Lyme Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Tests, Treatment, and Prevention
- Where Do Ticks Live?
- How do Ticks Get on People and Dogs?
- What are the symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs?
- How are Dogs Tested for Lyme Disease?
- How is Lyme Disease Treated?
- Can I Catch Lyme Disease From my Dog?
- Other Canine Diseases Carried by Ticks
- How Can I Prevent My Dog From Getting Lyme Disease or Other Tick-borne Illnesses?
- 1. It’s a year-round threat
- 2. It’s all across the country
- 3. Most of the tick control products we use don’t repel ticks
- 4. The symptoms aren’t necessarily what you’d expect
- 5. Where ticks hide
- 6. The best way to remove a tick
- 7. Vets don’t always treat Lyme disease in dogs
- 8. Lyme affects some breeds worse than others
- 9. In dogs, treatment acts fact
- 10. How to protect your property and your pets
- 6 Scary Facts about Lyme Disease in Dogs
- Lyme Disease in Dogs
- If my dog tests positive, does this necessitate treatment?
- Black-leggged ticks are small, so if I find a large tick on my dog, he/she can’t get Lyme disease, correct?
- If I find a tick on my dog, should I go to the vet
- How long does the tick need to be attached to transmit infection?
- Once a frost occurs, I don’t have to worry about ticks anymore until the following spring, correct?
- Can I get Lyme disease from my dog?
- Should I vaccinate my dog against Lyme disease?
- Lyme Disease in Dogs: What to Know
- Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs
- Common symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs include:
- Testing Dogs for Lyme Disease
- Lyme Disease Treatment for Dogs
- How Long Can a Dog Live with Lyme Disease?
- Preventing Lyme Disease in Dogs
- Causes of Lyme Disease in Dogs
- Diagnosing Lyme Disease in Dogs
- Treating Dog Lyme Disease
- Living and Management
- How Do Dogs Get Lyme Disease?
- Should You Vaccinate Your Dog for Lyme Disease?
- Lyme Testing and Diagnosis
- How to Keep Ticks Off Your Dog
- Lyme Disease Symptoms in Dogs
- Why is Lyme Disease So Scary?
- Prevent Your Dog from Getting Tick-Borne Illnesses
- How to Treat Tick Bites
- Antibiotics for Lyme Disease
- Alternative Lyme Disease Therapies for Dogs
- Lyme Disease Vaccination Controversy
- Building Your Dog’s Immune System
- The Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs
- Treatment of Lyme Disease
- The Best Protection is Prevention
- Knowledge is Your Friend
- Lyme Disease in dogs
Lyme Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Tests, Treatment, and Prevention
Lyme disease, also known as Lyme borreliosis, is a bacterial illness that can be transmitted to humans, dogs, and other animals by certain species of ticks. It is caused by the spiral-shaped bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi that is carried inside a tick and gets into a dog or person’s bloodstream through a tick bite. Once in the bloodstream, the bacteria can travel to different parts of the body and cause problems in specific organs or locations, such as joints, as well as overall illness.
Where Do Ticks Live?
The ticks that carry Lyme disease are especially likely to be found in tall grasses, thick brush, marshes, and woods — waiting to latch onto your dog when he passes by. A tick can transmit the disease once it has been attached to a dog for 24 to 48 hours.
First named when a number of cases occurred in Lyme, Connecticut, in 1975, the disease can be hard to detect and can cause serious, ongoing health problems in both dogs and people.
Lyme disease happens in every state, but infection risks vary. Over 95% of cases are from the Northeast, the Upper Midwest, and the Pacific coast, although with recent changes in deforestation, migrating deer and bird populations, percentage rates in these areas are constantly changing.
A small number of cases crop up each year along the West Coast, especially Northern California. In Canada, Lyme-positive dogs are found mostly in southern Ontario and southern Manitoba. A smaller number of cases are reported each year in Southern Quebec and the Maritime Provinces.
How do Ticks Get on People and Dogs?
The primary carrier of Lyme disease is the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis), also called the “deer tick” or “bear tick.” The tick acquires the Lyme disease bacterium when it feeds on an animal that has been infected, such as a mouse, deer, or other mammal, and then transmits the bacterium to the next animal it feeds on. Image: CDC
Ticks don’t jump or fly; they can only crawl. They get onto their host by waiting at the tips of vegetation. When a dog or person brushes against a bush, for example, the tick quickly grabs on and then crawls to find a place to bite.
What are the symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs?
Lyme disease is, unfortunately, a fairly common canine disease. Typical symptoms in dogs include:
- Loss of appetite
- Reduced energy
- Lameness (can be shifting, intermittent, and recurring)
- Generalized stiffness, discomfort, or pain
- Swelling of joints
Symptoms can progress to kidney failure, which can be fatal. Serious cardiac and neurological effects can also occur.
How are Dogs Tested for Lyme Disease?
Diagnosis is made by a combination of history, physical signs, and diagnostics. For dogs, the two blood tests for diagnosing Lyme disease are called the C6 Test and Quant C6 test. Veterinarians perform both.
The C6 test detects antibodies against a protein called “C6”. Presence of the antibodies suggests an active Lyme infection. The C6 antibodies can be detected three to five weeks after an infected tick bites a dog and may be found in the bloodstream even before the dog shows signs of illness.
The next step is to do a Quant C6 test. This, along with urinalysis will help determine if antibiotic treatment is necessary.
How is Lyme Disease Treated?
Treatment includes antibiotics, usually for at least 30 days. This often resolves symptoms quickly, but in some cases, the infection will persist and prolonged medication may be needed. Treatment can also include other therapies aimed at resolving or relieving specific symptoms.
Can I Catch Lyme Disease From my Dog?
Dogs are not a direct source of infection for people. Lyme disease can’t be transmitted from one pet to another, nor from pets to humans, except through tick bites. However, a carrier tick could come into your house on your dog’s fur and get on you.
If your dog is diagnosed with Lyme disease, you and any other pets have probably been in the same outdoor environment and may also be at risk, so it is a good idea to consult with your physician and veterinarian to see whether you should test other pets or family members.
Other Canine Diseases Carried by Ticks
Ticks can also carry several other less common but serious bacterial diseases affecting dogs, including anaplasmosis and babesiosis.
Anaplasmosis can involve symptoms similar to those for Lyme disease. Babesiosis can present with a wide range of symptoms, from sudden and severe shock, high fever, and dark urine to a slowly progressing infection with more subtle clinical signs. Diagnosis of both diseases includes blood tests similar to those used to check for Lyme disease.
Sometimes, dogs and people can become sick with “co-infection” of multiple tick-borne diseases, where more than one type of disease-causing bacteria is transmitted through a tick bite. This situation can make diagnosis and treatment even more challenging and difficult.
How Can I Prevent My Dog From Getting Lyme Disease or Other Tick-borne Illnesses?
Recommendations on preventing ticks include these from AKC’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Jerry Klein:
- Inspect your dogs and yourself daily for ticks after walks through the woods or grassy settings. On dogs, look especially on the feet (and between toes), on lips, around eyes, ears (and inside ears), near the anus, and under the tail.
- Remove ticks stat. The quicker you find them the less likely your dog will contract a secondary illness related to tick bites. Learn the proper method of tick removal. Invest in a pair of fine tweezers used for this purpose. If you are unable to do so, consult with a veterinarian.
- Ask your veterinarian to conduct a tick check at each exam. They’ll be able to find any you may have missed.
- Prevent ticks from jumping on your dog with one of the many veterinary-approved flea and tick preparations available on the market. Speak to your veterinarian to find the best and most appropriate product for your dog.
- Keep grass mowed as short as possible. Refrain from walking into grassy patches in endemic tick areas if you can.
