Lyme Disease in Dogs and Pets [Symptoms, Tests, Prevention]

by | Jul 19, 2023 | Health & Wellness, Preventative Care

Your dog may love romping around in the grass, but playing in the backyard could harm your pet’s health. Hidden in the grass could be black-legged ticks called deer ticks. These tiny arachnids can carry a bacteria that causes Lyme disease, a debilitating condition for pets and humans. Once a tick attaches to your dog’s skin, it takes less than three days for the bacteria to cause Lyme disease. As a dog parent, you must understand Lyme disease symptoms, tests that diagnose the condition, and ways to prevent Lyme disease in dogs and other pets. 

Some tick species carry Lyme disease, so proper identification of deer ticks is important.

What Causes Lyme Disease in Dogs and Other Pets? 

Lyme disease, or Borrelia burgdorferi, is a bacterial infection caused by an infected tick biting and attaching to your pet’s skin. Ticks don’t cause Lyme disease, but if they carry the bacteria, they transmit it through their bite. Once a tick attaches to your dog or another pet’s skin, the bacteria quickly causes Lyme disease. Removing the tick immediately is important to reduce your pet’s chances of getting sick. Ticks are more prone to seek hosts in the spring and fall. 

What Other Canine Diseases Are Carried by Ticks?

Although Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness, other serious conditions are caused by infected ticks. These include:

  • Canine Ehrlichiosis – This infection causes low blood platelets, resulting in anemia, weight loss,  bruising, and nose bleeds. If diagnosed early on, dogs recover well. 
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever – Signs include swollen lymph nodes and joint pain. There can be neurological symptoms, too. 
  • Anaplasmosis – This bacteria is more common in North America. It can lead to bleeding disorders. 
  • Babesiosis – An infection that breaks down red blood cells, causing jaundice, place gums, and dark-colored urine in dogs. 
  • Hepatozoonosis – Caused by dogs eating infected ticks. It’s more common in southern states. This infection is serious, causing deteriorating muscles, pain, fever, and anemia. It can be deadly. 
  • Bartonella – A newer infection in humans and dogs. It’s sometimes called “cat scratch disease.” It’s common in wild cats with fleas. 

How Common is Lyme Disease in Dogs? 

In addition to Lyme disease, there are several other infections that can be caused by ticks.

Depending upon where you live, your dog is at a greater risk for getting Lyme disease. Studies show that dogs living in wooded areas with less population are more likely to test positive for this disease. Unvaccinated dogs are at an even greater risk of contracting the disease. 

What Are the 3 Stages of Lyme Disease in dogs?

When your dog is tested for Lyme disease, your vet will determine the stage of the disease to know best how to treat it. 

  • Stage 1 – Found in one particular part of the body. The bacteria hasn’t yet spread to other parts of your dog’s body. 
  • Stage 2 – By stage 2, the bacteria has started to spread throughout your dog’s body. Your dog will show symptoms of the disease. 
  • Stage 3 – By the time the disease has reached this stage, the infection has spread throughout your dog’s joints and nerves. This late stage can occur months or even years after the first infection. 

What Are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs and Other Pets? 

Loss of appetite, lethargy and swollen joints are just some of the symptoms associated with Lyme Disease.

Lyme disease symptoms can be hard to spot, but the most common signs your dog may have this disease include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Stiffness moving around
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Swollen joints,
  • Fever
  • Acts like they’re in pain when they walk
  • Lameness that lasts three or more days
  • Depressed – lack of interest in their normal activities, often clingy, acting needy

If Lymes disease isn’t found and treated early on, it can lead to organ damage. According to studies, only five to ten percent of infected pets show clinical signs of Lyme disease. When the signs appear, the disease can already be chronic as soon as two to five months after infection. Symptoms appear anywhere from two to five months, but symptoms can develop even later than this. 

Because symptoms can slowly appear, taking your pet to your vet is important if you find a tick bite.

Is It Possible to Get Lyme Disease From My Dog or Any Other Pet?

If your dog has Lyme disease, they can’t transmit it to you or other pets. Lyme disease cannot be transmitted from dogs to their dog parents. Lyme disease can only be transmitted by a tick bite from an infected tick. Still, if your dog is diagnosed with Lyme disease, you or your other pet should be in danger since you share the same outdoor environment. Talk with your vet to see if your other pets should be tested. 

