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Canine Lyme Disease: Understanding Lyme Disease in Dogs

My dog got bit by a tick, should I be concerned? Just because you had a tick does not mean you get Lyme. That’s why it’s important to understand what canine Lyme disease is and how it is transferred.

How Do Dogs Get Lyme Disease?

Not every tick carries the Lyme bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi. The Lyme organism is transmitted through the bite of the black-legged tick, also known as the deer or bear tick. But even if a black-legged tick does bite, the tick must be attached for at least four hours before it can “download” the organism from its saliva glands into the animal.

When removing the tick from a pet or human, the ones that cause a red ring and lots of reaction when removed are the most concerning.

Why Does Lyme Disease Cause Lameness?

What does it mean if my dog has Lyme disease? Borrelia causes a strong immune response. That is why a human can have a reaction in the skin if the organism is present. When Borrelia travels to the joint capsule you get inflamed joints. These inflamed joint capsules cause the “shifting leg lameness” seen in Lyme infections. Whatever joint hurts the most gets limped on. They also feel soreness and get lethargic from sore joints. Most Lyme patients rarely run a fever; however, they act feverish.

Should I Vaccinate My Dog For Lyme Disease?

Though no vaccine is 100 percent guaranteed, the Lyme vaccine for dogs has proven quite effective. The vaccine will allow your dog’s immune system to kill the organism when it is picked up and before it sets up in the joints. The Lyme vaccine is recommended most often for those who live in high Lyme disease areas, such as the Northeastern one-fourth of the United States, Wisconsin and Minnesota. It’s also recommended if you go hiking or jogging, have a working dog, or if your dog gets occasional ticks.

My Dog Already had a Tick. Should I Still Vaccinate?

Just because your dog had a tick, does not mean it downloaded Borrelia into your dog or that your dog’s immune system let it go systemic to the joints. Vaccinating will help your dog prevent an infection it does not have, but if your dog is already diseased, a vaccine won’t help. This isn’t any different from other infections. For example, if you have parvo, vaccinating won’t help the puppy who is exhibiting clinical signs. But if a puppy is exposed and not sick, the vaccine will stimulate the immune system with the tame virus and help prevent disease. The same is true with Lyme.

How Do Tick Collars For Dogs Work?

Ticks like tall grass and brush. If you walk with your dog or your dog gets to the edges of your yard, keep a collar on your dog like the Seresto ®flea and tick collar or Adams® Plus Spray to repel ticks. The great things about tick collars is they make ticks want to stay off your dog. That assures the monthly flea and tick control you use will work more effectively and none will get past your protection. Also, collars are safe for your dog with other flea and tick control. Unlike internal tick control where the tick generally has to bite, collars work topically over the surface. These collars are not labeled as safe for breeding animals.

If you’re in a Lyme area, and your dog is getting ticks, vaccinate and protect them. After coming in from outside, check your pet for ticks. Use oral or topical preventatives and collars to repel future ticks. This will stop the issue before it starts by decreasing the number of ticks your dog is exposed to. And remember, ticks carry diseases other than Lyme, such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Keep ticks off dogs and they won’t carry any diseases home to you!

Knowing which tick protection is best for your pet can be overwhelming. Revival’s Flea & Tick Finder makes it simple to find the right tick preventative for your dog or cat. For breeding animals, be certain to read the labels to assure you are selecting a product tested and found to be safe.
Flea and Tick Finder button

Article originally written by Donald Bramlage, DVM, Revival’s Former Director of Veterinary Services. This article has been updated/reviewed by Dr. Greer.

Written by: Marty Greer, DVM

Director of Veterinary Services

Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.

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