Lyme Disease and Your Dog

What is it?

Lyme disease is caused by the spirochete bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. The disease is transmitted to humans and dogs from the bite of a black-legged tick, also known as the “deer tick” or “bear tick.”

Once in the bloodstream, the bacteria may travel to different areas of the body and cause problems in specific organs or areas, like joints, in addition to overall illness.

The ticks that carry Lyme disease are particularly likely to be seen in tall grasses, thick brush, marshes, and forests — waiting to latch on your dog when he moves.

First named when several cases occurred in Lyme, Conn., in 1975, the disorder can be difficult to detect and can lead to severe, ongoing health problems in both dogs and people.

Although Lyme disease can occur almost anywhere in the U.S., disease risk is low in some areas and high in others. The areas of greatest occurrence will be the Northeast, the Upper Midwest, and the Pacific coast.

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Generalized stiffness, discomfort, or pain
  • Joint swelling
  • Kidney failure
  • Cardiac and/or neurological effects
  • Death
  • Thoroughly inspect your dog after going on walks through the woods or grassy areas. Pay close attention to the paws, between their toes, around their mouths, ears, eyes, under the tail and near the anus.
  • If you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible; the quicker you remove a tick, the less likely your dog will contract a secondary illness related to tick bites.
  • Ask your veterinarian to conduct a tick check at each exam. They’ll be able to find any you may have missed.
  • Give your dog veterinary-approved flea and tick preventions.
  • Keep grass mowed as short as possible. Refrain from walking into grassy patches in endemic tick areas if you can.
  • Vaccination. There are vaccines available that can help prevent your dog from getting Lyme disease. Talk with your vet if you have questions about the vaccine.
Testing for Lyme Disease

Blood tests performed by your veterinarian can confirm if your dog for Lyme Disease. One blood test is an antibody test that detects the presence of certain antibodies that form in your dog’s body as a reaction to the bacterium.

Unfortunately, dogs that have been bitten recently may not have a high enough level of antibodies present to show up on the test. And dogs that have carried the disease for a long period of time may no longer have enough antibodies in their bloodstream to show a positive test result, causing a “false negative.”

The second type of blood test is a specific DNA test that confirms the presence of the disease-causing bacterium.


Lyme Disease can be treated through the administration of antibiotics, typically for several weeks.