or twist it.

  • Do not apply matches, cigarettes or petroleum jelly to the tick.

  • Once the tick has been removed, clean the bite area with soap and water and disinfect the area with an antiseptic. Wash hands with soap and water.

  • Save the tick in a clean, empty container. Do not add any ventilation holes to the container that is being used to put the tick(s) in. You can put more than one tick in the container if they are found on the same person or animal in the same general area in the environment.

  • Add a small piece of tissue or cotton ball, lightly moistened with water, into the container to prevent the tick(s) from drying out.

Tick Surveillance and Lyme Disease Testing For Dogs  

Tick surveillance is crucial to tracking the spread of tick-borne diseases, and it allows the government to inform us of outbreaks and high-risk areas. If you are uncomfortable or unable to remove the tick yourself, contact your veterinarian for removal, though the earlier a tick is removed the less chance it has to cause infection. 

If you find a tick on your pet, yourself, someone else, or anywhere outside, Alberta Health asks you to submit it for testing as part of a tick surveillance program. 

Lyme Disease in Dogs: Always Consult with Your Veterinarian 

If you have questions about Lyme disease in your dog, or you believe your dog has encountered a tick bite, contact your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian is the best source for information to keep your dog healthy.