Lyme Disease in Dogs

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How to diagnose and treat Lyme disease in dogs.

 Dog and owner walking in the woods.

Ticks carry many ailments that can have a long-lasting impact on your pet, including one of the most common tick diseases: Lyme disease in dogs. 

It’s important to know that any dog who regularly goes outside could be at risk for tick bites and Lyme disease. Here’s what you need to know about the illness.

What Are the Signs of Lyme Disease in Dogs?

Lyme disease, caused by the bite of an infected tick, is known as “The Great Imitator" for a good reason: The illness can mimic other conditions dogs might have. If you're concerned about your dog’s health, first look for common, general signs of the illness such as:

  • Decrease in appetite
  • Sleepiness
  • Vomiting

If you notice any of those signs, be on the lookout for additional symptoms of Lyme disease:

  • Limping on both legs at separate times
  • Displaying swollen and hot joints
  • Excessive thirst
  • Hard lumps behind their jaw, on the back of their thighs or in the groin area (a sign of swollen lymph nodes reacting to Lyme bacteria)
  • Shallow, rapid breathing

Most dogs never display any symptoms of Lyme disease and may behave normally, even when infected. If you see or remove ticks from your dog, keep some of the above symptoms in mind and schedule an appointment with your dog’s vet.

Dog and owner enjoying a sunset view while hiking through the wilderness

How Is Lyme Disease in Dogs Treated?

The good news is that Lyme disease in dogs can be treated once diagnosed. Dogs can be diagnosed with Lyme disease in one of two ways:

  • During an annual vet exam heartworm screening. The heartworm test also screens for tick diseases, so your dog can incidentally test positive for Lyme disease. In these situations, the veterinarian may decide to prescribe a round of antibiotics to be on the safe side. 
  • Vet-administered testing after the dog has shown symptoms of Lyme disease. If the test is positive, antibiotics will be used to treat the illness in addition to other forms of supportive therapy. Anti-inflammatory medication may be prescribed, for example, depending upon the symptoms. Your dog’s vet may also schedule follow-up appointments.

How to Help Protect Your Pet 

Using a tick preventive can help protect your dog from disease-carrying ticks. Tick prevention products that both kill and repel the parasite should be considered, because if a tick is repelled, it can’t bite and transmit diseases, like Lyme disease, to your dog in the first place. Effective tick control products can be found at the vet or over the counter at pet stores and online retailers.

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Date of review April 2021

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