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Lyme disease in dogs

Lyme disease in dogs

Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness caused by a specific bacteria that uses the tick as a host. It is not only a concern for humans but also for our beloved canine companions. Dogs, being susceptible to tick bites during outdoor activities, can contract this disease and experience a range of symptoms that can impact their overall health and well-being. Lyme disease in dogs is characterized by joint pain, fever, lethargy, and, if left untreated, can lead to more severe complications. As responsible pet owners, it is crucial to understand the signs, prevention methods, and treatment options to protect our furry friends from the potentially debilitating effects of Lyme disease.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. It primarily affects humans and animals, including dogs, and is transmitted through the bite of infected black-legged ticks, commonly known as deer ticks. The disease is most prevalent in certain regions, particularly areas with dense vegetation and a significant population of ticks.

How do dogs get Lyme disease?

Dogs can get Lyme disease through the bite of an infected black-legged tick, also known as a deer tick. These ticks are carriers of the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease. When an infected tick attaches itself to a dog's skin and feeds on its blood, it can transmit the bacteria into the dog's bloodstream. The transmission typically occurs after the tick has been attached for at least 24-48 hours. It's important to note that not all ticks carry the Lyme disease bacteria, but regions with a higher tick population, particularly wooded and grassy areas, pose a greater risk of exposure. Dogs that spend time outdoors, especially in areas where ticks are prevalent, are at a higher risk of contracting Lyme disease.

Canadian regions with the highest prevalence of Lyme disease

In Canada, Lyme disease in dogs is most prevalent in certain regions where black-legged ticks, the primary carriers of the disease, are more abundant. These regions are typically characterized by suitable tick habitats such as wooded areas, tall grasses, and shrubs. The following Canadian provinces have been identified as having higher rates of Lyme disease in dogs:


Certain areas of southern and eastern Ontario, including parts of the Niagara region, Kingston, Ottawa Valley, and the Thousand Islands region, have reported higher incidences of Lyme disease in both humans and dogs.


Regions in southern Quebec, such as the Eastern Townships and Montérégie, have seen an increase in Lyme disease cases in recent years.

New Brunswick

Parts of New Brunswick, particularly in the southern and central regions, have recorded higher rates of Lyme disease in dogs.

Nova Scotia

Certain areas of Nova Scotia, such as the Annapolis Valley and South Shore, have shown an elevated prevalence of Lyme disease in dogs.


The southeastern region of Manitoba, including areas around Winnipeg, has reported cases of Lyme disease in dogs.

It is important to note that Lyme disease can still be present in other parts of Canada, although the prevalence may be lower. Regular tick prevention measures and awareness of ticks in outdoor areas are advisable throughout the country, particularly in regions with a history of Lyme disease cases. It is recommended to consult with local veterinary professionals or public health agencies for more specific information on Lyme disease prevalence in your area.

How to determine if your dog was bitten by a deer tick

Detecting whether your dog has been bitten by a deer tick can be challenging as ticks are small and can easily go unnoticed on a dog's fur. However, there are a few steps you can take to identify and check for tick bites on your dog:

Regularly examine your dog's fur

Run your hands over your dog's body, feeling for any small bumps or irregularities. Ticks often attach themselves in hidden areas such as the neck, ears, underarms, groin, and between the toes. Part the fur to get a better look and closely inspect these areas.

Look for engorged ticks

If a tick has recently bitten your dog, it may be engorged with blood, making it easier to spot. Ticks can vary in size depending on their stage of feeding, with engorged ticks appearing larger and darker in color.

