Lyme Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Updated: 3/19/20242-4 minutes
A person lays in a hammock, petting and smiling at their dog, who lays in their lap

Whether you’re getting ready to take your dog for a walk in the woods or just a stroll through the park, it can help to plan ahead. Before you go, consider the route, weather conditions, and yes—ticks

Ticks are small parasites that live in grass and vegetation. If your dog is close enough to them, they can jump onto their body and bite. The bite is often painless, but the contact can infect your pet with Lyme disease. In particular, the black-legged tick (a.k.a., deer tick) is known to be a carrier of the disease.

Keep reading to learn more about Lyme disease, including how to identify the symptoms and steps you can take to help prevent it.

What is Lyme Disease in Dogs?

Lyme disease in dogs is transmitted by the black-legged tick, which can infect your pet with a type of bacteria, called Borrelia burgdorferi. Once it enters your dog’s bloodstream, this spiral-shaped bacterium most commonly affects their joints and kidneys, but it can spread throughout the body.

What Are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs?

In humans, Lyme disease is associated with a bullseye-shaped rash, however, this is not generally the case in our pets. While some pets will never display any symptoms, the most common signs of Lyme disease in dogs are: 

Severe cases of the disease are not very common, but it is possible for the condition to progress and become fatal. Neurological symptoms or kidney failure can occur in more advanced cases. So, it’s important to contact your veterinarian if you notice any symptoms in your pet, especially if you find a tick on their body.

How is Lyme Disease in Dogs Diagnosed?

The symptoms of Lyme disease overlap with a variety of other illnesses, including other bacterial infections. This is why blood tests are necessary to diagnose the condition. These tests look for specific antibodies produced by the pet’s body when trying to fight an active Lyme disease infection. 

It can take between three to six weeks after the infection for antibodies to be produced and detected by blood tests, however. So, your veterinarian is likely to run other tests, too, such as a complete blood cell count, urinalysis or joint fluid analysis.

What is the Treatment for Lyme Disease in Dogs?

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria, so a course of antibiotics is often prescribed. The initial course of medication typically lasts a month but may be prolonged if necessary. If your dog is experiencing joint pain, your veterinarian may recommend pain medicine as well.

Occasionally, dogs have no symptoms and might only require monitoring and urine tests. In severe cases of Lyme disease, your pet may need to be hospitalized. 

When Are Ticks With Lyme Disease Most Active?

Ticks may be more present in warmer months, but you can find them throughout the year. If the temperature is above 40 degrees, there’s a risk of encountering them.

Where Do Ticks With Lyme Disease Live? 

Black-legged ticks are primarily found in the eastern United States and Midwest. Additionally, the western black-legged tick, which also carries Lyme disease, is active along Pacific coast states.

Prognosis for Dogs With Lyme Disease

Most dogs with Lyme disease respond well to treatment and do not get sick. If sickness does occur, symptoms usually subside within a couple days of starting antibiotics.

Unfortunately, in severe cases of the disease that cause kidney failure, dogs often don’t recover.

Can Dogs Transmit Lyme Disease to Humans?

Dogs can’t pass Lyme disease directly to people. If your pet is infected, you don’t need to worry about them making you sick. Remember, though, like your dog, you can get Lyme from a tick. It’s important to take preventative steps to avoid infection for you and your pet, and pursue treatment if you or they have the disease.

How to Prevent Lyme Disease in Your Dog

Fortunately, there are several ways to help reduce the risk of your dog catching Lyme disease.

Keep Your Dog on Designated Trails

Try to keep your dog away from tall grass. This is especially important in wooded areas, where ticks are more likely to be found. However, if you live in a region known to have black-legged ticks, it’s a good idea to limit your pet’s romps through grassy or brushy areas. 

Check for Ticks

Check your dog (and yourself) for ticks after you return home from a walk. Typically, a tick needs at least 24 hours to transmit the disease, so the sooner you find and remove it, the better.

Stay Current With Tick Treatments

Dogs can come into contact with a range of parasites, including ticks. Talk to your veterinarian about ensuring your canine is up-to-date with all their necessary tick treatments. They may recommend a product that offers protection against both fleas and ticks.

Ask About a Lyme Disease Vaccination

Dog vaccinations against Lyme disease are available, but they’re usually not included in their routine vaccination schedule. Ask your veterinarian whether a vaccine is necessary and suitable for your pet. They’ll likely make a risk assessment based on factors such as whether you live in an area affected by ticks or you visit certain areas often enough to considerably raise the risk of infection.

Lyme disease in dogs is a serious condition. Fortunately, with preventative steps, you can minimize your pet’s risks. If your dog is infected with the disease, they can often make a full recovery through proper treatment.

For more expert tips on your canine companion’s health, explore our dog symptoms articles.

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