- Get your dog vaccinated. Vaccination could prevent your dog from getting Lyme disease. They may not be appropriate for some dogs, so discuss with your vet.
The arrival of springtime means Lyme disease is again resurfacing as a concern on the radar screens of people across the country. So, if you go for a hike or take a walk through long grass, chances are that you’ll check yourself for ticks afterward.
But our pets are constantly lounging and playing in conditions conducive to tick exposure, and how often do we thoroughly check them? If the answer to that question isn’t “every day,” then experts say it’s not enough.
A woman picking a tick off her dog’s fur. Kerkez/iStock
“The most important thing is to stress prevention,” explains Dr. Richard Goldstein, chief medical officer at New York City’s Animal Medical Center. “This is something that we want to prevent from happening the first time. Once you’re infected with these organisms, the chance is you might be infected for life. So, you just have to really go through hair by hair. Look at the paws. Look at the ears. Look around the muzzle, the face. If you do it every day, you’re not going to get a big accumulation.”
Many nymphs feeding on a dog’s ear. idmanjoe/iStock
Occasionally, however, a dog can pick up hundreds of ticks on a single outing and the result can be disgusting, to say the least.
“Sometimes if a dog walks through a place where ticks were molting into nymphs, you might find 200 tiny ticks on your dog,” explains Dr. Goldstein. “That’s scary when that happens.”
But that’s not the only scary reality of Lyme that pet owners should heed.
1. It’s a year-round threat
It’s a common misconception that ticks die in the winter. On the contrary, however, experts say they really just hunker down and wait for the first warm day. So, that makes stopping your pet’s tick control medicine during the winter months a risky thing to do.
“There is some resistance, you know, to using medicines,” explains Dr. Joe Bloom of Harding Vet. “People don’t like the expense. People don’t think that it’s necessary in the colder months, which I think is really untrue. The magic number is 40 degrees. If the temperature is 40 degrees or higher, even for just a few hours, ticks are wide awake and hungry, looking for a meal. And we pick ticks off dogs in February all the time.”
Tick tweezers holding a small brown tick that has just been removed from the fur of a German shepherd dog. Carmen_J/iStock
Dr. Goldstein concurs.
“This is not a seasonal disease,” says the internationally recognized Lyme expert. “People used to say, ‘Well, I’ll deal with it in the summer, but I’m OK in the winter.’ All you need is one warm day and the ticks are out. And a lot of people got infected this February, as well as dogs, because we had a lot of warm days. So, year-round diligence, year-round protection for dogs is essential.”
2. It’s all across the country
Likewise, the nonchalance of the past no longer applies to Lyme’s regional characteristics either.
“It used to be kind of a Northeast, Midwest phenomenon,” explains Dr. Goldstein, “but when you look at the latest maps, it’s all over the country. There’s really almost no state without Lyme. We see quite a bit of Lyme in California, in Florida, in the states that used to be relatively low in the upper West Coast. So, yeah, it’s virtually everywhere and I believe very strongly that every dog in this country should be tested annually.”
A map of canine Lyme Disease cases across the United States in 2017. Companion Animal Parasite Council
If you’re wondering why its footprint is increasing, Dr. Goldstein says to look no further than global warming.
“That has to do with the warming climate,” he tells CBS News. “It has to do with more deer that can transmit ticks from place to place, more mice. Mice are the main reservoir for Lyme and the mice population has exploded over the last few years — again, possibly because of mild winters. Global warming is definitely manifesting itself in tick-borne disease in general and we see that in humans as well as in dogs. We see diseases that exist today in areas that we just didn’t have five and ten years ago.”
3. Most of the tick control products we use don’t repel ticks
There are many good options for flea and tick preventatives on the market. There’s the Lyme vaccine. There’s the more old-school route of tick collars. And there are — perhaps the most commonly used — monthly topical and oral options.
If you’re one of the countless pet owners who gives their dog a chewable medication or squirts a preventative oil on their skin, you might be surprised to learn that neither of those tick control tactics actually repel the little bloodsuckers from your dog’s body.
A topical flea and tick preventative being applied to a dog. Tatomm/iStock
“Owners come to us and say, ‘Well, you know, we’re using this flea and stuff, but we still see ticks on our dog,'” recalls Bloom, who practices veterinary medicine in a heavily wooded section of New Jersey. “Most of these flea and tick products will not actually repel the tick, will not keep the tick from walking onto your dog, and will not keep the tick from biting your dog. What they’ll do is they’ll kill the tick after the tick has bitten.”
And it turns out, that’s perfectly fine.
A tick on the fur of a shih tzu. MeePoohyaphoto/iStock
“If a tick bites your dog, it can transmit the bacteria, but only if it stays attached,” Bloom elaborates. “If the tick is killed with less than 24 hours attachment to your dog, it won’t transmit disease.”
If you’re concerned about ticks hitching a ride into your house, though, there are some products that do physically repel ticks — a tick collar, for example. But Goldstein argues that’s not always in your family’s best interest.
“If you’re thinking about a backyard scenario and there’s the kids playing over there and the dogs playing over there,” he says, motioning to opposite sides of his office, “do you really want to repel the ticks from the dog and have them climb on the kid? ‘Cause we don’t have any good real tick control products for children. So maybe sucking up the ticks and killing them is not a bad thing when it’s in your backyard.”
4. The symptoms aren’t necessarily what you’d expect
Without question, the most well-known symptom of Lyme disease in humans is the distinctive, circular bull’s-eye rash that many patients develop between a week and a month after they’re bitten.
“That rash is great if someone recognizes that because if they get treatment at that point, they will probably not ever get a systemic infection and won’t get sick,” Goldstein explains. “We don’t see that rash in dogs. That’s a huge difference. In dogs, the first clinical signs that we see are the pain, fever and lameness, which happen in people only months after the rash.”
That means that by the time you spot symptoms of a tick bite on your dog, he or she will likely already be infected.
The other less-than-ideal aspect of canine Lyme symptoms is that they can easily masquerade as something else. One of the most common symptoms dogs exhibit, for example, is joint pain. So, if your pet is suddenly limping, you might simply assume that they’ve injured their paw or overworked their knee at the park. In reality, however, they could be suffering from Lyme.
One helpful pro tip that can help you differentiate the two is to take note of whether or not your pet’s joint pain shifts around. If your dog is consistently lifting the same leg, he’s likely just injured it. If, on the other hand, he lifts his front right leg one day and his left hind leg the next, he may have contracted Lyme.
5. Where ticks hide
You probably know that ticks are often picked up in the woods, but they don’t have to be. Goldstein says even city dogs contract Lyme. And there are telltale signs about your environment that can help you determine whether or not it poses a risk for tick-borne disease.
“Ticks are very sensitive to dehydration,” explains Goldstein. “You don’t find them in, for instance, a well-cut lawn. They’re always in the high grass and the bush. They’ll be in areas that are shaded. The joke is that there’s no ticks on the green of a golf course, only in the rough. And that’s why the better golfer you are, the less chance you have of having Lyme disease.”
Ticks hiding between a dog’s toes. showcake/iStock
And with regard to where ticks will hide on dogs, experts say you’ll usually find them in the more vascular areas where blood vessels are closest to the surface: the head, the neck, the ears. They also crawl into harder-to-spot places in an attempt to hide from the dog.
“Adult ticks are pretty big, and dogs will see them and try to bite them off if they can,” Goldstein said. “So, in between the toes, in the ears, around the neck… places that are hidden even from the dog are where they typically will be found.”
6. The best way to remove a tick
Upon discovering a live tick on your pet, your first instinct might be to pull it off immediately. But rather than doing so with your bare hands, experts caution that patience is the safer route.
