Lyme Disease Awareness: 5 things you might not know


Lyme disease is the most reported vector-borne disease in the United States.  Lyme disease is transmitted by ticks (specifically the black legged tick, also known as the deer tick) and affects both humans as well as animals causing illness, and even death, if not caught and treated on time.  With common symptoms like lameness (limping), decreased appetite and lethargy, Lyme disease can be difficult to tell apart from other ailments that could affect our dogs.  The month of May is dedicated to Lyme Disease Awareness so I have put together some facts on this common and potentially deadly disease.


1.     Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria

Lyme disease is not caused by a tick, but a bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi).  This spiral shaped bacteria lives in the gut of the tick and is transmitted to an animal or a human through the salivary glands while the tick is feeding.  The tick must be attached for at least 24 hours for the bacteria to be passed on to the host.


2.     Your dog can contract Lyme disease during winter

Ticks are very active during months of warmer weather, but many people think ticks die off during winter and this is not the case.  While a thick snow cover and freezing temperatures will prevent them from feeding, if temperatures reach 30-40°F, ticks will become active and begin to feed on our pets!


3.     Symptoms of Lyme disease

Lyme disease is most commonly known to cause signs of arthritis such as shifting leg lameness, but dogs can also have a fever, enlarged lymph nodes, lethargy and decreased appetite.  The second most common presentation of the disease is kidney failure which is usually fatal. Luckily, your veterinarian is able to test your dog for tick-borne disease and if Lyme disease is caught early it can be treated with antibiotics.


4.     Can I get Lyme disease from my dog?

I am asked this question often!  No, you cannot contract Lyme disease directly from your pet. However, most families share the same environment as their pets (ex: hunters with their hunting dog, family picnics in the park, etc).  So, if you have found ticks on your dog and/or your dog has been diagnosed with Lyme disease, this means you and your family members have also been exposed!


5.     Prevention is the best medicine

Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose as it takes up to 5 months from the time a dog is bitten by a tick until the dog’s immune system develops enough antibodies against the bacteria to show positive on testing. And many dogs can carry the Lyme bacteria without showing any signs of illness! Annual screenings for exposure to Lyme disease (and other tick-borne disease) can be performed by your family veterinarian.  The best way to avoid Lyme disease is to prevent ticks from attaching to your dog.  It is important to use a product that not only kills ticks, but repels them!  Using a prevention, like Provecta Advanced for dogs or the Seresto collar, on your dog all year long is the best way to prevent Lyme disease.

Using flea and tick prevention every month all year can prevent many diseases for our dogs. Please make sure your pets are protected!

Leigh Hofmeister, DVM, Blog Signature – Leigh Hofmeister, DVM

Leigh Hofmeister