Lyme Disease in Dogs

Lyme disease is a hot topic in this part of the world- we are 40 miles away from Lyme Connecticut where the disease was first identified.

The best way to help prevent our dogs from acquiring Lyme disease is to prevent them from being exposed to ticks by keeping our dogs out of long grass, brush and piles of leaves. The dune grass at our beaches is also prime tick habitat. It is best to get in the habit of checking your dog daily for any ticks. Deer ticks, the tick that is responsible for transmitting Lyme disease, is a very small tick and the juvenile ticks can be as small as a pinhead so this vigilant checking is sometimes not enough. For this reason, we recommend using a good flea and tick preventative product. There are many options-oral, topical and even good collars so don’t hesitate to ask the recommendation of your veterinarian during appointments. These products should be used year round since ticks can come and go throughout the winter season if we have a few warm days in a row. There is no one product that perfect for all dogs so if one is not working, try another and don’t be afraid to ask. We also offer a vaccination for Lyme disease to help protect the dogs at risk of acquiring Lyme disease so please discuss the vaccination at your next appointment.

If you find a tick on your dog-don’t worry. You can remove the tick at home. It takes 24 hours with the tick biting your dog for Lyme disease to be transmitted and it can take 2-5 months for a dog to show clinical signs (fever, lameness, limping, lethargy, swollen joints). Just to add to the confusion about Lyme disease, many dogs can be bitten by a tick containing Lyme disease that will never show clinical signs. Only a small percentage of of positive dogs will ever develop clinical illness from infection with the Lyme organism. We have a few tests that we use to help us determine if your dog has been exposed to Lyme disease. The 4dx, which is the annual blood work used to test for exposure to heartworm disease and three tick borne diseases, tells us if your dog has antibodies to the Lyme bacteria. Antibodies are the bodies response to the lyme bacterium but do not indicate an active infection just that your dog has been exposed to a tick containing lyme disease. If you dog is positive on this test, we will discuss further testing or to determine if treatment is warranted. In endemic areas for Lyme disease (including all of Rhode Island and Massachusetts), annual screening for Lyme disease is recommended.

Some dogs infected with Lyme disease can have long term effects just as some people with Lyme disease. Our biggest concern in dogs who are chronically positive for Lyme disease is a type of kidney disease so we may discuss yearly blood work and urine testing to help catch these signs early if your dog chronically tests positive for Lyme disease.

Lastly, since we as owners, are often with our dogs when they become exposed to Ticks on our beach trips or hikes, it is very important to check ourselves for ticks since Lyme disease can cause serious illness to people as well as dogs. Please contact your own physician to discuss this further.