People removing ticks from a dog’s ear with a pair of tweezers. SpeedPhoto/iStock
“The best way to take off every tick is with a sharpened tweezers and to kind of grab them as far down by the head as you can and pull them off,” explains Goldstein. “People ideally should wear gloves when they’re doing it, if they can, or just be careful. Theoretically, if you have a cut on your finger and you squish a tick and get the blood from the tick, you could get infected with something. So be careful not to do that.”
7. Vets don’t always treat Lyme disease in dogs
It may seem counterintuitive, but a Lyme diagnosis for your pet doesn’t always mean that the vet is going to treat your pet with antibiotics.
“When we find a dog that’s positive on a SNAP test for Lyme disease, then we have a conversation with the owners about whether to treat that dog or not,” explains Bloom, who says he talks about Lyme with pet owners in his area three to five times a day. “You know, it’s unfortunately a very complicated subject and we don’t have a great understanding of it. There are not enough studies that have been done to really explain it for us. But in general, if a dog tests positive and doesn’t show any clinical signs of Lyme disease — which would be specifically fever, lethargy, inappetence, and stiffness in joints that can change from day to day, moving from one joint to another — we typically leave them alone.”
8. Lyme affects some breeds worse than others
There are a couple of notable exceptions to that rule: Labradors and golden retrievers.
There is a deadly manifestation of Lyme disease in dogs, called Lyme nephritis. It’s a fatal side effect that causes the animal’s kidney to fail, and researchers have a strong suspicion that labs and golden retrievers are predisposed. And because of this, both vets we spoke to agreed that any dogs of these two breeds who test positive for Lyme should be treated with Doxycycline immediately.
An adult golden retriever scratching fleas. Neonci/iStock
9. In dogs, treatment acts fact
If you’ve ever known anyone who’s contracted Lyme disease, then you probably know that treatment can be a long and complicated process in humans. Thankfully, in dogs, it’s much simpler.
“Generally, and this is I think a big difference between dogs and people, within a couple of days of starting treatment with Doxycycline, they usually go into remission,” Bloom tells CBS News. “And pretty much by the second day of Doxycycline, they feel so much better. They act normally. They have no more fever. They start to eat again and they get better.”
10. How to protect your property and your pets
On this last topic, Bloom commented that the majority of flea and tick control medicines on the market work fairly well. He, however, cautioned against using more than one of them in tandem.
“In my opinion, it would be overly cautious to use more than one,” he says. “In other words, I wouldn’t use both a collar and a topical prevention, or an oral prevention and a topical. I think that’s kind of too much poison for the dog.”
You can, however, combine one of the topical or oral preventatives with the Lyme vaccine. So there is a way you can further protect your pet from contracting the disease if you live in an area where deer are prevalent.
A pit bull terrier in a field of long grass and flowers, where ticks could potentially be lurking. Kymberlee Andersen/iStock
If you’re looking for an additional way to protect your yard, Bloom recommends having the perimeter sprayed by a pest control company.
Goldstein also recommended treating the perimeter of your property, but his recommendation came in the form of a physical barrier, rather than one of pesticides.
“If you’re up against woods in your yard, a barrier of wood chips of pebbles will prevent at least the ticks from going across,” explains Goldstein. “They can be carried across it by an animal, but at least they won’t cross a barrier like that.”
6 Scary Facts about Lyme Disease in Dogs
Lyme disease is a scary thought for people, with approximately 30,000 cases of the illness being reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) every year. But are you aware that Lyme disease can also affect dogs? Like in humans, it is transmitted by a bacterium spread through the bite of an infected tick. Here are some other disturbing facts you may not have known about Lyme disease in dogs.
1. Tick Nymphs REALLY Small
At less than 2mm in length, a tick nymph is smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.
2. Lyme Disease Transmission is Relatively Quick
It only takes 36-48 hours for an infected tick to be attached before Lyme disease can be transmitted.
3. Lyme Disease is EVERYWHERE
Positive cases of Lyme disease in dogs have been reported in all 50 U.S. states. Lyme disease can also be found on every continent except Antarctica.
Source: IDEXX Laboratories, LymeDisease.org
4. A LOT of Deer Ticks are Infected with Lyme Disease
As many as 50% of adult female deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis) are infected with the bacterium which causes Lyme disease in dogs (and humans).
Source: University of Rhode Island TickEncounter Resource Center
5. Deer Ticks Can Survive Frigid Temperatures
Adult deer ticks have been known to survive temperatures freezing (32 °F). So don’t think your dog is safe just because it gets cold in your area during the winter.
Source: University of Rhode Island TickEncounter Resource Center
6. Lyme Disease Can Be Fatal
Although it does not occur commonly in dogs, Lyme disease can cause kidney failure and death in severe cases. The most common sign of Lyme disease in dogs is arthritis, which causes sudden lameness, pain ands sometimes swelling in one or more joints.
Source: Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine
Protect Your Pet
Discuss with your veterinarian what are the best ways to protect your dog from Lyme disease, especially if you live in area where it is endemic. There are several options that can fit your personal preferences and your pet’s lifestyle, including tick preventatives.
Lyme Disease in Dogs
Lyme disease is caused by a spiral-shaped microscopic organism, or spirochete, called Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacterium lives in the gut of the eastern black-legged tick, previously referred to as the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) and the Western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus), and can be transmitted when an infected tick feeds on a dog, person, or other mammal. These ticks are extremely small, ranging from the size of a grain of sand to the size of a sesame seed. Black-legged ticks prefer to hide in shady, moist ground litter, but they can be found above ground, clinging to tall grass, brush, shrubs, and low tree branches. They also inhabit gardens and lawns, particularly at the edges of woodlands and around old stone walls, where deer and white-footed mice, the ticks’ preferred hosts, thrive.
Lyme disease has been found in every state in the U.S. and some provinces in Canada, likely because pets and animals travel. It is especially regionally important where the tick vectors live, and this area is expanding rapidly.
- Northeast and mid-Atlantic, from northeastern Virginia to Maine
- North central states, mostly in Wisconsin and Minnesota
- West Coast, particularly northern California
Dogs are significantly more likely to be exposed to B. burgdorferi from the bite of an infected tick than are people, but are less likely to become sick with Lyme disease.1 2
Lyme can affect dogs of all ages, breeds, and sizes. The more time a dog spends outside in areas where ticks are prevalent, the greater the risk! In addition to Lyme disease, dogs are at risk for many other different tick-borne infections.
There are several scary things about Lyme disease:
- People can also be infected by the same ticks that infect our dogs. If your dog is a tick magnet, make sure you talk to your veterinarian about proper protection.
- Ticks are not always easy to spot, and it is almost impossible to identify a tick bite—especially if your dog has a thick coat.
- Symptoms of Lyme disease vary and can be difficult to detect, with warning signs that may not appear until several months after infection.
Lyme disease can affect different organs and systems within the body. The most common symptoms you might spot are:
- Recurrent painful joints that lasts 3–4 days, sometimes accompanied by loss of appetite and depression
- Reluctance to move, or a stiff, painful gait
- Swollen joints that are warm to the touch
- Leg pain or pain throughout the body
- Fever, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes
Symptoms of Lyme disease may come and go, vary from mild to severe, and mimic other conditions. In many dogs, the signs may not appear for several months after infection. In severe cases, dogs may also develop heart disease, central nervous system disorders, or often-fatal kidney disease.
So let’s talk about the good news. Tests are now available to accurately diagnose your dog for Lyme and other tick-borne infections. If your veterinarian suspects your pooch may have Lyme disease, they will take a thorough history of your dog’s symptoms and activities and recommend testing your dog for Lyme disease, as well as other common tick-borne infections. In some cases, dogs can be coinfected with more than one type of tick-borne organism causing canine ehrlichiosis, canine anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Your veterinarian may recommend additional tests based on your dog’s symptoms.
