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A dog is on a hike with its people | Healthy Habits For New Pets

Lyme Disease: The Facts & Risks for Your New Dog

The following information will help you recognize the signs and risk of Lyme disease, and what you can do to help protect your dog.

Lyme Disease in Dogs

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A black legged tick on a leaf | Healthy Habits For New Pets

How do dogs get Lyme disease?

Dogs can get Lyme disease through the bite of an infected black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) commonly known as the Deer tick, infected by the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi.

What are the signs of Lyme disease?

There are several signs that your dog may have Lyme disease. Swelling and excessive warmth at the joints may indicate inflammation and joint pain. Dogs may exhibit lameness and avoid putting weight on the painful limb. Other signs may include fever, muscle tenderness, and swollen lymph nodes in the area around the affected joint, along with a history of tick exposure. Dogs may also experience loss of appetite and fatigue. A complete physical examination along with diagnostic testing can lead to a diagnosis of Lyme disease.


How long does it take an infected tick to transmit Lyme disease?

The time it takes to transmit the organism (Borrelia burgdorferi) that causes Lyme disease is not instantaneous. The risk of infection is low prior to 41 hours of tick attachment but grows considerably higher after 47 hours1. In general, the risk of acquiring infection is reduced if one removes a black-legged tick prior to 48 hours of attachment. Because ticks can be hard to spot, year-round tick control and vaccination for Lyme disease should be considered for dogs, especially in a lyme-endemic area.


How is my dog diagnosed for Lyme disease?

A veterinarian will not be able to accurately test the dog for Lyme Disease for at least 3-4 weeks after tick exposure. A blood test will determine a diagnosis of Lyme disease. In the meantime, observe your dog for signs of illness and schedule an appointment if concerns arise.

Prevention and Treatment

How can I minimize my dog’s exposure to ticks?

To prevent Lyme disease, attack the problem with the “V.E.T.” approach: Vaccinate, Educate, Tick control. A vaccinated dog will develop an immune response that fights off the bacteria in the tick before it even enters the dog. Second, education about where ticks are most abundant can help you avoid them. Lastly, don’t forget tick control. There is a wide array of effective topical and oral tick control products. The effectiveness and convenience of oral flea and tick control products make them a favorite among veterinarians and dog owners alike.

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A dog has a tick removed with tweezers | Healthy Habits For New Pets

What if I find a tick on my dog?

Despite our best efforts, ticks can be found on our pets, especially in regions and climates where ticks thrive. To help reduce the chance of tick-borne illness, the tick should be safely and carefully removed as soon as possible. The easiest way is to use a fine-tipped tweezer that allows you to detach the tick gently from where it has attached to the skin.

Tick Removal

Do not try to yank the tick off forcefully with fingers, burn it off, or cover it with a chemical – these methods are dangerous and can squeeze bacteria from the tick into the dog.

Tick Disposal

If not keeping the tick for testing, dispose of it by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, or flushing the tick down the toilet. For additional tips, check out the CDC guidelines for removing a tick.

Inspection of the Tick for Infectious Diseases

The tick can be placed in a sealed bag or container and sent to a specialized tick laboratory for identification. The University of Rhode Island’s special tick laboratory can help identify a tick with just a picture. Submit your tick photos at their Submit to TickSpotters site.

Making an Appointment With a Vet

After tick removal, the area of attachment can appear irritated and sore. If the irritated site lingers or it seems to bother your dog, make an appointment with your veterinarian. Remember, even if you are concerned that a tick on your dog was infected, the veterinarian cannot accurately test for evidence of Lyme disease infection (a blood test) until 3-4 weeks after exposure.

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A vet pets a German Shepherd | Healthy Habits For New Pets

How is Lyme disease in dogs treated?