How Do Veterinarians Test Dogs for Lyme Disease? 

Your vet will first observe your pet, looking for signs of this disease. If they notice signs of Lyme disease, they will order a test such as the Lyme Multiplex assay. This test identifies antibodies of B. burgdorferi in blood serum three weeks after the infection. 

The Lyme Multiplex assay checks for antibodies that work against specific proteins at three different stages of the lifecycle of B. burgdorferi. Creating an antibody profile helps show whether your dog was recently infected or has developed full-blown Lyme disease. The test also helps monitor if your pet’s blood has protective antibodies after vaccination. 

How Is Lyme Disease Treated in Pets?

The most common treatment for Lyme disease in dogs is antibiotics.

Lyme disease is treated as a bacteria with antibiotics. Typically, your vet will prescribe antibiotics for 30 days, which should resolve the symptoms, but if the infection persists, they may prescribe medication longer. They might prescribe therapy to help ease symptoms. If the treatment works after 6 to 8 weeks, the antibody levels will decrease as much as 40% or more. 

Do Antibiotics Used to Treat Lyme Disease Effect Antibody Levels?

Antibiotic treatment affects the bacteria B. burgdorferi but doesn’t directly impact the antibody titers. An antibody titer lab test measures antibodies in a blood sample. The B-cells aren’t triggered to produce new antibodies if the treatment works and the bacteria are removed. Antibody levels go down after treatment, meaning antibody levels are gauges of whether the treatment succeeded or failed. 

When Should the Dog Be Retested After Treatment?

Because the antibodies drop gradually and slowly, retesting shouldn’t occur too soon. Typically, retesting occurs no sooner than three months after the treatment starts.

What Are the Long-term Effects of Lyme Disease On Dogs?

Lyme disease affects a dog’s kidneys, heart, and joints. It can also affect them neurologically. 

  • Kidney – Lyme disease can appear in two clinical frameworks: a bad infection or a persistent disease. The infection attacks the joints. It causes lameness that moves from joint to joint. The more chronic Lyme disease is caused by antibodies against bacteria building up in a dog’s blood that blocks the filtering of the kidneys, leading to kidney damage, which can be fatal. It’s less common, but Lyme disease can lead to protein loss in the urine, causing sudden kidney failure in dogs. Because kidneys can’t regenerate their function, failure to treat the disease could have serious consequences. 
  • Joints – In some dogs, kidney issues show up at the same time lameness shows up, but this isn’t always the case for all dogs. Lyme disease can cause continuing joint pain and arthritis for your dog. Dogs with this disease develop arthritis earlier than normal dogs their age. 
  • Neurological issues-When this debilitating disease strikes, it can cause neurological problems for dogs, such as
    • Seizure issues
    • Facial paralysis
    • Hyperflexia – hyperactive stretch reflexes in muscles
    • Persistent convulsions
    • Astasia – not being able to stand 
    • Behavior changes – aggression, irritability

Life expectancy changes overall for dogs with Lyme disease can be shortened. If the disease is caught early and treated with antibiotics, there is a better chance for full recovery with few or no long-term symptoms. 

What Percentage of Dogs Die From Lyme Disease?

One in five dogs dies once diagnosed with Lyme disease. Death is less common if the disease is diagnosed early; if a dog survives, it may still suffer kidney or heart damage. 

It’s thought that 50% of dogs get B. burgdorferi in areas where Lyme disease is common. Almost 75% of unvaccinated dogs in these areas test positive for the disease, and dogs are over fifty times more likely than humans to be bitten by an infected tick. 

What Is the Proper Way to Remove a Tick from My Dog?

Early diagnosis of Lyme Disease is essential. Dogs are 50 times more likely than humans to be infected by a tick.

Supplies you’ll need to remove a tick from your dog:

  • Tweezers or tick remover (be sure to sterilize with rubbing alcohol)
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Neosporin spray or antibiotic cream 
  • A jar filled with rubbing alcohol to store the tick
  • Dog treats to keep your dog distracted

Step 1:

Help your dog calm down by giving them treats or a new bone to chew. It’s best to have someone help you by giving treats or petting your dog to calm them while removing the tick. 

Step 2:

With the tweezers, grasp a hold of the tick as close to your dog’s skin as possible. If you use a tick remover, press it against your dog’s skin. Be sure the tick is inside the opening of the tool. 

