Lyme Disease: How You Can
Protect Your Pet
What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is caused by a spirochete called Borrelia burgdorferi. A spirochete
is a type of bacterium. It is transmitted to dogs through the bite of a tick. Once in
the blood stream, the Lyme disease organism is carried to many parts of the
body and is likely to localize in joints. It was first thought that only a few types of
ticks could transmit this disease, but now it appears that several common
species may be involved. The most common type of tick to carry Lyme disease
is the Deer Tick.
Can Lyme disease also affect people?

Yes, but people do not get it directly from dogs. They get it from being bitten by the
same ticks that transmit it to dogs. Therefore, preventing exposure to ticks is
important for you and your dog.

What are the clinical signs?

Many people with Lyme disease develop a characteristic “bull’s-eye” rash at the site
of the bite within 3 to 30 days. For these people, the disease can be easily
diagnosed at an early stage. However, symptoms of Lyme disease are more difficult
to detect in animals than in people.

The characteristic rash does not develop in dogs or cats. Because the other
symptoms of the disease may be delayed or not recognized and because the
symptoms are similar to those of many other diseases, Lyme disease in animals is
often not considered until other diseases have been eliminated.

Many dogs affected with Lyme disease are taken to a veterinarian because they
seem to be experiencing generalized pain and have stopped eating. Affected dogs
have been described as if they were “walking on eggshells.”  Often these pets have
high fevers. Dogs may also begin limping. This painful lameness often appears
suddenly and may shift from one leg to another. If untreated, it may eventually
disappear, only to recur weeks or months later.

Some pets are affected with the Lyme disease organism for over a year before they
finally show symptoms. By this time, the disease may be quite widespread in the

How is Lyme disease diagnosed?

Dogs with lameness, swollen joints, and fever are suspected of having Lyme
disease. However, other diseases may also cause these symptoms. There are two
blood tests that may be used for confirmation. The first is an antibody test. This test
does not detect the actual spirochete in the blood but does detect the presence of
antibodies created by exposure to the organism. A test can be falsely negative if the
dog is infected but has not yet formed antibodies, or if it never forms enough
antibodies to cause a positive reaction. This may occur in animals with suppressed
immune systems. Some dogs that have been infected for long periods of time may no
longer have enough antibodies present to be detected by the test. Therefore, a
positive test is meaningful, but a negative is not.

The second test is the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, or DNA testing, which
is very specific and sensitive. However, not all dogs have the spirochete in their
blood cells. If a blood sample is tested, a false negative may occur. The best sample
for testing is the fluid from an affected joint.

How is Lyme disease treated?

Because the Lyme spirochete is a bacterium, it can be controlled by antibiotics.
However, a lengthy course of treatment is necessary to completely eradicate the
organism. The initial antibiotic selected to treat an infected pet may not be effective
against the disease, especially if the infection is long-standing. In this situation,
changing to another antibiotic is often effective. Occasionally, the initial infection will
recur, or the pet will become re-infected after being bitten by another infected tick.

How can I prevent my dog from getting Lyme disease?

The key to prevention is keeping your dog from being exposed to ticks. Ticks are
found in grassy, wooded, and sandy areas. They find their way onto an animal by
climbing to the top of a leaf, blade of grass, or short trees, especially Cedar trees.
Here, they wait until their sensors detect a close-by animal on which to crawl or drop.
Keeping animals from thick underbrush reduces their exposure to ticks. Dogs should
be kept on trails when walked near wooded or tall grass areas.

In our area, ticks are as much a part of life as mosquitoes are.  Therefore, we highly
recommend keeping your dog on Frontline Plus.  This once a month flea and tick
preventative is very effective at keeping ticks from attaching to your dog long enough
to spread the Lyme disease.  
Click here for more information about Frontline Plus
and tick prevention.

How do I remove a tick from my dog?

Check your pet immediately after it has been in a tick-infected area. The Deer Tick is
a small tick and only about pinhead size in juvenile stage, but a little more obvious in
adult phase and after feeding. If you find a tick moving on your pet, the tick has not
fed. Remove the tick promptly and place it in rubbing alcohol or crush it between two
solid surfaces. If you find a tick attached to your pet, grasp the tick with fine tweezers
or your finger nails near the dog’s skin and firmly pull it straight out. You may need
another person to help restrain your dog. Removing the tick quickly is important
since the disease is not transmitted until the tick has fed for approximately 12 hours.
If you crush the tick, do not get the tick’s contents, including blood, on your skin. The
spirochete that causes Lyme disease can pass through a wound or cut in your skin.

Is there a vaccine that will protect my dog from Lyme disease?

A vaccine is now available for protecting dogs against Lyme disease. This vaccine is
initially given twice, at four-week intervals. Annual re-vaccination is also necessary to
maintain immunity. The vaccine has been shown to be safe and very effective.
Totals At
VetCare Animal

2009: 149
2010: 164
2011: 151
2012: 125
Cambridge VetCare
Animal Clinic, PA
Cambridge, MN