What’s Up With Lyme Disease In Dogs?

Dogs, Parasites

Spring weather is here again, which means many people are taking their dogs out for nature walks. This is also the time of year veterinarians see an “uptick” in Lyme disease infections.

Lyme Disease is Spread by Tick Bites

Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria spread by the Ixodes tick commonly referred to as a “deer tick.” It can be spread by the nymph or adult life stages of the tick. Ticks, especially nymph stages, can be active all year. The ticks that pass the infection on to our dogs usually get it from wild rodents carrying the Lyme bacteria (Borrelia).

Ticks Need One to Two Days to Pass On Lyme Disease

A tick has to be attached to your dog for 24-48 hours before infecting your pet. However, most Lyme disease in dogs is subclinical, meaning we do not see obvious signs of infection. When a dog does show symptoms, we can see signs such as fever, joint pain, enlarged lymph nodes, and decreased appetite in the early (acute) phase.

Lyme Disease Can Be Detected Laboratory Tests

We test for Lyme as well as 2 other diseases that are spread by ticks on our yearly heartworm tests. These can be done in-house or sent off to the lab. It takes 4-6 weeks after being infected with the Lyme organisms to test positive.

Spotsylvania County is a High Risk Area

Spotsylvania County has an average of 7% of pets testing positive each year among all tests performed at the laboratory. If your pet tests positive for Lyme disease, we will recommend sending out a blood test called a C6 titer to determine if your pet likely has a new infection or if this is an ongoing infection. We will also recommend testing your pet’s urine and kidney function to check for signs of inflammation in the kidney. Using all of this information, we try to make the best recommendation for your pet on whether treatment is indicated.

Lyme Disease Can Be Treated

These signs can improve with treatment. Long term infections can cause inflammation in the kidneys that can lead to progressive kidney failure as well as ongoing joint pain and lameness. These “long term” or chronic infections do not usually improve with treatment.

Not All Lyme-Infected Dogs Need Antibiotics

The standard treatment is a 30 day course of an antibiotic called doxycycline. Antibiotics for a tick bite are not recommended, but pets should be monitored after a tick bite. Antibiotics in pets that test positive for Lyme but do not have any signs of disease is controversial, as some dogs will never develop signs and most dogs will still test positive for Lyme disease for years after infection, whether or not they were treated.

Vaccines and Preventive Medicine Are Your Dog’s Best Protection

We have 2 main ways to prevent Lyme disease. A vaccine is available which is highly effective at preventing infection. It is given as an initial series of 2 vaccines, 2-4 weeks apart, and is repeated annually.

Tick preventative should also be given, even in vaccinated dogs, as there are multiple other tick-borne diseases in this area. We carry oral flea and tick preventatives which are highly effective. Topical products are also available over the counter or by prescription (some are better than others, so please feel free to ask during your appointment for a recommendation). Checking your pet for ticks after being outside and removing any you find also helps, although even people that develop Lyme do not usually ever find a tick on them!

Good News! You Cannot Contract Lyme Disease From Your Dog

The Lyme bacteria has to go through the tick in its life cycle in order to carry out an infection. Dogs are not believed to act as a source of infection to people. But, that doesn’t mean you are safe. In areas with a high incidence of Lyme in dogs, there is also a high incidence of Lyme in people. If your dog can get bit by ticks, so can you.

Check out www.capcvet.org for information on many different parasites and vector-borne diseases.

Spotsylvania Animal Hospital can help you prepare your pet for summer weather. We test for and vaccinate against Lyme disease at our veterinary offices, conveniently located downtown. Contact us for details or questions.

– Dr. Baker

Spotsylvania Animal Hospital provides medical and surgical care for every stage of your pet's life including preventive wellness care exams and vaccines, spays/neuters, and a variety of specialized care for your dog or cat. Learn more about us!

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