Lyme disease in dogs is both a seasonal and a regional concern. In order to best protect your dog from lyme disease, you should understand both when and how the disease is acquired, and you should understand the different prevention and treatment strategies available.
Lyme disease is caused by a microscopic bug called a "spirochete", whose scientific name is Borrelia burgdorferi. These little guys are kind of like a bacteria, but are not quite a bacteria. They live in certain kinds of ticks. Specifically, both Ixodes scapularis (Black-legged deer tick), and Ixodes pacificus (Western black-legged deer tick), both carry the spirochete that causes lyme disease.
The photo to the right is of Ixodes pacificus, and is kindly provided by the CDC.
In order for a dog to be infected with lyme disease, they must be exposed to the ticks that carry the spirochete, and the tick must attach and remain attached and feeding on the dog for a minimum of 36 hours. This amount of time is required for transmission of disease. This fact becomes important when we begin talking about how to prevent lyme disease in dogs.
Lyme disease in dogs is considered a seasonal exposure disease. This is because of the tick - they are only alive and active during the warmer months of the year. Which months of the year they are active then depends on the local climate.
You can help to prevent your dog from getting lyme disease. There are 2 main ways to do this.
1. Use a tick control product on your dog during the time of year that ticks are active. There are MANY of these products out there. They range from collars to dips, from powders to spot-on treatments. Each product and type of product carries its own risks, and its own benefits. I prefer the spot-on treatments, for both safety and effectiveness reasons. If you are unfamiliar with their use, you should review the spot-on safety summary page. You can also check out the product comparison table (a PDF file) to see what parasites the common spot-on treatments will work for.
By preventing an infected tick from attaching to and feeding on your dog, you prevent your dog from getting lyme disease.
Look to the right for the tools you need to help your pet!
2. There is a vaccine available to help prevent lyme disease in dogs. This works by getting the dog to makeantibodies to parts of the lyme disease spirochete. The immune system then identifies and kills the invading spirochete.
If you live in an area that has a high incidence of lyme disease, consider doing both the vaccine and the tick control treatment. This gives you the best chance of keeping your dog healthy.
Unfortunately, I only have information for North America. But, the information here is good reliable data, and includes information on other tick-borne dog diseases as well.
This information was gathered and organized into the map you see by Idexx Laboratories. Their dedication to pet health and their willingness to share information is greatly appreciated!
This is an overview map of tick-borne diseases in dogs, in North America. To see more detailed information for your state or province, go to either Dog Tick Diseases in Canada, or to Dog Tick Diseases in the United States. (Both of these links take you to large, image intensive PDF files.)
The first signs of a lyme disease infection are often missed by owners and veterinarians alike. These signs are viral or flu-like symptoms. The dog is "off" for a few days. Maybe his appetite is down, maybe he's a little tired. A physical exam is unremarkable, and lab work is inconclusive. Even a specific test for lyme disease is negative at this stage. If you happen to find a tick on your dog around this time or shortly before, that knowledge can help with an early diagnosis.
As lyme disease takes hold, the signs of infection change. Now the dog is painful, but it's difficult to tell where. First it's a front leg, then a back, then the whole dog seems uncomfortable. Sometimes, the disease gets into the internal organs, and the signs are similar to those for liver disease, or kidney disease. A blood test at this stage is diagnostic, but it needs to be a specific test for lyme disease in dogs.
Treatment is with an antibiotic known to kill the spirochete that causes lyme disease. It can be a quite extended treatment time, and some dogs will never completely clear the organism. The earlier the diagnosis, the better it is for the dog. Prevention is the absolute best!
A disease that can infect both animals and humans is called a zoonotic disease. Lyme disease is classified as a zoonotic disease. However, transmission requires a tick. So, yes, if your dog has lyme disease, and a tick feeds on your dog, and that same tick then drops off of your dog and finds you and attaches and feeds for 36 hours on you, then you can get lyme disease from your dog.
It would be much more common to get lyme disease from a tick in the environment, that happens to carry the lyme disease spirochete. One of the first signs of infection in a human can be what is described as a "target lesion" on the skin, around where the tick was attached. The photo to the right, provided by the CDC, shows such a lesion. See your doctor if you believe you have been exposed to lyme disease. To learn more about lyme disease in people, go to the American Lyme Disease Foundation website for more information.
Page last updated 12/15/13.