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Lyme Disease in Dogs: How to Prevent it?

Lyme disease in dogs is more and more common in the US, and is one of the most prevalent diseases caused by ticks worldwide. 

If you’re a first time dog owner, you’ll want to know how to recognize the symptoms and how to treat Lyme disease before it becomes a more serious problem for your doggie friend.

What is Lyme disease in dogs?

Certain types of ticks cause lyme disease. These ticks on dogs carry a bacteria called borrelia burgdorferi, which enters the dog’s bloodstream when the tick bites the dog.

The bacteria then travel to different parts of the dog’s body, potentially causing problems in joints or vital organs.

How do ticks get onto my dog?

Ticks can’t fly (fortunately!), so they can only wait at the ends of grasses and other plants for animals (or people) to walk by. When your dog brushes against a tree or bush, the tick grabs onto your friend and crawls over his coat to find a place to bite.

What are the signs of Lyme disease?

Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to tell if your dog has Lyme disease. Lyme disease signs - in addition to tick bite symptoms - tend to occur in only 5-10% of dogs. Often, a Lyme disease test is the only way to know for sure if your dog has been infected with the borrelia burgdorferi bacteria.

However, there are some clinical signs of Lyme disease for you to be aware of.

Look out for:

  • Lethargy
  • Joint swelling
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Decreased appetite
  • General pain, stiffness, or discomfort
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Lameness (especially if it seems to shift or be periodic)
  • Fever

If you are in doubt, have a vet check your dog. Lyme disease treatment is essential to start sooner rather than later. If left untreated, Lyme disease in dogs can lead to neurological problems, or even kidney failure, which can be fatal.

Lyme disease in dogs: symptoms that require urgent attention

If your dog is very unwell and showing any of the following symptoms, get your dog to your vet immediately, as these are early signs of kidney failure:

  • Vomiting
  • Fluid buildup (swollen limbs)
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Urinating more frequently
  • Drinking more often
  • Lack of appetite

How do vets diagnose Lyme disease in dogs?

There are two blood tests that vets carry out to determine if your dog has Lyme disease: the C6 and the Quant C6.

Your vet will also take into account any physical signs and your dog’s history, but the tests detect the presence of antibodies that would indicate an active Lyme infection.

Once an infected tick has bitten your dog, the antibodies can be detected from three to five weeks onward, even if your dog shows no physical symptoms.

Your vet will also analyze your dog’s urine to see if antibiotics are necessary.

If you suspect your dog has been in a tick-infested area, it’s worth bringing him to the vet even if he shows no signs of illness.

How is Lyme disease in dogs treated?

Your vet will usually prescribe a 30-day course of antibiotics for dogs, which in most cases does the job. Some dogs may need a longer course of medication to relieve specific ailments.

Control and prevention of Lyme disease in dogs

There are several ways you can help prevent the spread of this disease. You can avoid borrelia burgdorferi-infected ticks which cause Lyme disease, and also:

  • Do regular checks for ticks after walking through grass or the woods. Check your friend’s ears (around and inside them), under his tail and near his anus, on his lips, and on his feet (including between toes). Make your dog comfortable (perhaps get a dog ramp for bed) to make this process easier.
  • Remove ticks immediately, using tick removal tweezers. If you are unsure how to do this, ask your vet. 
  • Use flea and tick prevention products - your vet can help you choose the best one for your friend.
  • Have your vet check for ticks during checkups.
  • Avoid walking through long grass, and keep your own lawn mowed.
  • Ask your vet if you can get your dog vaccinated.

Lyme disease prevention in dogs is easier than treatment, so all of these steps are worth taking into consideration.

Can Lyme disease in dogs pass to humans?

You cannot catch Lyme disease directly from your dog, but if your dog is carrying an infected tick in his fur, that tick could get on you.

If your dog has Lyme disease, you may wish to check with your vet or medical professional to see if you or other pets need to be tested.

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