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Understanding and Managing Lyme Disease in Dogs

Lyme disease, caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, is a significant concern for both dogs and humans. This disease is transmitted through the bite of infected black-legged ticks, commonly known as deer ticks.

How Lyme Disease Spreads

Lyme disease is primarily found in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and Northwest coastal states due to the prevalence of deer, which are essential hosts for the adult ticks. However, cases have been reported across a wider geographic area in recent years, making it one of the most common tick-borne diseases in dogs.

Recognizing Symptoms in Dogs

Unlike humans, dogs often do not show immediate symptoms of Lyme disease. It is estimated that only about 10% of infected dogs exhibit noticeable signs, which typically appear two to five months after the tick bite. Symptoms can include:

  • Fever

  • Loss of appetite

  • Lethargy

  • Lameness

  • Prolonged bleeding due to low blood platelets

Infected dogs may also display shifting-leg lameness and severe pain. The severity of symptoms can vary by breed and age. For instance, Beagle puppies may develop arthritis in multiple joints, while adult Beagles might only show joint inflammation. Breeds like Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Bernese Mountain Dogs are particularly susceptible to Lyme nephritis, a severe kidney condition.

Diagnosing Lyme Disease

Diagnosing Lyme disease in dogs is challenging and requires specific tests. The majority of infected dogs (90%) have subclinical infections but produce positive antibody titers that can last for months or even years. This persistence can cause diagnostic confusion, especially when dogs with positive antibody titers develop unrelated illnesses.

The C6 ELISA test is widely used for diagnosing canine Lyme disease. It detects antibodies three to five weeks after infection and can distinguish between previous exposure and active infection. The Western blot test is another standard assay that can differentiate between infection and vaccination. Rapid tests like the VetScan Canine Lyme Rapid Test provide quick results from blood samples.

Treatment Options

Antibiotic treatment is recommended for dogs showing clinical signs of Lyme disease. Doxycycline is the antibiotic of choice, typically administered for three to four weeks. Amoxicillin is an alternative for dogs that cannot tolerate doxycycline. Dogs with Lyme arthritis often respond to treatment within 24 to 48 hours but require the full antibiotic course to prevent relapse.


Approximately 90% of dogs infected with Lyme disease show no signs of illness. Those with Lyme arthritis generally recover quickly with appropriate antibiotic treatment and do not usually experience relapse. However, dogs with Lyme nephritis have a poor prognosis.

Preventing Lyme Disease

The best way to protect dogs from Lyme disease is through routine tick prevention using repellents or topical preventatives. Avoiding areas where ticks are prevalent, especially during early spring and fall, is crucial. If ticks are found, they should be removed within 24 hours to prevent disease transmission.

To safely remove a tick:

  1. Wear gloves and use tweezers to grasp the tick close to the skin.

  2. Pull straight out gently until the tick releases.

  3. Dispose of the tick by wrapping it in tissue and flushing it down the toilet. Avoid crushing, burning, or suffocating it.

Lyme Disease Vaccination

Vaccination against Lyme disease can be useful in areas where the disease is common. Both whole-cell bacterins and recombinant vaccines are available, with initial vaccination recommended in two doses spaced two to three weeks apart. Annual revaccination is advised, although vaccination is not 100% effective. Studies show varying efficacy, with some indicating up to 100% effectiveness.


Lyme disease is a prevalent and increasing threat to dogs in North America. The best protection is avoiding tick-infested areas and using effective tick repellents and preventatives. If you suspect your dog has Lyme disease, consult your veterinarian for testing and appropriate treatment. For more information on preventing and managing Lyme disease in dogs, visit

Lyme Disease in Dogs
Lyme Disease in Dogs


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