Treating a dog for Lyme disease that does not have any obvious signs is up for debate. Antibiotics are very effective in the early stages of Lyme disease. Your veterinarian may also get a urine sample to test for protein that may be leaking through the kidneys. If your dog is very ill, cell blood count and blood chemistry will be checked to make sure other diseases aren’t present and to help assess your dog’s overall health. A relatively rare, but deadly, form of kidney disease in young and middle-aged dogs has been associated with Lyme disease. If your dog’s kidneys are believed to be seriously compromised because of this, treatment will be extremely aggressive and complex and consists of a variety of medications and intravenous fluid support. Speak to your veterinarian about options for year-round tick control and whether or not they recommend the Lyme vaccine for your dog.

Other Commonly Asked Questions

Is Canine Lyme disease an increasing worry?

Yes. The threat has been growing each year. Since the mid 1980’s, canine Lyme disease risk has steadily expanded from the New England region because the ticks that carry the pathogen continue to spread. This is mainly because the conditions for the expansion of the “Deer tick” (Ixodes scapularis) population have been favorable. Every year, ticks are being seen in areas where they had not been previously. In addition, ticks are seen more frequently throughout the year–earlier in Spring and later into milder winters. The threat and risk can be reduced with the compliant use of high-quality tick-control products and Lyme disease vaccines.

Why is Lyme disease more common in dogs than cats?

The bulk of veterinary research on Lyme disease has been conducted in dogs so we know the most about Lyme disease in dogs compared to other animals. But it is important to note that the black-legged tick (“Deer tick”) that transmits the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi is an indiscriminate feeder. Ticks can latch onto a cat just as they can to a dog, horse, or human. If that tick happens to carry the Lyme disease-causing bacteria, then that cat can become infected. Even though cats have a reputation for being better self-groomers, they get ticks, too. While dogs and cats have less of an opportunity to acquire ticks if they stay mainly indoors, it is important to remember that it takes just one outdoor excursion and a single infected tick to transmit the Lyme disease bacterium.




Is Lyme disease in dogs everywhere?

Yes, mostly. The majority of infections occur where black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) reside, and the ecosystem is suitable to maintain disease transmission. Some regions of the US are more endemic with ticks that can transmit infection and therefore more dogs (and humans) are infected there. It is important for dog owners to be aware of the relative risk in their area and to consult with their veterinarian about proper prevention measures. Ticks also travel into new areas on the backs of migratory birds and large mammals (deer). Dog owners should be aware that Lyme disease is not the only tick- borne illness that their dog can acquire. Beyond Lyme disease, dogs throughout the USA are at risk for acquiring some kind of tick-associated illness and that is why owners should check with their veterinarian for the specific risks in their area.

Is Lyme disease a year-round risk?

Yes. We know most about seasonality of Lyme disease (in humans) from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Lyme disease impacts humans to a great degree and the same tick/bacteria combination is responsible for Lyme disease in dogs. In humans, Lyme disease is most often diagnosed between the months of May and October, however Lyme disease is reported in each month of the year. We could estimate that the same is likely true for dogs although summary statistics on the seasonal distribution of Lyme disease infections in dogs is difficult to find. There is a year-round risk of Lyme disease infection because warm winter days will bring out unfed adult “Deer ticks” from the previous autumn. This is why tick experts and veterinarians recommend year-round tick control.

Dr. Andrew Eschner | Healthy Habits For New Pets


Dr. Eschner graduated from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. He joined Boehringer- Ingelheim in 1995 and is the Northeast Regional Director of Veterinary Professional Services. Dr. Eschner is ‘certified’ as a Tick Smart Educator by the University of Rhode Island’s Tick Encounter Resource Center and has authored articles on the subject of canine Lyme borreliosis.


Dr. Eschner graduated from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. He joined BoehringerIngelheim in 1995 and is the Northeast Regional Director of Veterinary Professional Services. Dr. Eschner is ‘certified’ as a Tick Smart Educator by the University of Rhode Island’s Tick Encounter Resource Center and has authored articles on the subject of canine Lyme borreliosis.

Dr. Andrew Eschner | Healthy Habits For New Pets