Can Dogs Get Lyme Disease?

The answer to this question is absolutely. In fact, estimates are as high as 50% to 75% that dogs living in the New England states may test positive for this tick borne disease, but Lyme Disease is not just prevalent in New England. It can occur anywhere the carrier tick, Ixodes scapularis (also called the deer tick or black legged tick) is found.

In the U.S., Lyme Disease has been reported in all of the lower 48 states with about 90% of reported cases occurring in New England. Although in recent years there has been an increase in reported dog and human Lyme Disease cases in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

The primary cause of Lyme Disease (named for the town of Lyme, Connecticut where it was first reported) is the spirochete bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, which lives in North America and Europe. Its mid west American cousin, Borrelia mayonii, is now known to cause Lyme Disease as well.

The question, “Can I get Lyme Disease from my dog?”, often comes up. The answer is no, dogs are not vectors of the disease. In fact, many dogs may never show symptoms of the disease. Arguably, only about 10% of test positive dogs actually show symptoms or suffer from the disease. You can only get Lyme Disease from a tick bite. But, if you are in the brush and tall grass a lot with your dog, then you are as apt as the dog to pick up a carrier tick. Hunting and retrieving breeds are most often affected, especially Labs and Golden Retrievers. You should always check your dog and yourself after any sort of field or mountain excursion―especially if you are tall grass or brush.

What Are the Symptoms?

Because dogs love running free in the great outdoors, they often pick up hitch hiking ticks. This makes dogs particularly susceptible to the diseases ticks carry. Lyme Disease is one of those and it should not be downplayed. Perhaps only 10% of dogs show serious symptoms but, if 10 million dogs contract it, then one million will suffer from it.

Here are the known Lyme Disease symptoms in dogs:

  • 103.5F fever (normal for dogs is 99.5F to 102.5F)
  • Lack of interest in food or play, no energy
  • Stiffness and pain (restless and whimpering)
  • Lame or joint swelling

Be aware that these symptoms may not manifest for several weeks or even 2 to 5 months in many cases.

It is important to know the tell tale signs of fever in your dog, whether the fever is due to Lyme Disease or not. Some of the most notable signs are:

  • General malaise
  • Red, watery or dull eyes
  • Hot, dry nose
  • Dull coat
  • Off food and water
  • Ears feel warm
  • Excessive shivering, body chills
  • Coughing, sneezing, vomiting
  • How Is Lyme Disease Treated?
  • First and foremost, do not ever treat your dog for anything without first taking him or her to the vet. What you believe to be Lyme Disease could be something entirely different.

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Treatment Process

Your vet will carefully examine your dog. He or she will also ask you a number of relevant questions regarding the dog’s activities, where the dog has been, etc.

Secondly, the vet will take a blood sample to test for Lyme Disease, particularly if the dog is symptomatic. Today, there are two very precise tests vets use to screen for this disease.

Thirdly, if your dog does test positive and has symptoms, then a treatment protocol will be recommended. That treatment should start immediately. Treatment with either of the antibiotics Doxycycline or Amoxicillin at your vet’s prescribed dose and duration can be very effective.

You should also treat the symptoms if your dog displays them. Your vet will advise you on this. Following the vet’s advice, you will want to treat the fever, swelling and lameness with a prescribed NSAID for dogs. This should only be a short term treatment for the above symptoms, however. You will also need to keep your sick pooch hydrated and fed. Again, get your vet’s recommendations for this and follow them.

In Conclusion

The best medicine is always prevention―get your dog vaccinated for Lyme Disease, especially if yours is an active hunter or retriever breed. Be sure you ask your vet to determine if your dog is a vaccine candidate. Senior dogs and dogs with other internal health issues may not be good candidates for vaccines. Your location matters too. And not just where you live, but also places you visit, hunt or vacation with your best friend.