Lyme disease is an infectious bacterial disease that can infect dogs and humans through tick bites. You cannot contract the disease from your dog, only from a tick bite.
You should remove a tick as soon as you see it, as the longer it stays attached, the greater the risk of disease transmission. Signs of this disease only manifest a few months after the tick bite. If you see a tick on your dog, make sure to report it to your vet.
What is Lyme disease in dogs?
- Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi.
- Dogs can catch this disease when bitten by an infected tick.
- Joints are the most often affected, but it can also affect the kidneys and, less commonly, the nervous system.
- The majority of dogs do not develop Lyme disease after being bitten by an infected tick.
- There’s a 2.6% chance of getting Lyme disease after a tick bite.
- Transmission of the bacteria requires time, it may only occur after 12 to 48 hours of tick attachment.
- Some dogs exposed to this bacteria may not show signs of illness.
- It usually takes 2 to 5 months after the bite for symptoms to appear.
- Keep a note of when you see a tick on your dog so you can tell your vet if your dog gets sick in the future.
Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs
Dogs with Lyme disease tend to show vague symptoms that come and go and differ from one to the next. Symptoms include:
- Limping and/or stiff gait (walking pattern)
- Weakness (lethargy)
- Reduced appetite
- Swollen joints
- Swollen lymph nodes (glands)
- Increased drinking and urination in cases of kidney infection
Dogs at higher risk of Lyme disease
The risk of getting Lyme disease is higher:
- For dogs that spend more time outdoors in woodlands and moorland areas.
- If your dog lives in or travels to a high-risk area in the UK or abroad. See the UK map of endemic areas here.
As a result of climate change, the UK’s tick population has increased.
Other diseases that can be transmitted by ticks (such as Babesiosis) may start to be seen in our pets too.
How is Lyme disease diagnosed in dogs?
Diagnosing this disease is very challenging because:
- The symptoms seen in this condition are not very specific and are similar to other diseases.
- There may be several months between the tick bite and the onset of the disease.
- Diagnostic tests available for this disease are challenging.
Your vet may make a diagnosis based on:
- Your dog’s symptoms and history of tick exposure.
- In-clinic blood test kits to look for antibodies. This test detects antibodies produced by exposure to bacteria. It takes time for the body to create antibodies, we usually wait around 4 weeks after the tick bite to perform this test.
- Other blood tests to confirm infection or monitor treatment:
- Lyme quantitative C6: This test can be used to further investigate a positive in-clinic blood test or evaluate your dog after treatment.
- Borrelia PCR: This test is sometimes performed on blood or biopsy samples from affected tissues or joint fluid and identifies DNA from the bacteria that causes this disease.
To rule out other medical conditions, your vet may need to perform:
- Other blood tests
- Urine tests
- Radiographs (x-rays)
- Ultrasound scans
How do vets treat Lyme disease in dogs?
Your dog will need:
- A long course of antibiotics. Usually for 4 weeks with a combination of two or three antibiotics.
- More complicated cases may require hospitalisation to receive intravenous fluids and close monitoring.
The sooner the disease is detected, the better the outcome.
How to help your dog with Lyme disease
For a sick patient to recover, love and care are essential.
- Allow them to rest: Ensure you can provide a safe, quiet place for them to sleep.
- Help them eat: Feed soft, bland food, such as boiled chicken or scrambled eggs. Warm up their food.
- Monitor them closely.
If you need help giving tablets to your dog, call our Joii team for help.
How to prevent Lyme disease
There are a few things you can do to prevent this disease:
- Keep your dog up to date with parasite control that covers ticks.
- Monitor yourself and your dog for any ticks on the body.
- Make sure to remove the full tick from your dog, including the mouth part of the tick.
- Avoid crushing the tick with your fingers.
- Your vet may recommend the Lyme vaccine.
For more information, you can also visit our article on Ticks in dogs.
Tick protection products
Veterinary products are available in a variety of forms for preventing tick attachment or quickly killing them if they attach:
Examine your dog and yourself
Ticks are seen all year, but mainly between March and November.
Thoroughly check yourself and your dog after a walk. They are most commonly seen on the head, ears, armpits, and belly, but can be found anywhere.
Ticks can also be present in gardens.
Be more cautious when visiting abroad or in high-risk areas. Check the UK map link above for more detailed information about your location.
How do you remove a tick from your dog?
- Use clean tweezers or a special tick-removing tool to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull the full tick upward. Remove the mouthpart from the skin if it breaks off.
- After removing the tick, clean the site of the tick bite with warm salt water (1 teaspoon of salt to one pint of warm water) or use an antiseptic solution.
- Dispose of the tick.
- Avoid crushing a tick with your fingers. This disease can pass through a wound or cut in your skin.
- Dispose of a live tick by:
- Putting it in alcohol
- Placing it in a sealed bag/container
- Wrapping it tightly in tape
- Flushing it down the toilet
This vaccine protects dogs from Lyme disease.
It works by training the immune system to recognise and fight the disease prior to actual exposure to it.
In areas with a high level of infection, your vet may recommend this vaccine.
When to worry
When to worry if your dog has Lyme disease
Call your vet if your dog:
- Was exposed to ticks and you are seeing symptoms of the disease.
- Was exposed to ticks and is showing increased drinking or urination, especially if combined with lethargy, vomiting, or reduced appetite.
- Is receiving treatment for this disease and does not improve after a few days.
Joii can help if you:
- Found a tick on your dog.
- Need help in removing and disposing of a tick.
- Cannot remove the remaining mouthparts easily from the skin.
- Need an antiseptic solution to clean the tick bite location.
- Want to discuss different tick products available.