These could include:
- Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver, and pancreatic function, as well as sugar levels
- Blood parasite screening to identify if your pet has been exposed to tick-borne or other infections
- Quantitative Lyme antibody levels to monitor response to treatment
- Fecal tests to rule out intestinal parasites
- A complete blood count (CBC) to assess for blood-related conditions
- Electrolyte tests to ensure your pet isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
- Urine tests to screen for urinary tract infections or other disease, look for protein, and to evaluate the kidney’s ability to concentrate urine
- A thyroid test to determine if the thyroid gland is producing too little thyroid hormone
- An ECG to screen for an abnormal heart rhythm, which may indicate underlying heart problems
Successful treatment of Lyme disease is dependent upon early detection and the severity of your dog’s symptoms. Antibiotic therapy with doxycyline is most commonly prescribed, although your veterinarian may prescribe a different antibiotic and other treatments depending on your dog’s clinical signs and circumstances. In general, most dogs respond quickly with appropriate treatment, and symptoms improve in as little as 24–48 hours. Follow-up testing to ensure adequate response to treatment is recommended.
There are several steps you can take to prevent your dog from getting Lyme or other tick-borne diseases:
- Talk to your veterinarian about tick-borne diseases in your area.
- Use a veterinarian-recommended tick preventive on your dog.
- Talk to your veterinarian about vaccinating your dog against Lyme disease.
- Ask your veterinarian to conduct a tick screening at each exam.
- Watch your dog closely for changes in behavior or appetite.
- Check for ticks daily.
If you find a tick on your dog, remove it right away to limit infection. Here are some tips for safe and effective tick removal:
- Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands.
- Grasp the tick very close to the skin with a pair of fine-tipped tweezers. With a steady motion, pull the tick’s body away from the skin. To prevent infection, avoid crushing the tick. After tick removal, clean your dog’s skin with soap and warm water.
- Speak with your veterinarian about opportunities to test the tick before disposal.
- The tick may be saved in a sealable plastic bag in the freezer
- If choosing disposal, throw the dead tick away with your household trash or flush it down the toilet.
- Never use petroleum jelly, a hot match, nail polish or other products to remove a tick.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Beware the Bug
More about Lyme
Basic Lyme Disease
Protecting Your Dog From Lyme Disease
Can Lyme Disease in Dogs Spread to People?
10 Things You Might Not Know About Lyme Disease Or learn more about dogs and parasites >
Erika de Papp, DVM, DACVIM
Lyme disease is a very common infectious disease in the northeast United States. It is also a very controversial topic amongst veterinarians because most dogs that test positive are not clinically ill. This makes it difficult to determine which dogs should be treated. Lyme disease also affects humans, so it is a topic of interest to everyone. The purpose of this article is to answer some commonly asked questions about Lyme disease and clear up some common misconceptions.
Lyme disease is caused by the spirochete bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. The disease is transmitted to humans and dogs by the nymph and adult stages of the black-legged tick, Ixodes scapularis.
In New England, 50-75% of dogs tested may be positive for Lyme disease.
If my dog tests positive, does this necessitate treatment?
The answer to this will vary from dog to dog, and remains a point of controversy. Only about 10% of positive dogs will ever develop clinical illness from infection with the Lyme organism, so many veterinarians argue that treatment is not necessary for seemingly healthy dogs. Today we are fortunate to have two Lyme tests that assist us in determining if the infection is active / recent. If your dog tests positive on a screening test, you should discuss additional testing with your veterinarian to determine if treatment is warranted. In endemic areas (including Massachusetts), annual screening tests for Lyme disease are recommended.
If your dog does develop clinical illness from Lyme disease, the most common signs are lameness, fever, lethargy, and enlarged lymph nodes. Clinical illness is expected 2-5 months after infection. The majority of dogs respond very well to antibiotic treatment with Doxycycline or Amoxicillin.
Black-leggged ticks are small, so if I find a large tick on my dog, he/she can’t get Lyme disease, correct?
The larval and nymphal stages of all ticks are small, but an engorged adult tick can be quite large, so a lab would need to identify the tick to be sure your dog has not been bitten by a black-legged tick.
If I find a tick on my dog, should I go to the vet
If you are comfortable removing the tick, you do not need to see your vet. The best way to remove a tick is to use tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible. The tick should then be removed by pulling straight out. Do not twist or crush the tick as you are removing it. Wash your hands after removing the tick to limit possible exposure to yourself.
How long does the tick need to be attached to transmit infection?
For Lyme disease to be contracted, the tick must be attached to your dog for at least 48 hours. Therefore, the best means of avoiding Lyme disease is to remove ticks as soon as they are found. Daily inspections of your dog are recommended, especially if they have been in wooded areas.
In addition to “tick checks,” we also strongly recommend topical parasiticides such as Frontline or Advantix (dogs only). There are several other tick products available, so please discuss the appropriate choice with your veterinarian. Be sure to avoid bathing or swimming for 24 hours after application of these topical products. Follow the application guidelines carefully for best efficacy.
Once a frost occurs, I don’t have to worry about ticks anymore until the following spring, correct?
Wrong. Adult ticks are active whenever the weather approaches or exceeds freezing. If there is snow cover, there won’t be much if any tick activity, but if we have several warm winter days in a row, the ticks may be active.
Can I get Lyme disease from my dog?
No, Lyme disease is not a zoonotic disease, meaning it cannot be directly transmitted from your dog to you. However, if a tick crawls off your dog and bites you, you can become infected.
Should I vaccinate my dog against Lyme disease?
There are several canine vaccines available to prevent Lyme disease. The need for this vaccine should be determined on a case by case basis following a discussion with your veterinarian. We recommend that all dogs be tested for Lyme disease before considering a vaccine. Some opponents of vaccination fear that if your dog is vaccinated and still contracts the disease, the symptoms will be worse. However this is based on experience with the human vaccine (no longer on the market), and has not been proven in dogs.
For more information on Dr. de Papp or Angell’s Internal Medicine service, please visit www.angell.org/internalmedicine or call 617-522-7282 to schedule an appointment.
Lyme Disease in Dogs: What to Know
Lyme disease is one of the most commonly contracted tick-borne diseases in the world. Here in the United States, the incidence of reported cases of Lyme disease has more than doubled in the past 25 years. Dogs are even more susceptible to Lyme disease than humans because they walk closer the ground and lack the ability to “check” themselves for ticks.
Lyme disease – sometimes incorrectly referred to as “Lymes disease” – is an infectious disease caused by the spiral-shaped bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi which usually enters a dog’s bloodstream through a tick bite. The unfortunate answer to, “Can dogs get Lyme disease?” is yes, and they do.
Once inside a dog’s body, the disease can cause issues in specific locations, such as the joints or organs, or overall illness symptoms. Black-legged ticks are the most common domestic carrier of Lyme disease and are most often found in wooden natural areas. Dogs can be bitten by ticks in the woods, in tall grass, on a walk, or even while in their own yards. Ticks do not discriminate.
The incidence of Lyme disease in dogs is highest in the Northeastern U.S. where tick populations thrive, but is found nationally. Lyme disease is found on both coasts and also in the Upper Midwest..it has been reported in all 50 states. Contrary to popular belief, Lyme disease risk isn’t seasonal. Although ticks come out in full-force in spring, they can be active year round, particularly in temperate climates. Both adult and nymph ticks can spread Lyme disease.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs
Surprisingly, only about 5-10% of dogs who are infected with Lyme disease will ever actually exhibit symptoms. You may only think to have your dog checked for Lyme disease after finding a tick you didn’t know was attached to him. If you’re unsure, always talk to your vet.
