Browse our veterinary-reviewed Dog and Cat Illness Guide to learn more about pet health. Always talk to your veterinarian if you have a concern about your pet's symptoms or health.
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Canine Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can lead to serious diseases.
The bacteria transfer through a tick bite. A deer tick is the most typical tick to carry Lyme disease.
Once a tick bites your dog, the bacteria enter its bloodstream, travel throughout its body, and usually settle in their joints.
Humans can get Lyme disease. They also are infected through tick bites, and not from an infected pet. Be sure to check yourself for ticks after you have been outdoors, especially in wooded areas.
- Swollen, painful joints: the most common symptom
- High fever
- Loss of appetite
More serious signs will develop as the disease progresses:
- Kidney disorders
- Heart disorders
- Nervous system disease
Lyme disease can be fatal if allowed to progress. If you notice any of the initial signs in your dog, call your veterinarian immediately.
Diagnosing Lyme disease is difficult as your dog may show positive results and not really be infected. A positive result only means that they were exposed to the bacteria at some point.
- Review medical history
- Discuss possible tick exposure
If your veterinarian suspects Lyme disease, they will run a variety of tests to determine if your pet is infected:
- CBC - Complete Blood Count: measures the amount of red and white blood cells
- ELISA - Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay: checks if your dog has the antibodies for Lyme disease
- Antibody Test: often used after a positive ELISA test to further check for antibodies
- Western Blot: often used after a positive ELISA test to find out if your dog has a live infection
- Qualitative PCR Test - Polymerase Chain Reaction Test: checks for bacteria in an animal or tick's DNA
- Immunofluorescence: uses a fluorescent dye to illuminate viruses or their antibodies in body tissue
Discovering Lyme disease early can result in a complete recovery.
Your veterinarian will prescribe medication, which you must give your dog for as long as your veterinarian instructs. They may appear recovered but may still be infected and could relapse.
A vaccine is available for Lyme disease. If you live in an area with many ticks where your dog roams, or you are taking them to the park, woods, camping, or hunting, ask your veterinarian about the vaccine.
Lyme disease is preventable with tick control:
- Avoid tick-infested environments: sandy, wooded and grassy areas, thick underbrush
- Tick repellents: for yourself and your dog, if you are going into woods or anywhere where there may be ticks; many flea preventatives also provide protection from ticks
- Tick checks: for yourself and your dog after walking in woods or fields; if you find any ticks on the dog, remove them immediately!
If the tick is moving, it has not yet bitten your dog. Quickly remove it and kill it by putting it in rubbing alcohol or crushing it between two solid surfaces. If you crush the tick, do not get its blood on your skin, as the bacteria can enter your body through a small cut.
If the tick is attached to your dog, use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to their skin as possible, and slowly and steadily pull it straight out. It is important to kill the tick in alcohol after removing it, as it may look for another host to feed on.
If you catch the disease in its early stages and administer medication as prescribed, there is a great prognosis for a full recovery. Keep in mind that recovered dogs are not immune to contracting the disease again, and it is possible to be re-infected.
Medically Reviewed by Sara Ochoa, DVM