Vets Reveal Top Signs of Lyme Disease in Dogs: What to Watch For and How to Protect Your Pet

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Summer marks tick season, posing risks for Lyme disease in dogs. Learn the common symptoms, how to safeguard your furry friend, and what steps to take if you suspect an infection.
Vets Reveal Top Signs of Lyme Disease in Dogs: What to Watch For and How to Protect Your Pet

Summer brings lots of great elements, such as barbecues, beach days, and later sunsets — but it also means the start of a widely despised time: tick season.

The small parasites can be hugely problematic in many parts of the country. Some carry the risk of Lyme disease, a debilitating tick-borne illness that can infect both people and animals, including dogs.

“Nearly 90% of cases of Lyme disease in people and in dogs occur in the northeastern United States, and the remaining 10% of cases are primarily occurring in the Midwest, and the Upper Midwest area — Minnesota, Wisconsin … and then there’s a small percentage in Northern California, but the overall spatial distribution of the disease is increasing,” said Dr. Jane Sykes, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in California.

“Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi … dogs are infected when bitten by a tick that carries the organism,” said Dr. Michael Stone, internal medicine veterinarian and associate clinical professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

Common Signs of Lyme Disease in Dogs

General Unwellness: According to Sykes, it takes at least a month for any signs of Lyme disease to appear in a dog (if they have signs at all). “The dogs that do develop signs, they can have sort of nonspecific signs like a fever and decreased appetite,” Sykes explained. They also may be more tired and less active than usual.

Limping and Swollen Joints: A dog infected with Lyme disease may experience limping in one or multiple legs. Lyme disease can cause arthritis, leading to inflamed joints and lameness. “The small joints of the limbs become inflamed, and that leads to lameness and sometimes swelling of those joints,” Sykes explained.

Rare Kidney Complications: In a small percentage of dogs, particularly retriever breeds, a serious kidney complication called Lyme nephritis can occur. This condition involves acute kidney injury, kidney failure, and protein loss into the urine, which can be very hard to treat. Signs include vomiting, more frequent urination, and weight loss.

Preventive Measures:

Tick Prevention: “My primary recommendation is tick prevention,” Stone said. “There are many effective products available from your veterinarian.” Preventive products can kill ticks within 24 hours of attachment, reducing the chance of Lyme transmission.

Lyme Vaccinations and Treatments: There are both prescription and non-prescription formulations available, such as Lyme vaccinations, preventive pills, tick prevention collars, and anti-tick sprays. Consult your veterinarian to determine the best option for your dog.

Personal Protection: If your dog gets diagnosed with Lyme disease, be mindful of your own health. Check yourself for ticks and be aware of Lyme disease symptoms in people, such as joint pain, fever, chills, stiff neck, headache, and the characteristic bull’s-eye rash.

Lyme disease can be serious in dogs and people, making it crucial to take preventive measures and stay vigilant during tick season.

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