Common symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs include:
- Lameness caused by inflammation of the joints; pain, swelling, or redness can come and go which often makes it hard to spot (known as “shifting-leg lameness”)
- Unexplained fever
- Lack of appetite or changes in thirst/urination
- Stiffness when walking and/or an unnaturally arched back
- Depression symptoms or other unusual changes in behavior
- Swelling of the lymph nodes close to where the tick bite occurred
- Difficulty breathing or raspy, strained breaths
- Long-term kidney issues that lead to vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, increased urination, and a host of serious side effects
Testing Dogs for Lyme Disease
If you’ve noticed any of the common signs of Lyme disease or if you found a tick hidden on your dog, contact your vet for further testing. There are two primary types of Lyme disease tests for dogs: Antibody tests and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests. Both are blood tests.
Antibody tests look for specific antibodies your dog’s body is creating to “fight” the unknown bacteria. If your dog has been very recently infected or has been suffering from an infection for a long time, these antibodies may not be present. PCR tests actually search your dog’s DNA for the presence of the bacterium itself. Since Lyme disease can live somewhat locally inside the body, it is possible but not common for both these testing methods to return a false-negative.
Lyme Disease Treatment for Dogs
Unless your dog’s condition is unstable (such as in the case of extreme kidney damage), he can be treated on an outpatient basis. The antibiotic Doxycycline is the most commonly prescribed for treatment, although others are sometimes used. The usual course of treatment is around four weeks, but your vet may keep your dog on antibiotics longer if the infection is severe. You might also want to ask about a prescription for an anti-inflammatory if your dog seems uncomfortable.
Although many dogs’ Lyme disease symptoms are eradicated completely with a single course of antibiotics, other dogs can see multiple recurrences. It’s entirely possible for a dog who seemed “cured” of Lyme disease to suddenly suffer kidney complications years down the road…that’s why it’s important to work out a comprehensive, long-term treatment and retesting plan with your vet.
How Long Can a Dog Live with Lyme Disease?
In decades past, a Lyme disease diagnosis for a dog was akin to a death sentence. This is not the case today. Previously, there were no reliable, accurate testing methods for Lyme disease which meant most dogs weren’t diagnosed until their symptoms had spiraled out of control. When Lyme disease is caught early, life-altering complications such as kidney failure, nervous system damage, and heart issues can be prevented altogether.
A dog with Lyme disease can live a long and happy life. What’s most important is vigilance in the beginning; catching the disease early drastically improves the outcome of treatment. After treatment, relapses are quite common. It’s critical for you to have your dog regularly evaluated (and possibly retested) by a vet to be sure symptoms aren’t recurring.
If your dog continues to be symptomatic, he has what’s called Chronic Lyme disease. Symptoms can be managed in the same way other chronic diseases’ symptoms can be, but complete eradication of the disease at this point is highly unlikely.
Preventing Lyme Disease in Dogs
Once a tick attaches to your dog it can start transmitting Lyme disease at 24-36 hours in. That’s why it’s so important to check your dog for ticks as soon as possible after returning indoors; consistency is key. Remember that ticks can’t fly – they crawl or jump – so your dog’s legs and underbelly are particularly vulnerable. If you find a tick, you don’t necessarily need to go to the vet. Remove the tick immediately and monitor your dog for symptoms of illness in the coming weeks.
It’s important to note that certain kinds of dogs are more susceptible to contracting Lyme disease than others. Puppies and older dogs, for example, have immune systems that aren’t as equipped to fight off invading bacterium. Several breeds including Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Shetland Sheepdogs are more at-risk of Lyme disease than others.
There is also a highly effective Lyme disease vaccine available for dogs. It’s administered initially in two doses spaced 3-6 weeks apart and then boosted once every 6-12 months as-needed for the life of your dog. If your dog spends any significant time outdoors or if you live in an area where Lyme is present, talk to your vet about the vaccine.
At the end of the day, the absolute best thing you can do to help your dog avoid Lyme disease is to keep his flea and tick medication current. Tick medication in either pill or liquid form is your dog’s first and most effective line of defense against Lyme.
Lyme disease in dogs is one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases in the world, but it only causes symptoms in 10 percent of affected dogs. When infection leads to Lyme disease in dogs, the dominant clinical feature is recurrent lameness due to inflammation of the joints, and a general feeling of malaise. There may also be depression and a lack of appetite. More serious complications include damage to the kidneys, and rarely, heart or nervous system disease.
Transmission of Lyme disease has been reported in dogs throughout the United States and Europe, but is most prevalent in the upper Midwestern states, the Atlantic seaboard and the Pacific coastal states. However, the disease is spreading and becoming more common throughout the United States.
Many dogs who develop Lyme disease have recurrent lameness due to inflammation of the joints. Sometimes the lameness lasts for only three to four days but recurs days to weeks later, either in the same leg or in other legs. This is known as “shifting-leg lameness.” One or more joints may be swollen, warm and painful.
Some dogs may also develop kidney problems. Lyme disease sometimes leads to glomerulonephritis—inflammation and accompanying dysfunction of the kidney’s glomeruli (essentially, a blood filter).
Eventually, kidney failure may set in as the dog begins to exhibit such signs as vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, weight loss, increased urination and thirst, and abnormal fluid buildups.
Other symptoms associated with Lyme disease in dogs include:
- Stiff walk with an arched back
- Sensitivity to touch
- Difficulty breathing
- Fever, lack of appetite, and depression
- Superficial lymph nodes close to the site of the infecting tick bite may be swollen
- Heart abnormalities are reported, but rare
- Nervous system complications (rare)
Causes of Lyme Disease in Dogs
Lyme disease is caused by a spirochete (bacteria) of the Borrelia burgdorferi species. Borrelia burgdorferi is transmitted by slow-feeding, hard-shelled deer ticks (Ixodes spp.). Infection typically occurs after the Borrelia-carrying tick has been attached to the dog for at least 48 hours.
Diagnosing Lyme Disease in Dogs
You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health to give your veterinarian clues as to which organs are being affected. Your veterinarian may run some combination of blood chemistry tests, a complete blood cell count, a urinalysis, fecal examinations, X-rays and tests specific to diagnosing Lyme disease (e.g., serology). Fluid from the affected joints may also be drawn for analysis.
There are many causes for arthritis, and your veterinarian will focus on differentiating arthritis initiated by Lyme disease from other inflammatory arthritic disorders, such as trauma and degenerative joint disease. Immune-mediated diseases will also be considered as a possible cause of the symptoms. X-rays of the painful joints will allow your doctor to examine the bones for abnormalities.
Treating Dog Lyme Disease
If the diagnosis is Lyme disease, your dog will be treated as an outpatient unless their condition is unstable (e.g., severe kidney disease). Doxycycline is the most common antibiotic that is prescribed for Lyme disease, but other dog antibiotics are also available and effective.
The recommended treatment length is usually at least four weeks, and longer courses may be necessary in some cases. Your veterinarian may also prescribe an anti-inflammatory (pain medication for dogs) if your dog is especially uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, antibiotic treatment does not always completely eliminate infection with Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. Symptoms may resolve but then return at a later date, and the development of kidney disease in the future is always a worry. Proper use of antibiotics reduces the likelihood of chronic consequences.
Living and Management
Improvement in sudden (acute) inflammation of the joints caused by Borrelia should be seen within three to five days of antibiotic treatment. If there is no improvement within three to five days, your veterinarian will want to reevaluate your dog.
If possible, avoid allowing your dog to roam in tick-infested environments where Lyme disease is common. Check your dog’s coat and skin daily, and remove ticks by hand. Your veterinarian can prescribe a variety of prescription flea and tick collars, topical and oral products that kill and repel ticks.
Such products should be used under a veterinarian’s supervision and according to the label’s directions. Lyme vaccines are available, but their use is somewhat controversial. Talk to your veterinarian to see if the Lyme vaccination is right for your dog.
