Lyme disease in dogs

Posted 5/10/17

Lyme disease is not a novel topic to all those that live in our region.  This year is showing to be a very aggressive tick-infestation season.  According to the Companion Animal Parasite …

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Lyme disease in dogs


Lyme disease is not a novel topic to all those that live in our region.  This year is showing to be a very aggressive tick-infestation season.  According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), so far this year, one out of three dogs tested for Lyme disease is positive. Lyme disease is an infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. The disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick and can affect many species. Dogs, humans and horses are among the few commonly affected. 

Deer ticks are known to transmit Lyme disease when they attach to an animal or human and begin to feed. The tick must be attached for more than 24 hours in order to transmit Lyme disease. The disease is more commonly noted in certain areas of the United States, especially the Northeast. A dog does not have to live outside in order to have ticks attach to them.  They can be simply walking in the grass or along the road. 

An animal may not show clinical signs of becoming infected with Lyme disease for several months after the dog becomes infected. Many dogs fail to show clinical signs at all. The clinical signs that do sometimes show up include lethargy (tiredness), fever, painful joints and loss of appetite. Some of the clinical signs may resolve on their own without any medical treatment at all. However, others have been linked to long-term complications involving the kidneys, joints and nervous system.

Lyme disease is diagnosed based on a patient’s medical history, clinical signs and results from diagnostic testing. There are a number of tests available that allow veterinarians to detect a positive sample.  Some of them can be done during your office visit, while others require the assistance of a specialized laboratory. Testing is a very important part of early detection of disease. The sooner your veterinarian can identify if your companion has a Lyme disease infection, the sooner they can be treated. 

Treatment for Lyme disease includes the administration of antibiotics for approximately 30 days. Often pain medication (arthritis medication) is used in order to address joint pain. You should not attempt to treat your companion without the direction of your family veterinarian. Relapses in Lyme disease are common and therefore, despite being treated for the 30 days, your companion may have a low grade of infection all of its life, which may involve flare-ups in times of stress or other illness. Also, patients that are positive are at high risk of becoming reinfected as they likely live in a heavily tick populated area. 

Avoidance of Lyme disease is crucial.  The vital step starts with preventing the tick from biting your companion, and this is often done with the use of topical flea/tick products or specific tick preventing collars. These preventatives are often applied every 30 days or even every six to eight months in regards to collars.  Proper use also helps to decrease the risk of ticks coming into the home on the dog and then those ticks feeding on people. Consult your family veterinarian about the product they recommend to serve your pet best. There is also a vaccine available for preventing Lyme disease. The initial vaccine is given and then followed up with a booster in two to four weeks. Patients are recommended to have annual boosters thereafter or as long as they are still in a high-risk area. 

While vaccinations and even the preventative medications are not 100% effective, together they give better protection than none at all or one therapy alone.

[Joseph A. D’Abbraccio, DVM, of Catskill Veterinary Services, PLLC, can be contacted at For more information visit or ]


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