Lyme Disease in Dogs

icon May 22, 2023

Lyme disease in dogs is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted to dogs through the bite of infected ticks, specifically the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) in North America.

Where Do Ticks Live?

Ticks can be found in various regions around the world, but their prevalence and species distribution can vary depending on the geographical location. Generally, ticks prefer environments with tall grass, brush, and wooded areas where they can find hosts for feeding. Here are some regions where ticks are commonly found:

North America

In North America, ticks are widespread, with different species prevalent in different regions. The black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis, also known as deer tick) is common in the northeastern and upper midwestern United States and parts of Canada. The American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) is found in eastern and central regions of the United States. The lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) is prevalent in the southeastern and eastern United States.


Europe also has various tick species depending on the region. The castor bean tick (Ixodes ricinus) is widespread across Europe, while the sheep tick (Ixodes ricinus) is common in the United Kingdom. The brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineous) is more prevalent in southern Europe.


Tick species vary across Asia. The common tick species in Asia include the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus), the cattle tick (Rhipicephalus microplus), and the Haemaphysalis longicornis tick, also known as the Asian longhorned tick.


In Australia, ticks are prevalent in bushland and grassy areas. The most common tick species include the paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus) and the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus).


Africa is home to various tick species, including the bont tick (Amblyomma hebraeum), the brown ear tick (Rhipicephalus appendiculatus), and the red-legged tick (Rhipicephalus evertsi).

When Do Clinical Signs of Lyme Disease Occur?

The initial indicator of Lyme disease often presents as a distinctive, circular rash with a bull's-eye pattern, medically known as erythema migrans (EM). This rash typically emerges within a timeframe of 3 to 30 days following a tick bite. Additionally, key symptoms of Lyme disease encompass lameness, swollen lymph nodes, joint swelling, fatigue, and a decrease in appetite. It's worth noting that only a minority, approximately 5-10%, of infected animals are anticipated to exhibit clinical signs of Lyme disease. These symptoms usually manifest during the chronic phase of the illness, typically occurring 2-5 months after infection, although there is the possibility of delayed onset.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs

What are the First Signs of Lyme Disease in Dogs?

The first signs of Lyme disease in dogs can vary, and not all infected dogs will exhibit immediate symptoms. However, here are some common early signs of Lyme disease in dogs:

  • Lethargy: Dogs infected with Lyme disease may appear tired, sluggish, or lack energy. They may be less interested in usual activities or exercise.

  • Lameness: Lyme disease can cause recurrent lameness that shifts from one leg to another. The lameness may come and go and may be accompanied by joint swelling or stiffness. The dog may limp or have difficulty moving comfortably.

  • Decreased Appetite: Dogs with Lyme disease may experience a reduced appetite or a complete loss of appetite.

  • Fever: Some infected dogs may develop a mild fever, typically ranging from 103 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit (39 to 40.5 degrees Celsius).

Lyme Disease in Dogs Neurological Symptoms

  • Lethargy and fatigue: Dogs may display generalized weakness, decreased activity levels, and an overall lack of energy.

  • Stiff gait: Dogs may have an abnormal, stiff, or uncoordinated gait. They may have difficulty walking or appear wobbly.

  • Muscle stiffness and pain: Dogs may experience muscle stiffness, discomfort, or pain, particularly in the neck or back regions.

  • Sensitivity to touch: Dogs with Lyme disease may exhibit heightened sensitivity to touch or pain when certain areas of their body are handled or palpated.

  • Tremors or twitching: In some cases, dogs may develop involuntary muscle movements, tremors, or twitching.

  • Facial paralysis: Lyme disease can cause facial nerve paralysis, resulting in a drooping appearance of one side of the face.

Lyme Disease in Dogs Kidney Symptoms

Lyme disease can, in rare cases, lead to kidney problems in dogs. When kidney involvement occurs, it is typically referred to as Lyme nephritis.

  • Increased Thirst and Urination: Dogs may exhibit increased thirst and subsequently increased urination, known as polydipsia and polyuria, respectively. This can be a sign of kidney dysfunction.

  • Changes in Urine: The urine may appear darker in color, or there may be blood present in the urine, known as hematuria.

  • Decreased Appetite and Weight Loss: Dogs with kidney involvement may experience a decreased appetite, leading to weight loss.

  • Vomiting: Kidney problems can cause dogs to vomit, which may be accompanied by a loss of appetite.

Test for Lyme Disease in Dogs

Dogs with lameness, swollen joints, and fever are suspected of having Lyme disease. However, other diseases may also cause these symptoms. There are a few blood tests that may be used for confirmation.