Most people think of Lyme disease being caused by ticks – and that’s partly true. The organism that actually causes Lyme disease is a spirochete bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi; ticks just pick up, carry around, and transmit the bacteria into the creatures they feed upon. The best way to prevent your dog from getting Lyme disease, then, is to prevent his exposure to ticks. Sound easy? Anyone whose dog has ever had Lyme disease can tell you that it ain’t necessarily so.
Lyme disease is named for Lyme, Connecticut, the town where it was first discovered. While most common in the northeastern United States, Lyme exposure has been recorded in all 48 of the continental United States. Lyme is most common in the northeast, upper Midwest, and parts of California, but can be present anywhere that Ixodes ticks are found – which is just about everywhere. The Companion Animal Parasite Council’s website has an interactive map that shows how many Lyme disease tests were performed and how many animals tested positive in each state.
How Do Dogs Get Lyme Disease?
Dogs get Lyme disease after being bitten by an infected tick: Ixodes scapularis in the northeast and upper Midwest (commonly called a deer tick), or Ixodes pacificus in the west (deer tick or black-legged tick). These ticks have a two-year life cycle that takes them through four life stages (egg, larvae, nymph, adult.)
Ticks do not hatch carrying B. burgdorferi spirochetes. Instead, they pick up the bacteria from feeding on infected hosts, often mice. When a tick feeds on an infected animal, spirochetes enter the tick along with the animal’s blood. The spirochetes then remain inside the tick’s midgut until the tick feeds again, at which point the spirochetes move to the tick’s salivary glands. They get “spit out” by the tick into the dog’s body at the end of the tick’s feeding session, entering the new host’s bloodstream.
Because of the necessary migration through the tick, transmission is not instantaneous – but it may be faster than what has been previously reported, even by reliable sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to lymedisease.org, some studies have shown that the Lyme-causing bacteria was transferred from a tick to its host in less than 24 hours. Once transmitted, B. burgdorferi infects the dog’s joint capsules, muscles, and lymph nodes. It takes several months for an infection to cause clinical signs.
However, just because a dog is exposed does not mean that he will go on to develop clinical signs of Lyme disease. According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, only five to 10 percent of dogs infected with B. burgdorferi develop clinical signs of Lyme disease.
There are three “states” of Lyme disease in dogs: acute, subacute, and chronic. Symptoms generally do not appear until after a two- to five-month incubation period, and can take even longer. Affected dogs may first shows signs of any of the three states, and may progress to others depending on the severity of infection, the dog’s immune system, and treatment.
Symptoms of acute Lyme disease include fever, lethargy/reluctance to move, depression, fatigue, anorexia (loss of appetite), pain, swollen lymph nodes, acute arthritis in one or more joints, swollen joints that may be warm to the touch, and a “shifting” lameness from one leg to another.
Symptoms of subacute Lyme disease incllude persistent lameness, ongoing inflammatory changes in the joints, and arthritis (either transient or persistent).
Symptoms of chronic Lyme disease include cardiac signs such as arrhythmias, neurologic signs, arthritis, and kidney damage.
In rare cases, kidney damage can escalate to Lyme nephritis, which is usually fatal. Signs of Lyme nephritis include anorexia, vomiting, weight loss, muscle wasting, lethargy, bad breath, azotemia (elevated creatinine and BUN), and edema (excess fluid). Golden and Labrador Retrievers seem to be predisposed to developing Lyme nephritis, so extra care should be taken with dogs of or mixed with these breeds if they contract Lyme disease.
The symptoms of Lyme disease can also be caused by a wide variety of other conditions, ranging from ehrlichiosis (a different tick-borne disease) to orthopedic conditions such as a torn cruciate ligament or even cancer. This makes diagnosis more challenging (and expensive), as the veterinarian must rule out a variety of conditions.
According to Justine A. Lee, DVM, DACVECC, DABT, of St. Paul, Minnesota, the decision to treat “should be based on the presence of clinical signs, breeds at risk for developing life-threatening chronic effects (e.g., breeds predisposed to Lyme nephritis), and presence of proteinuria or microalbuminuria.” Dogs with clinical signs should be treated to provide relief, and breeds at higher risk of developing Lyme nephritis should be treated as a preventative measure.
Proteinuria (the presence of protein in the urine) and microalbuminuria (an increase in the amount of albumin in the urine) are signs of kidney damage, and so suggest the potential for Lyme nephritis. Proteinuria is considered significant only in the absence of a urinary tract infection (UTI), so a UTI must be ruled out before proceeding.
Microalbuminuria can’t be measured with a standard urinalysis; it requires special testing, which is unnecessary if proteinuria is seen. It can also be caused by other types of infection or inflammation.
Doxycycline is the antibiotic of choice for most Lyme disease cases. Other options are amoxicillin, minocycline, and Convenia (cefovecin sodium). The dog’s clinical symptoms should resolve rapidly after starting treatment, but the full course of medication must be given to ensure that the infection has been completely cleared and all spirochetes killed.
Most veterinarians currently use a four-to-six week treatment course, but some prefer a longer treatment time of up to eight weeks. Higher doses of doxycycline than usual, 10 mg/kg twice a day, may be more effective. If the dog does not improve within two or three days, screening needs to be done for other diseases or conditions.
Don’t be surprised if your veterinarian does not prescribe a pain reliever for your limping dog suspected of having Lyme; if she truly has Lyme, the antibiotics alone will resolve her lameness quickly, and if she doesn’t, giving corticosteroids or NSAIDs could give a false sense of security while the true underlying problem goes undiagnosed.
Dogs with chronic Lyme disease should have their urine checked for proteinuria and microalbuminuria every three to six months. If proteinuria persists after a four- to six-week course of antibiotics, further renal-supportive measures will need to be taken and your veterinarian may recommend another course of antibiotics and/or a kidney biopsy to rule out immune-mediated glomerulonephritis.
Before doing a biopsy, discuss with your vet how likely the results are to change treatment and prognosis. Kidney biopsies can damage the kidneys and rarely impact treatment or prognosis. Glomerulonephritis can also be diagnosed via urine protein:creatinine (UPC) ratio.
For dogs with Lyme nephritis, treatment is primarily supportive care and will likely include fluid therapy along with dietary management and medications to support the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract.
Treatment is generally not recommended for dogs who have no clinical signs, have no signs of kidney damage, and are not among the breeds at greater risk developing Lyme nephritis. This is because the majority of dogs exposed to Lyme disease do not go on to develop it, and antibiotic therapy comes with its own risks and complications, including gastrointestinal upset, changes to the microbiome, and increased liver enzymes. Overuse of antibiotics also contributes to antibiotic resistance.
If your dog falls into this category and you have concerns, make an appointment to discuss this with your veterinarian to determine the best plan for your dog and your situation. Even if you choose not to treat your dog at this point in time, you and your vet can set up a plan for monitoring your dog’s blood and urine values to catch any developing complications early. An annual urinalysis should already be part of your dog’s routine vet care.
Should You Vaccinate Your Dog for Lyme Disease?
There are several vaccines available for Lyme, each of which work slightly differently. There are different strains of B. burgdorferi spirochetes in different environments, and each produces different “outer surface proteins” (Osp). Lyme vaccines are made with different combinations of outer surface proteins, and work differently based on what proteins they include.
OspA is produced by spirochetes in a nutrient-poor environment, such as inside a tick that hasn’t fed, and is consistent across B. burgdorferi strains. If your dog has received a vaccine based on OspA, the OspA antibodies that are circulating in her bloodstream will enter a tick when it bites and attack the spirochetes in the tick’s midgut. That means the spirochete is targeted before it even enters your dog, and because of this, just about every Lyme vaccine includes it. The downside is that your dog must have a high level of circulating antibodies in order for the vaccine to be effective. Antibody production varies from dog to dog, and a series of titers would be necessary to know how your dog’s immune system responds to the vaccine and how long immunity remains. Because the dog’s immune system is never directly challenged by the spirochete, there is also no potential for immune memory.
