Understanding Lyme Disease in DogsLast updated: June 21, 2017
Just because you had a tick does not mean you get Lyme. That's why it's important to understand what the disease is and how it is transferred.
Acquiring Lyme DiseaseNot 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 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. One dose of Doxycycline 250 mg given the same day the suspect tick is removed will clear the organism if it has been downloaded into skin.
Why Does Lyme Disease Cause Lameness?Borrelia causes great deal of immune response. That is why you get 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.
Why Vaccinate?Though no vaccine is 100 percent guaranteed, the Lyme vaccine has proven quite effective. The vaccine will allow your dog to kill the organism when it is picked up and before it sets up in the joint. 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 Help?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 ®collar or Adams® Plus 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.
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 and use 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 and they won't carry any diseases home to you!
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival's Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.
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The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of your personal veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.