Check for tick attachment

Ticks attach themselves firmly to the skin of their host, so you might notice a tick's mouthparts embedded in your dog's skin. If you spot a tick, it is crucial to remove it promptly and correctly to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

Encephalitis Virus or Lyme Disease Infected Tick Arachnid Insect on Animal Fur Macro Photo of Encephalitis Virus or Lyme Disease Infected Tick Arachnid Insect on Animal Fur dog tick stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

How to remove a tick from your dog

To safely and effectively remove a tick from your dog, follow these steps:

  • Prepare the necessary tools: You will need fine-tipped tweezers or a tick removal tool, rubbing alcohol, gloves (optional), and a container or ziplock bag for storing the tick.
  • Put on gloves (optional): If you prefer, you can wear disposable gloves to avoid direct contact with the tick and protect yourself from any potential pathogens.
Veterinarian removing a tick  from golden retriever dog Veterinarian removing a tick  from golden retriever dog dog tick stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images
  • Locate the tick: Part your dog's fur to expose the tick. Use caution to avoid squeezing or crushing the tick's body.
  • Grasp the tick: Using the tweezers or tick removal tool, carefully grab the tick as close to your dog's skin as possible. Be gentle to prevent the tick from breaking apart.
A tick is removed from a dog with black fur by a man with tweezers, Germany A tick is removed from a dog with black fur by a man with tweezers, Germany dog tick stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images
  • Remove the tick: Slowly and steadily pull upward with even pressure. Avoid twisting or jerking the tick, as this may cause the mouthparts to remain embedded in your dog's skin.
  • Check for complete removal: Ensure that you have removed the entire tick, including its mouthparts. Leaving any part of the tick behind can lead to infection.
  • Disinfect the area: Clean your dog's skin with rubbing alcohol or an antiseptic solution after removing the tick. This helps disinfect the bite site and reduce the risk of infection.
  • Dispose of the tick: Place the tick in a container or ziplock bag, and either seal it or submerge it in rubbing alcohol to kill the tick. This allows you to keep the tick for identification or to show it to your veterinarian if needed.
  • Monitor your dog: Keep an eye on your dog for any signs of infection or unusual symptoms, such as redness, swelling, or continued discomfort at the tick bite site. If any concerns arise, consult your veterinarian.

Symptoms of Lyme disease

Lyme disease symptoms in dogs can vary and may not always be immediately noticeable. Some common signs to watch for include:

  • Lameness: One of the hallmark symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs is recurrent or shifting lameness. It typically affects different legs at different times and can be intermittent.
  • Joint pain and swelling: Dogs with Lyme disease may experience pain and inflammation in their joints. This can cause discomfort, stiffness, and reluctance to move or be touched.
  • Fever: Dogs with Lyme disease may develop a fever, which can be an indication of an infection. Monitor your dog's body temperature if you suspect Lyme disease.
  • Lethargy: Infected dogs may exhibit general fatigue, lack of energy, and reduced interest in activities they usually enjoy.
  • Decreased appetite: Loss of appetite or a noticeable decrease in food intake can be a symptom of Lyme disease.
  • Swollen lymph nodes: Enlarged lymph nodes may be felt under the jaw, in the neck, or behind the knees. These can be tender to the touch.
  • Increased thirst and urination: Some dogs with Lyme disease may drink more water than usual and urinate more frequently.

It's important to note that not all dogs infected with Lyme disease will exhibit all of these symptoms. Additionally, some infected dogs may not show any symptoms at all. If you suspect your dog has been exposed to ticks or shows any of these signs, it is recommended to consult with your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment of Lyme disease in dogs

The treatment of Lyme disease in dogs typically involves a combination of antibiotics and supportive care. Here are some key aspects of the treatment process:

Consultation with a veterinarian

If you suspect your dog has Lyme disease or they display symptoms associated with the illness, it is important to seek veterinary care promptly. The veterinarian will conduct a thorough examination and may recommend specific diagnostic tests to confirm the presence of Lyme disease.

Antibiotic therapy

Once diagnosed, your veterinarian will prescribe a course of antibiotics suitable for treating Lyme disease in dogs. The most commonly used antibiotic is doxycycline, which is administered orally for several weeks. It is important to follow the prescribed dosage and complete the entire course of antibiotics to ensure effective treatment.