OspC is produced in a nutrient-rich environment, such as a tick that is actively feeding and filling with blood, or inside your dog. If your dog has received a vaccine based on OspC, the OspC antibodies circulating in her bloodstream will attack the spirochetes when they enter the dog’s bloodstream and adapt to the nutrient-rich environment. The plus to OspC vaccines is that there is much more potential for immune memory, because your dog’s immune system will encounter the actual antigen. The downside is that the spirochete will gain access to the dog, and if the dog is bitten by a tick carrying a different strain of B. burgdorferi than what she was vaccinated against, the immune system won’t recognize the spirochete as a threat.
Some vaccines combine both OspA and OspC for dual coverage. Vanguard has developed a vaccine that combines chunks of seven different OspC proteins along with OspA.
The other type of vaccine is a bacterin. A Lyme bacterin consists of B. burgdorferi spirochetes that have been killed or otherwise rendered inactive. Depending on the culture in which the bacteria were grown, they may have OspC proteins, but are more likely to have OspA.
Vaccinated dogs can still become infected with B. burgdorferi. This can be due to exposure to a different strain than what was included in the vaccine, or due to insufficient antibody production/levels in the individual dog.
How often should you vaccinate? There isn’t consensus on this in the veterinary community. There is some support for six-month boosters, but at this point the only safety studies done have been for the standard two-dose initiation followed by annual boosters. Tracking titers after vaccination is an option to watch how each dog’s antibody levels change over time, but this is expensive.
Vaccination is recommended for healthy dogs at an increased risk for exposure to ticks carrying Lyme, such as those living in Lyme-endemic areas or those who spend a lot of time in the woods. Vaccination for dogs who are ill or already proteinuric is not recommended.
While vaccination can be an effective part of your dog’s Lyme prevention plan, it does not take the place of tick preventives and environmental management. Discuss with your veterinarian whether or not a Lyme vaccine might be useful for your dog.
Lyme Vaccines on the Market Today
|Duramune Lyme||Elanco||Bacterin – has both OspA and one OspC|
|LymeVax||Zoetis||Bacterin – has both OspA and one OspC|
|Nobivac Lyme||Merck||Bacterin – has both OspA and one OspC|
|Vanguard crLyme||Zoetis||OspA and at least 7 types of OspC|
Lyme Testing and Diagnosis
When a dog is exposed to B. burgdorferi, his immune system will make antibodies in response to the outer surface proteins on the spirochete. Lyme tests generally look for antibodies to these outer surface proteins. It takes at least three to four weeks for antibodies to develop after a dog has been exposed; testing before that time may produce false negative results. Testing positive for Lyme does not mean that the dog actually has or will develop clinical signs of Lyme disease – it just means that the dog has been exposed.
The SNAP 4DX Plus test offered by IDEXX evaluates whether or not a dog has antibodies to the C6 peptide, a chain of amino acids present in the spirochete. This test is appropriate to answer the question, “Has my dog been exposed to B. burgdorferi?” with a yes or no answer. To run the test, your veterinarian will need a few drops of your dog’s blood. It takes only eight minutes to run, so you can know your dog’s results before leaving the clinic. This test also checks for two other tick-borne diseases (ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis), and heartworm. Results should not be affected by Lyme vaccination.
Two tests offered by Abaxis – VetScan Canine Lyme Rapid Test and VetScan Flex4 Rapid Test (which also tests for ehrlichia, anaplasmosis, and heartworm) – also evaluate whether or not the dog has been exposed to Lyme. There is potential for this test to give a false positive if the dog has received a Lyme vaccine that includes the OspC protein.
Follow-up testing to quantitatively measure antibody levels gives more information about a dog’s Lyme status, but requires interpretation. There is no standardized level of antibodies that says that a dog is or is not currently infected – different dogs will produce different numbers of antibodies. Tracking antibody level over time, however, can tell you that an infection is clearing or has cleared (antibody level going down due to lack of bacteria present to target) or that reinfection has occurred (antibody level goes down, then jumps back up due to new exposure). Some dogs may have antibodies present in their blood years after the infection has cleared due to immune system memory.
One quantitative test is the Lyme Quant C6 Test offered by IDEXX, which gives an antibody level for the C6 peptide, as well as a general reference range suggesting whether to treat or not (an antibody level great than 30U/ml is considered worth treating). C6 antibodies are produced only by exposure to B. burgdorferi, not a Lyme vaccine, avoiding any confusion with Lyme-vaccinated patients.
Another quantitative test is Cornell University’s Lyme Multiplex Assay, which checks for three different proteins: OspA, OspC, and OspF. OspA antibody levels indicate that a dog has been vaccinated for Lyme, OspC indicates early infection and can be detected as early as three weeks after infection, and OspF indicates chronic infection. It is possible to get a false positive on this test if your dog has been vaccinated with a vaccine that included OspC. Even without treatment, OspC titers will go down after three to five months, but OspF titers (which show up by six- to eight weeks post-exposure) will remain increased if the dog is not treated.
Always include the date and type of any Lyme disease vaccine that has been administered to your dog on the submission paperwork that accompanies your dog’s Lyme test. This will allow the lab to give a more accurate report, factoring in any potential false positives due to vaccination.
None of these tests can indicate whether a dog will or will not become ill. Diagnosis of Lyme disease requires a full exam by your veterinarian and consideration of any clinical signs, including kidney and urine values. And due to the nonspecific nature of Lyme symptoms, it is possible that a dog’s Lyme-positive status is incidental and not the actual cause of illness.
So should you test for Lyme if your dog is healthy? That is a choice to be made between you and your veterinarian. If your clinic offers the SNAP 4DX or VetScan Flex 4 tests, you will probably have that done yearly anyway to check your dog for heartworm infection, which is very dangerous to dogs, as well as the other tick-borne diseases. A positive Lyme result can remind you to drop off that annual urine sample for evaluation to look for protein in the urine, especially if you have a breed or mix at higher risk of developing Lyme nephritis (or if your dog already has kidney issues).
If your dog is showing signs of Lyme, testing can help to determine whether or not Lyme is the culprit. However, at this point in time, the only way to be sure that a dog is sick because of Lyme disease is to treat and see if the dog improves quickly. Quantitative tests such as the Lyme Quant C6 can be repeated over time to track changes in the dog’s antibody levels in response to treatment.
Keep in mind that once your dog has been exposed to Lyme, he or she will continue to have antibodies even after treatment. This is a good thing, because it shows that your dog’s immune system remembers the invader. So don’t panic if your dog tests positive on a qualitative test after treatment. Repeating one of the quantitative tests, such as the Lyme Quant C6 or Lyme Multiplex Assay, can give a more accurate idea of whether or not your dog has been re-infected – a new spike in OspC antibodies, for instance, indicates that the dog has been exposed to Lyme again.
How to Keep Ticks Off Your Dog
As they say, prevention is the best medicine. There is no need to worry about whether or not you should treat if your dog is never exposed to Lyme disease in the first place. Tick prevention is the cornerstone of Lyme prevention.
Tick preventives are available in a wide range of formulations, from topicals to collars to oral medications. Most topicals need to be applied monthly, and oral medications may need to be given once a month or every three months. Collars have varying efficacy lifespans, and you need to be sure that the collar is marketed for ticks and not just fleas. Ticks have shown resistance to certain medications in regional areas, so consult with your veterinarian about which products work well in your area. Ticks can be active even in cold weather, so year-round use of preventives is highly recommended.
