There are numerous diseases that humans contract that can also affect our pets, even if the symptoms are different. Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose, but it’s important to watch for symptoms in your dog as if it’s left untreated it can cause a lot of damage.
What is Lyme disease?
This disease is often thought to be caused by ticks biting animals, but that is actually only part of how this disease is contracted. This illness is actually caused by a bacteria that is carried by ticks, at least 4 species of them to be exact.
The most common tick to transport this disease is known as the deer tick, or black-legged tick, and it is a very tiny species of tick.
Ticks themselves do not actually carry or cause Lyme disease, but rather they carry the bacteria and transfer it to humans and animals that causes this disease.
How is Lyme disease contracted?
Ticks will bite humans and animals, and if the tick is carrying the bacteria in its body then it will be transmitted to the animal the tick bites.
Once a tick attaches to an animal, it will take about one or two days for the bacteria to transfer which is why it’s very important to remove ticks as soon as possible so there isn’t the chance for the bacteria to transfer.
The highest risk times of transmission is during the spring and fall, when the nymphs and adults are most active in seeking hosts. In Canada, when the temperature is consistently below 4°C the risk drops significantly as ticks will be far less active.
Where do ticks live?
Ticks are most commonly found in tall grass, marshy and wooded areas. Ticks, unlike most other bugs, don’t actually jump or fly.
They can only get to their hosts by crawling, so they wait on the tips of plants and wait for a dog (or even person) to brush up against the plant and they will crawl onto it quickly and bite to attach.
What are the symptoms in a dog?
There are some animals that have Lyme disease and not show any symptoms at all, while other animals will be quite symptomatic. In a dog, Lyme disease can show in any of the following symptoms
- Loss of appetite
- Painful or swollen joints
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Lameness that comes and goes
Some of these symptoms might be hard to spot – like the swollen lymph nodes. If your dog is normally a good eater, but isn’t eating like normal this would be a reason to take your dog in to the vet and can help them to catch this early, if they do in fact have Lyme disease.
Your vet will use the symptoms your dog is currently experiencing – like lameness and a recent mild fever – in conjunction with possible risk of exposure and other environmental factors.
Your vet may also do a couple of blood tests as the antibodies against the bacteria can show up in the blood tests about 4 – 6 weeks after the initial infection, so this can help confirm the diagnosis of the disease.
What happens if my dog has Lyme disease?
Finding and diagnosing this disease is key to making sure your dog has the best possible chances. If left untreated – or even undiagnosed – it can damage the heart, kidneys, and nervous system of your dog.
In some cases, Lyme diseases affecting the kidneys can be fatal for dogs. The form of Lyme disease that affects your dog’s heart is less common.
Thankfully, there are treatment options for dogs that are diagnosed with Lyme disease. Usually, vets will prescribe a course of antibiotics for about 4 weeks, although in some cases (depending on when the diagnosis was made) a second round of antibiotics may be needed for your dog.
Of course, always follow the advice of your veterinarian to make sure you’re doing the best thing for your dog.
Some dogs will have long-term, chronic joint pain, which is from the damage caused by the bacteria in the body. In some cases, dogs will need additional treatment for organ systems – like the kidneys – if your dog has contracted a kind of disease that affects additional organ systems.
The treatment for Lyme disease in dogs will often resolve the symptoms very quickly, but in certain cases, it will take longer for specific symptoms to disappear.
It is important to keep in touch with your vet for the ongoing care of your dog during this time to make sure the symptoms your dog is experiencing aren’t getting worse.
You might also like to read about: Symptoms of Intestinal Blockage in Dogs
How can I prevent my dog from getting Lyme disease?
Since dogs contract this disease when they are bitten by ticks, preventing your dog from playing host to ticks will be key to lowering their risk of infection.
If you go for long hikes with your dog in heavily wooded areas, this can be a breeding ground for ticks. Areas with lots of stagnant water can also be infested with ticks. Most vets will recommend a type of prevention that can help deter ticks from biting your dog.
Some vets will recommend a spray or vaccine for tick prevention, while others will recommend a monthly dose of flea and tick prevention during the most at risk seasons. Your vet will recommend the best course of action for your dog based on your lifestyle and how active your dog is, and any other underlying health concerns.
What if I find a tick on my dog?
After playing at the park or going for a long walk with your dog through infested areas, you should do a once over of your dog. Of course, your dog will love getting scratches, so you can use this as a distraction for checking them out.
If you find a tick on your dog, it should be removed from the dog as soon as possible. Since ticks bite, it will be firmly attached to the dog as it will try to burrow into your dog.
You can purchase a tool that looks like a little comb with very fine teeth. As you comb this tool through your dog’s fur, the teeth are so close together they will pick up the tick and pull it from your dog. You can also remove the tick with a pair of tweezers if needed.
After you remove the tick, you should put it in a bag or sealed container and take it to your vet’s office. Your vet can test it for Lyme disease, and that way determine if your dog was more at risk for infection.
You might also like to read about: Signs of Heartworm in Dogs
If my dog has Lyme disease, can I contract it?
Dogs with Lyme disease not a direct cause of the disease in humans. Thankfully, it cannot be transmitted from one pet to another or from an infected pet to a human. Lyme disease can only be transmitted through bites from ticks that are carrying the bacteria that causes this disease.
Unfortunately, though, if your dog has been diagnosed with Lyme disease you – and any other humans or pets in your house – should also be checked to see if you have been infected.
This is because you, and your other pets or family members, have likely been in the same outdoor area that the infected dog has been so you’ve likely had the same risk of exposure. You should consult with your doctor and vet to determine the best course of action.
Tips for preventing Lyme disease in dogs
Every day – especially during the highest risk times – inspect your dog quickly after coming in from a walk or time playing outside.
Ask Your Vet
If you can’t do a regular inspection on your dog for ticks, you can ask your vet to do a check when you visit to make sure there aren’t any attached to your dog.
Discuss with your vet about tick prevention options, and determine the best one for your dog based on your dog’s health, lifestyle and risk of exposure.
Keep Your Grass Short
Since ticks like to hang out in tall grass, if you keep your lawn short and cut it regularly then it’s less attractive for ticks to live in.
Get the Vaccination
Some vets will offer a vaccine for your dog, and if it’s the right option for your dog then it can be great in preventing ticks from biting your dog.
Spending time outside with your dog is great exercise for both you and your dog, but unfortunately there are bugs that can bite and harm your dog.
Making sure you inspect your dog regularly and look for the symptoms of Lyme disease so that you can catch and diagnose it early.
Should your dog have a confirmed case of Lyme disease, there are treatment options available, and working with your vet can ensure your dog stays healthy and this disease doesn’t have any harmful, long-term effects on your dog’s body.