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Dogs and lyme disease - wooded areas

Lyme disease and dogs

Spring is in the air, and that means more outdoor time with our canine friends! Unfortunately, that can also mean more potential exposure to ticks. Tick bites can transmit the spiral-shaped bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. It is this bacterial infection that can lead to Lyme disease. Just as lyme disease can be dangerous if contracted by a human, it can be harmful to dogs as well. Although both cases are transmitted via the bite of a tick, the symptoms that present in dogs can differ than those that present in humans. In this article we will explore what the symptoms of Lyme disease look like in dogs, treatment and most importantly, prevention.

Where do ticks live?

Ticks are generally found in wooded areas, forest preserves, low-growing grasslands, and sometimes back yards.  Cases of Lyme disease have been documented in virtually all US states, but the most common areas appear to be the in the Northern regions.

The tick species that carry the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria are:

  • The Black-legged deer tick (northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and North-Central U.S.)
  • The Western black-legged tick (Pacific coastal U.S.)

It is worth noting that not all ticks carry the Lyme disease bacteria. Depending on the geographic region, anywhere from less than 1% to more than 50% of the ticks may be infected with it.

Lyme Disease symptoms in dogs

If a dog has Lyme disease, they may experience a variety of symptoms, including inflammation and fever. It is of interest to note that approximately, 95 percent of dogs infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria remain asymptomatic,  and do not develop Lyme disease. Despite this number, it is still important for pet owners to be vigilant and watch for symptoms if their dog has been potentially exposed to ticks. Symptoms in dogs can sometimes take a week to 3 weeks, or possibly even longer following a tick bite to appear.

Potential symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Swollen joints
  • Difficulty with mobility
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy and/or depression
  • Kidney problems


If you suspect your pet may have been bitten by a tick and/or is also exhibiting any of the above symptoms, it would be advisable to have them tested by your veterinarian.  A veterinarian may perform blood tests to detect the presence of antibodies to the bacterial agent of Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi). He or she may conduct additional tests to help diagnose infection and determine whether the infection has affected a dog’s kidneys.

Treatment of Lyme disease

Lyme disease can typically be treated with antibiotics, since the Lyme spirochete is a bacteria.  Lyme disease is commonly treated with oral doxycycline however, other antibiotics such as amoxicillin and azithromycin are also used.

Prevention: What can you do?

There are several preventative measures that can help your reduce or mitigate your dog’s exposure to tick bites.

  • Physical check: Always inspect your dogs and yourself for ticks after spending time outside in wooded or grassy areas. Pay attention to in-between toes, around the mouth, lips, eyes, inside ears, and under the tail.
  • Remove ticks as soon as possible. Remove ticks using recommend safe methods! Click here to view the CDC recommended methods of tick removal Be sure to destroy the tick by crushing it before disposing of it.
  • In your own yard, shorter manicured grass is less desirable for ticks to inhabit
  • There are also vaccinations  designed to prevent transmission of the Borrelia bacteria from the tick to the dog during a tick bite. Talk to your veterinarian about the pros and cons of these vaccinations and efficacy.
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