Symptomatic management

Depending on the severity of the symptoms, your veterinarian may recommend additional supportive care. This may include pain medications or anti-inflammatory drugs to alleviate joint pain and reduce inflammation. In some cases, joint supplements or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be prescribed to help manage discomfort and improve mobility.

Monitoring and follow-up

Throughout the treatment process, your veterinarian will monitor your dog's progress and may request follow-up visits or additional tests. Regular check-ups will help ensure that the antibiotics are working effectively and that your dog is responding well to treatment.

It's important to note that early detection and treatment are key in managing Lyme disease effectively. If left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to more severe complications. Therefore, if you suspect your dog has Lyme disease or has been exposed to ticks, it's best to consult with a veterinarian as soon as possible.

How to prevent your dog from getting Lyme disease

Preventing Lyme disease in dogs primarily involves implementing strategies to reduce their exposure to ticks. Here are some effective preventive measures:

Tick control products

Use veterinarian-recommended tick control products on your dog. These can include topical treatments, tick collars, or oral medications that kill or repel ticks. Regularly apply or administer these products according to the manufacturer's instructions to provide continuous protection.

Tick prevention on a golden retriever Tick prevention for Dogs with a Spot-On dog tick stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Tick checks

Conduct thorough tick checks on your dog after outdoor activities, especially in tick-prone areas. Pay close attention to areas such as the ears, neck, armpits, groin, and between the toes. If you find any ticks, promptly remove them using proper techniques.

Tick habitat management

Make efforts to reduce the presence of ticks in your immediate environment. Keep lawns mowed, remove tall grasses, and clear brush or leaf litter where ticks may thrive. Creating a less favorable tick habitat around your home can help minimize exposure.

Avoid tick-infested areas

When possible, avoid walking your dog in areas known to be heavily infested with ticks, such as dense woods, overgrown grassy fields, or areas with tall vegetation. Stick to well-maintained paths or open areas, if available.


Consult with your veterinarian about the availability of Lyme disease vaccines for dogs. Vaccination can help reduce the risk and severity of Lyme disease if your dog is exposed to infected ticks.

Education and awareness

Learn about the signs of tick activity and the seasonality of ticks in your area. Stay informed about Lyme disease prevalence and risks specific to your region. This knowledge will help you take appropriate preventive measures and seek veterinary care promptly if needed.

Remember, even with preventive measures in place, it's important to continue performing regular tick checks on your dog and be vigilant for any signs of Lyme disease. If you suspect your dog may have been exposed to ticks or is exhibiting symptoms, consult with your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.

 Border collie next to tweezers holding a tick
 Border collie next to tweezers holding a tick

View Sources

Littman, Meryl P., Richard E. Goldstein, Mary A. Labato, Michael R. Lappin, and George E. Moore. "ACVIM small animal consensus statement on Lyme disease in dogs: diagnosis, treatment, and prevention." Journal of veterinary internal medicine 20, no. 2 (2006): 422-434.

Appel, Max JG. "Lyme disease in dogs and cats." Compendium on continuing education for the practicing veterinarian 12, no. 5 (1990): 617-626.

Jacobson, Richard H., Yung-Fu Chang, and Sang J. Shin. "Lyme disease: laboratory diagnosis of infected and vaccinated symptomatic dogs." In Seminars in veterinary medicine and surgery (small animal), vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 172-182. 1996.

Straubinger, Reinhard K., Alix F. Straubinger, Brian A. Summers, Richard H. Jacobson, and Hollis N. Erb. "Clinical manifestations, pathogenesis, and effect of antibiotic treatment on Lyme borreliosis in dogs." Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift 110, no. 24 (1998): 874-881.

Bouchard, Catherine, Erin Leonard, Jules Konan Koffi, Yann Pelcat, Andrew Peregrine, Neil Chilton, Kateryn Rochon, Tim Lysyk, L. Robbin Lindsay, and Nicholas Hume Ogden. "The increasing risk of Lyme disease in Canada." The Canadian Veterinary Journal 56, no. 7 (2015): 693.

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