Step 3:

Pull the tick straight from your dog’s skin in one movement. Pull slowly until the tick’s legs are out of the skin. Don’t twist or jerk the tick out too quickly, leaving the tick’s mouth embedded into the skin. 

Don’t throw away the tick once it’s removed! Put the tick in the jar filled with rubbing alcohol to kill it. Be sure to write the date on the jar. If a dog shows signs of sickness, take your dog along with the tick to your vet so they can test it for Lyme disease. Never try to crush the tick with your hands. You will expose yourself to infection. 

Step 4:

Check your dog’s skin that had the tick if the tick is completely gone. Wash the area with disinfectant. Apply antibiotic cream. 

Step 5:

If the tick’s head is still inside the wound, you can make an appointment for your vet to remove the rest of the tick. Or try again to remove the rest of the tick with tweezers or a tick scoop. Try not to dig in the area; this could cause the tick’s head to go deeper into your dog’s skin. Flush the area with water and soap. Sometimes, this dislodges the tick’s head from the skin. 

Always wash your hands with soap and water after you’ve finished. Be sure to sterilize the tweezers or any tools you use. 

How to Prevent Lyme Disease and Other Tick-borne Illnesses

Of course, prevention is key in keeping your dog healthy and free from tick-borne illness. Here are several preventative measures to prevent your dog from getting sick. 

  • Use vet-approved tick-preventative medications. Your vet knows the most effective tick-prevention products.
  • Make sure to get your dog vaccinated and stay on schedule. 
  • Avoid walking or letting your dog play in tick-infested fields or wooded areas. 
  • Check your dog for ticks after being outside.
  • Clean up your yard of debris and bushes where ticks like to hide. 

How Can Odie Pet Insurance Empower Your Furry Friend in the Prevention of Lyme and Other Diseases?

Pet insurance and wellness plans can help reimburse for treatments associated with Lyme Disease as well as preventative care.

At Odie, we make it our business to care for pets so they can be as healthy as possible. We want to help dog parents make good health decisions for their pets. Check out our different options, including pet insurance and wellness plans for preventative care for your pets. 

Odie’s Illness & Injury Plan – Your pets may get sick, especially as they age. Our illness and injury insurance will help you make the best medical choices for your dog or cat. 

Odie’s Wellness Plan – Your dog deserves to stay happy and healthy. The best way to guarantee your pup is well cared for is to bundle our wellness plan with one of our insurance plans with preventative care for your dog, including flea and tick medication reimbursement. 

Check out The Guide to Understanding Pet Insurance to answer any insurance questions about the benefits of pet insurance. 


Is Lyme Disease in Dogs Contagious?

No, the only way to get Lyme disease is from an infected tick. 

How Fast Does Lyme Disease Progress in Dogs?

Small black infected ticks can be as small as a poppy seed up to the size of a sesame seed. After the tick with the Lyme bacteria attaches to a dog’s skin, it can take at least 24 to 48 hours to transmit the bacteria to the dog’s skin. Often, dogs bitten by an infected tick don’t display symptoms for two to five months. 

Can Lyme Disease Return in My Dog?

Yes, dogs bitten with a Lyme disease-infected tick can get sick again even after treatment because Lyme disease is a chronic condition that flares up. Your dog may need to receive another round of antibiotics if this happens. 

What Percentage of Dogs Die from Lyme Disease?

It’s thought that 50% of dogs will get infected with B. burgdorferi if they live in an area with a high percentage of Lyme disease. Almost 75% of unvaccinated dogs in this area will test positive. Out of these dogs, one out of five dogs, or 20% of dogs with Lyme disease, will die. 

How Common Is Lyme Disease in Dogs?

Dogs are over fifty times more likely to be exposed to infected ticks than humans, making them more susceptible to Lyme disease. 

Dog Lyme Disease Life Expectancy

Once a dog is diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease, they should have have a good prognosis. If left untreated, Lyme disease causes kidney failure, which can lead to early death. Dogs with Lyme nephritis, inflammation of the kidneys, have a poorer prognosis. Dogs with this condition may live one to nine weeks. If a dog survives the rigorous treatment, they can live up to a year. 

Can my animal get infected despite being vaccinated?

Vaccinations are only about 80% effective in preventing Lyme disease, and approximately 20% of vaccinated dogs will still get infected. 

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