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Lyme Disease in Dogs: 5 Things Pet Parents Should Know


Written by Kim Rain

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 06/02/2021, edited: 04/17/2023


Being outside to explore and play is the highlight of many a dog’s day, but there could be a hidden danger lurking in that tall grass. Ticks lie in wait at the tips of grasses and brush for a warm body to pass by them, then grab on and search for a place to bite. The real danger, however, is that some of those ticks may also be carrying Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is a serious infection that can compromise your dog’s health if left untreated, causing cardiac and neurological problems, and even kidney failure. Not all ticks are infected with Lyme disease, but there’s no way to tell if the one biting your dog is carrying it until after your dog becomes infected. While there are four species of ticks that can carry the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi that causes Lyme disease from host to host, usually the culprit is the deer tick, or Ixodes scapularis, which can be found in many areas across the U.S. and Canada.

Luckily, there is treatment for Lyme disease, but prevention remains the best way to protect your dog from this potentially deadly infection. Check out these 5 things you need to know to help keep your dog safe from ticks and Lyme disease.

yellow Labrador Retriever laying in grass - Lyme Disease in Dogs 5 Things Pet Parents Should Know

Dogs can catch Lyme disease in their backyard

That’s right, your dog doesn’t need to be in the deep woods to attract a tick. While ticks certainly are found in densely wooded areas, they can also make their home in overgrown fields and yards, brush piles, places where deer and other wildlife frequent, or even in homes and kennels. Regularly mowing your lawn, especially during tick season in the spring and summer months, is the best way to discourage ticks from living there until a suitable host like your dog walks by. And giving your dog a monthly parasite preventative can stop ticks from jumping on your dog in the first place. 

It can take up to 2 days before your dog becomes infected with Lyme Disease

Your dog won’t become infected with Lyme disease the moment they’ve picked up a tick. When a tick attaches itself to its host, it can take from 10 minutes to 2 hours for it to bite and begin drinking blood. Then, it takes another 12 to 48 hours for it transmit Lyme disease, or another infection such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever to their host if they are infected. This means that if you find and remove the tick right away, chances are your dog will not get infected. However, if it’s been more than 1 or 2 days since you think the tick attached itself to your dog, take them to animal clinic to get tested for Lyme disease right away. 

closeup of tick in human hand with blonde dog relaxing in the grass

Ticks and Lyme disease symptoms often go unnoticed

First of all, ticks will often choose a secluded spot to bite, and will fall off once they’ve fed without being seen. The rash they leave behind on the skin is usually hidden under your dog’s coat. Ticks also secrete saliva that contains anesthetic properties, so your dog usually won’t feel it when they bite.

Once a tick does bite, it could be a couple days before your dog becomes infected with Lyme disease, and then it could take up to 7 days for symptoms to appear. In some cases, a year could go by before they start showing symptoms of a fever, reduced appetite, pain and lameness, or swelling in the joints. And since the symptoms generally occur so far after a known adventure into tick territory and can mimic other medical issues, the cause is often misdiagnosed. 

Vaccinated dogs can still contract Lyme disease

The good news is there is a vaccine for Lyme disease for dogs. The bad news is that it is only effective against some strains of Lyme disease, so your dog is still at risk if they encounter a strain that isn’t covered. Does this mean it’s not worth getting this vaccine for your dog? Certainly not, as the vaccine does give a layer of protection for those particular strains. Veterinarians generally recommend getting the vaccine for dogs who will be spending time in areas known to be tick territory.

closeup of a tick burrowing in a dog's skin

A 5-minute tick check can stop Lyme disease in its tracks

After a walk through the woods, open fields or other areas of dense vegetation, always take 5 minutes to check your dog over for ticks. This is the number one way to prevent transmission of Lyme disease and other infections carried by ticks, and is easy to do. Simply run your hands through your dog’s fur all over their body to feel for ticks. Don’t furget to check the ticks’ favorite spots, like the head and ears, in between toes, tail and groin area, armpits and under your dog’s collar. If you find a tick, you can carefully remove it yourself, or a veterinarian can remove it for you. 

You are your dog’s best weapon against Lyme disease, so be sure to prevent its transmission through regular tick checks and monthly flea and tick preventation products. And if you suspect your dog may have contracted Lyme disease, be sure to get them tested immediately so they can begin treatment and quickly return to their healthy, playful self.

The symptoms of Lyme disease can be expensive to treat. Avoid high vet care expenses by securing pet health insurance today

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