Protecting Your Dog Against Lyme Disease

Published: August 19, 2021
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Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can cause acute symptoms. If left untreated, it can also cause long-term complications. Lyme disease is a zoonotic condition, meaning that it can affect both people and animals. While it is not a major concern in cats, both humans and dogs are susceptible to severe symptoms from Lyme disease. Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect your pet.

How Is Lyme Disease Transmitted?

A person or dog infected with Lyme disease is not contagious. That means that if your dog is infected, you cannot catch it from him, and vice versa. Lyme disease is transmitted through the bite of a specific species of tick, sometimes called the deer tick or the black-legged tick, that carries the bacteria. When a tick bites a person or a dog, the bacteria can get into the bloodstream.

When ticks bite, they stay attached for days at a time, feeding on blood until they become satiated and drop off, which can take up to a week and a half. Adult deer ticks are about the size of the head of a pin, while young deer ticks can be as small as poppy seeds. Because they are so small, they can be difficult to detect if they bite you or your dog.

What Are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease?

Symptoms of Lyme disease include:

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Lyme disease is a bullseye-shaped rash called erythema migrans. The rash feels warm to the touch but is usually not painful or itchy. Lyme disease doesn't always cause a rash, and it can be easy to miss on a dog because it might be hidden by her fur.

The symptoms of Lyme disease in people and dogs are similar. You may notice your dog is less active than he used to be and has less of an appetite. Joint pain and stiffness may cause him to walk gingerly, as though stepping on eggshells. It may be 30 days after a tick bite before symptoms of Lyme disease emerge.

How Is Lyme Disease Treated?

The treatment for Lyme disease is basically the same for both humans and dogs. Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, meaning that it can be treated with antibiotic medication. Your veterinarian can diagnose Lyme disease using a blood test and then prescribe oral antibiotics to treat it. Vets most often prescribe doxycycline to treat Lyme disease, but other effective antibiotics include azithromycin or amoxicillin. Your dog will have to take the antibiotics for four weeks, and she can remain at home during treatment as long as her condition remains stable. If she develops complications, such as severe kidney disease, she may need a stay in the veterinary hospital.

You should follow the directions that the vet gives you for medicating your dog, but here are some general guidelines. You can hide the pill inside a small meatball to get your dog to take it, but don't give it with dairy products. Give your dog the pill right before his regular mealtime and feed him as usual afterward. Don't administer the pill right before bedtime.

How Can You Prevent Lyme Disease?

One of the best ways to prevent Lyme disease is to treat your dog with a flea and tick preventative. These are available as oral supplements, medicated collars, and spot treatments. Each is convenient for you and your dog and provides long-lasting protection.

Ticks live in environments of forests and tall grasses. After you and your dog spend time in these areas, you should check her for ticks. Be sure to use your hands to feel your dog's body because ticks are very small, and you may be more likely to feel a bump than to see a tick amongst the fur.

If you do find a tick on your dog, you should remove it as soon as possible. It is believed that the tick has to be attached for 36 to 48 hours before it can transmit Lyme disease, so if you can act within a few hours of your dog getting bitten, you may be able to prevent him from becoming infected. Ticks are difficult to grasp for removal because of their small size, but you can use a pair of tweezers or a special tick remover. In either case, you should wear gloves when removing a tick from your dog.

Once the tick is removed, you can flush it down the toilet or drop it in a bowl or alcohol or soapy water to kill it. After removing the tick, clean the spot on your dog's skin using alcohol. Observe the spot for symptoms and your dog for any changes of behavior.

You and your dog don't necessarily have to go out into the wild to get bitten by a tick. If conditions are right, they can live in your own backyard. You can prevent ticks in your yard by keeping the grass mown and the shrubbery trimmed while clearing away rocks or sticks on the ground that could provide a habitat for them. You can also spray your home and yard for ticks.

When checking your dog for ticks, be sure to pay attention to the small hidden areas where ticks like to hide. On a dog, these places include behind the ears, between the toes, and under the tail. Because ticks can live anywhere, and because infection is unlikely during the first 36 hours after a bite, it is a good idea to check yourself and your dog for ticks routinely instead of just after you have been out in the woods or the tall grasses.

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