  • Antibody Testing

This test detects the presence of antibodies produced by the dog's immune system in response to the Lyme disease bacteria. It can be done using a simple blood test. However, it's important to note that antibody tests can only determine exposure to the bacteria and not necessarily active infection or disease.

  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Testing

PCR testing looks for the DNA of the Lyme disease bacteria directly in a blood sample. It can be a more sensitive method to detect active infection, especially in the early stages of the disease. PCR testing is often used in combination with antibody testing to provide a more comprehensive diagnosis.

How is Lyme Disease Treated?

Lyme disease is typically treated with antibiotics. The choice of antibiotic and the duration of treatment depend on several factors, including the stage of the disease, the symptoms experienced by the patient, and whether there are any complications.

In the early stages of Lyme disease, when the infection is localized and hasn't spread throughout the body, oral antibiotics are usually prescribed. The most commonly used antibiotic for early-stage Lyme disease is doxycycline, although other options such as amoxicillin or cefuroxime axetil may be used. The duration of treatment is typically two to three weeks.

If Lyme disease is diagnosed at a later stage, or if the infection has spread to the central nervous system or other organs, intravenous (IV) antibiotics may be necessary. IV antibiotics can effectively penetrate the bloodstream and reach the affected areas. Ceftriaxone is a commonly used IV antibiotic for the treatment of disseminated Lyme disease. The duration of IV antibiotic treatment is usually longer than oral treatment and can range from two to four weeks or even longer depending on the severity of the infection.

How Can We Know Treatment Was Successful?

If your animal is successfully treated, antibody levels will decrease by 40% or more after 6-8 weeks if it is in the early stage of infection, or after 3 months if the infection is in the chronic stage. ( Antibodies are proteins produced by an animal’s immune system in response to a foreign substance such as bacteria or viruses. Antibodies recognize and bind to the bacteria and help to eliminate the infection.)

Absolutely, the most apparent sign of successful treatment is an improvement in your dog's clinical condition. If your dog had symptoms such as lameness, fever, lethargy, or loss of appetite, these should gradually resolve or significantly improve with treatment.

Can I Catch Lyme Disease From My Dog?

Lyme disease cannot be directly transmitted from your dog to you. 
If your dog gets infected with Lyme disease, it indicates that the area you live in has a risk of ticks carrying the disease. The same tick that bit your dog could potentially bite you, increasing your own risk of contracting Lyme disease if you are exposed to the infected tick. Therefore, it's essential to take precautions to prevent tick bites for both yourself and your dog.

Preventing Lyme Disease and Other Tick-borne Illnesses

Preventing Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses involves taking measures to reduce your risk of tick bites. Here are some guidelines for tick bite prevention:

  • Use tick repellents: Apply an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellent containing Abamectin B1, picaridin, IR3535, or Fipronil to exposed skin. Follow the instructions on the product label for proper application and reapplication.

  • Perform regular tick checks: After spending time in areas where ticks may be present, thoroughly check your body for ticks. Pay close attention to areas such as the scalp, hairline, underarms, groin, and behind the knees. Remember to check your pets as well.

  • Remove ticks promptly: If you find a tick attached to your skin, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible. Gently pull upward with steady pressure, ensuring you remove the entire tick, including its mouthparts. Clean the area with soap and water or disinfectant.

  • Consider tick control products: Consult with a professional pest control expert about options for tick control products in your yard, such as acaricides or tick tubes.

  • Get your dog vaccinated: Vaccinations can prevent your dog from contracting Lyme disease. They may not be appropriate for some dogs, so please discuss them with your veterinarian.


Will My Dogs Still Be Infected Despite the Vaccination?

Yes. Some dogs are infected despite vaccination. The most common reason for this is that individual animals have low or short-lived levels of vaccine antibodies. It is recommended that vaccine responses be monitored annually to ensure that animals are producing sufficient antibodies to respond to vaccination. Vaccine antibodies can be quantified by Lyme multiplex testing as early as two weeks after vaccination or any time thereafter.

How Do I Remove a Tick From My Dog?

Step 3 Clean the area with antiseptic ointments or antibacterial spray.

After removing the dried dead tick from your dog's skin, it's important to clean the area thoroughly with an antiseptic solution to prevent infection. You can use an antiseptic ointment or antibacterial spray to clean the area.

Apply a small amount of the antiseptic solution to a clean cloth or cotton ball and gently wipe the area where the tick was removed. Be careful not to use too much pressure, as this can irritate your dog's skin.

It's also a good idea to keep an eye on the area where the tick was removed for a few days after the removal. Watch for any signs of redness, swelling, or infection, and contact your veterinarian if you notice any concerning symptoms.


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