Lyme Disease

Named after Lyme, Connecticut, Lyme disease is an infectious illness transmitted by ticks that can affect dogs as well as people.  Although the disease can also infect horses, cats and cattle, it’s most common target is dogs.


  • The deer tick is the most common carrier of Lyme disease in the upper Midwest and Northeast. In the West, the common carrier is the western black-legged tick. Although ticks can transmit the disease, they are not the cause. Lyme disease is caused by bacteria called borrelia burgdorferi. If a tick feeds on an animal that is infected with borrelia burgdorferi, the tick becomes infected itself and can transmit the disease to other animals it feeds on.

Symptoms in a dog

  • Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs may not appear for two to five months after infection and can include high fever, lameness, swollen joints, swollen lymph nodes, loss of appetite and lethargy. Some dogs may even develop kidney disease, heart trouble or nervous system problems. In people, Lyme disease causes a red, circular rash, but this is not seen in infected dogs.

    Early Symptoms in a human

    • The most common first sign that you have been bitten by a tick carrying Lyme disease is a red rash around the area where you were bitten. The rash usually looks like a bull’s eye. You normally get the rash one to two weeks after the bite occurs. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “80 percent to 90 percent of all Lyme disease cases get the rash.”

      Other Symptoms in a human

      • The bacteria that the tick carries can enter the skin. As the bacteria spreads, more profound symptoms can arise. You may feel like you have the flu. You could experience headaches, fatigue and muscle aches. These are the same symptoms associated with having a viral infection. Chronic arthritis is also a common symptom of Lyme disease. Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose because there are many other diseases and conditions that can have the same symptoms of Lyme disease such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

        If Lyme disease is not detected early on, the bacteria could go into the heart and nervous system. This could lead to meningitis. If Lyme disease goes undetected for a year or more it could damage the motor and sensory nerves due to infection of the brain. If this happens, your brain would swell and you could die.

    Diagnosis in humans

    • A red visual rash with the “bull’s eye” look in the center is a key sign that you have been bitten and infected by a tick. Some people will never show a visual sign of the infection, meaning further testing will need to be done to determine if they are infected. A blood test to check for antibodies along with an analysis of your health history is also beneficial to determine if you have been infected by Lyme disease.

    Treatment in dogs

    • Treatment of Lyme disease in dogs consists of using antibiotics, the most common of which are doxycycline or amoxicillin. Treatment must be administered for 14 days or longer, depending on the persistence of the infection. Dogs usually demonstrate improvement within the first 48 hours, but in some cases Lyme disease may be a chronic condition. However, many infected dogs respond quickly and satisfactorily to treatment.

      Treatment in humans

      • Lyme disease is usually curable with antibiotics. The severity of the symptoms will determine which type of antibiotics you must take. Some antibiotics will be administered orally, such as amoxicillin. If you are diagnosed in the later stages of the disease then you will most likely receive antibiotics intravenously. Many people will also have reoccurring symptoms if they are diagnosed in the later stages of Lyme disease.

    Prevention in dogs

    • To help prevent Lyme disease, avoid woods, brush, tall grass and other areas with high tick populations. Use preventative collars, sprays and once-a-month topical tick treatments on your dog. But if he is bitten by a tick, do not panic, as there is little chance the disease will be transmitted if the tick is removed within 48 hours of attachment. Another way to prevent Lyme disease in dogs is through vaccination.

      Preventing Lyme Disease in humans

      • Lyme disease is not preventable; however, there are some things everyone can do to try and prevent it. You could use an insect spray such as DEET to help prevent ticks from crawling on you. Wear long pants and shirts when walking through the woods. Tuck in the bottoms of your pants into the tops of your boots to prevent the ticks from crawling up your legs. Check yourself and children daily to make sure there are no ticks stuck to the skin. Also, check over your pets for any ticks.

        If there is a tick attached to your skin, remove it promptly but gently with tweezers. Place it in a jar so that it can be examined for Lyme disease.


    • There is controversy regarding whether dogs should be vaccinated for Lyme disease. Some people argue that the vaccinations are ineffective and could cause kidney problems. Although vaccinated dogs are less likely to become infected, some still contract Lyme disease. It is recommended to vaccinate your dog only if you live in an area where Lyme disease is a problem.