Environmental management is also important. Ticks dry out in direct sunlight, so keeping your lawn mowed short and clear of leaf litter will help. Keep your dog out of wooded areas or fields of tall grass, especially in the spring and fall when ticks are most active. Fence your gardens to discourage deer and rabbits from bringing ticks onto your property, and control any rodent infestations in your house and outbuildings. Guinea hens, chickens, and to some extent ducks will all eat ticks, so keeping fowl and allowing them to graze your property is an all-natural way to remove ticks.
You can also treat your lawn with parasiticides, though many of us are reluctant to do this, even though ticks can be present in lawns. My own Corgi came up with three in his ear while being walked solely on my front lawn and the college campus next door.
More important than any topical tick prevention is a full physical inspection. After every romp in the woods or in another high-risk area, check your dog thoroughly for ticks. A comb can be useful for parting the coat on longhaired dogs, and flea combs can pick up ticks. Be sure to check your dog’s ears and groin. Keep in mind that nymphs, also called seed ticks, are the size of poppy seeds and difficult to see but can still transmit Lyme and other tick diseases. Nymphs feed in late spring and early summer before molting into adult ticks in the fall.
If you find any ticks, remove them carefully by following these instructions, and dispose of them in a sealed container.
Kate Eldredge is a licensed veterinary technician from Plattsburgh, New York.
Dear Dr. Hershey,
My vet just told me that my dog, Harper, just tested positive for Lyme’s Disease. He seems to be normal otherwise, what does this mean for him, and is it contagious to me?
Dear Mary Beth,
This is a timely question because the ticks are out in Minnesota. Ticks live for many years, and can survive the winter in a dormant stage.
Ticks become active when the ground temperature is about 45 degrees Fahrenheit, so sometimes ticks will be out even if there is snow on the ground. Because ticks become active even when it is relatively cold outside, many pet owners are caught by surprise in the early spring when they find a tick on their dog.
Ticks find their hosts by detecting breath and body odors, or by sensing heat, moisture, vibrations, even shadows. Ticks can’t jump or fly, but they are well adapted to finding and latching onto hosts.
Ticks will rest on the tips of grasses or shrubs in a position known as “questing.” In this position, they hold onto the plant with some of its legs, while having their first pair of legs outstretched, just waiting for a host to brush by. Although Minnesota is home to several types of tick, it is the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), commonly known as the “deer tick,” which can transmit Lyme Disease (as well as other bacteria including anaplasmosis and babesiosis).
Lyme disease is caused by the spirochete bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. In humans, exposure to Lyme bacteria can be very serious. The initial signs include the classic bull’s eye lesion (erythema migrans) and flu-like symptoms. Some people will develop chronic, debilitating illness from Lyme disease.
Unlike people, we think that only 5 to 10 percent of all dogs exposed to Lyme bacteria ever get sick with the disease.
When clinical signs do occur, they typically start about two months after the infection. Signs include lameness (limping or abnormal walking/running behavior), arthritis in one or multiple joints, enlarged lymph nodes, lethargy (weakness), and fever. Skin lesions are very rare in dogs.
The clinical signs of Lyme disease are treated with antibiotics, and often the symptoms will resolve within three days of therapy. A tetracycline antibiotic called doxycycline is the most common antibiotic that is used to treat Lyme disease. A dog that tests positive for the Lyme bacteria on a blood test, however, doesn’t necessarily have Lyme disease and don’t necessarily need to be treated.
Veterinarians will routinely screen for exposure to Lyme bacteria. (Often this test is done in conjunction with screening for exposure to heartworm disease and other tick borne diseases.)
The most common test that veterinarians perform is an antibody test. This test tells us if antibodies against the Lyme bacteria are present in the blood. If this test is positive, it means that your dog has been exposed to the Lyme bacteria and has mounted an immune response to the bacteria, producing antibodies to it. A positive test does not indicate that there is an “active” Lyme infection, only that the pet was exposed/infected in the past. Previous vaccination for Lyme disease does not interfere with these test results (a vaccinated dog will not be positive for Lyme simply because it has received the Lyme vaccine in the past). It takes a few weeks from the time of exposure for the development of a positive antibody Lyme test.
It is important to know that many dogs that are positive for antibodies against Lyme infection will never develop any clinical symptoms (remember only about 10 percent show obvious signs).
When the test comes back positive, it doesn’t mean that your dog has Lyme Disease, it means that your dog has been exposed to the Lyme bacteria. You and your veterinarian will need to make a decision about what, if any action, should take place if this test shows up positive. It is also important to know that there is not consensus in the veterinary community about how to manage a pet that is positive on the test and not showing clinical signs of Lyme disease. The information provided below is what I recommend for my patients in the situation of a positive test in an otherwise healthy dog.
— I recommend screening for possible kidney problems. The Lyme bacteria can create infection, but can also cause autoimmune problems in the dog.
A severe autoimmune problem secondary to exposure to Lyme bacteria is called
“Lyme Nephritis.” In this disease, the filtering mechanism of the kidney, called the glomerulus is compromised. The glomerulus is like a sieve, with holes in the sieve to filter out waste that needs to be excreted in the urine.
In a healthy kidney, the holes are big enough to allow waste products to leave the blood, but small enough to preserve important proteins and other blood products that the body needs. If the holes in the sieve get too big, these important proteins will leave the blood and be excreted in the urine.
This is a very serious condition because the body sometimes can not keep up with the loss of protein through the kidneys, and the pet can become very ill and eventually die from this disease. I recommend that all dogs that are newly diagnosed as positive on a Lyme test be screened for excessive protein loss in the urine through a test called the Urine Protein Creatinine ratio, or UPC. If this test comes back positive, then more testing and treatment will likely follow. If the test is negative, then I move on to the recommendations below.
— I recommend that all dogs that have been exposed to Lyme bacteria be on a tick preventative either year round (especially if the dog travels to more mild climates), or from the time of our first thaw to the time of our first hard freeze in Minnesota. There are several great medications that can be used to protect against ticks. One of the more well-known medications is called “Frontline.” This is a topical tick and flea preventative. A new medication came out last year called “Nexgard.” This medication is a once a month oral medication and has proven to be very popular because you now don’t need to put a topical medication on your dog.
— I recommend that as a family, you review how to keep yourself safe from tick diseases. Lyme bacteria cannot be transmitted from dogs to people, it can only be spread by the bite of an infected tick.
But, if your dog is positive, that means that you and your family have also likely been in an area that is endemic for Lyme Disease. Keeping ticks off of your dog is important because ticks don’t die after they take a blood meal.
They fall off the host and can reattach to another host later. By using a tick preventative for your dog, you are helping protect your family from ticks. Also, it is important that after you go for a walk in the woods, you do a tick check on your entire family. It takes at least 36 hours for the Lyme bacteria to be transmitted from the tick to the host. If ticks are identified and removed before that time period, then you can prevent the transmission of bacteria. To remove a tick, use tweezers and try to remove as much of the tick as possible.
There is a vaccine available to prevent Lyme disease in dogs. The vaccine is very effective. There is some controversy about whether or not a dog that has already been exposed to a natural infection of Lyme bacteria should be vaccinated against the disease. To vaccinate or not vaccinate is a discussion that you should have with your veterinarian.
Dr. Teresa Hershey is a veterinarian at Westgate Pet Clinic in Linden Hills. Email her your pet questions at [email protected]
When I opened her crate that morning, Samantha didn’t move. Instead of racing around with a toy in her mouth, our bouncy one-year-old Labrador Retriever stared at us with wide brown eyes, looking frightened. She didn’t object when my husband lifted her, but when he set her down, she stood as though frozen. He carried her outside and held her while she urinated. When he let go, she couldn’t walk.
A few hours later, our vet announced that every joint in her body was inflamed and she had a fever. No wonder our puppy couldn’t move. She hurt all over. Samantha had Lyme disease.
Lyme disease affects thousands of Americans and their dogs and horses each year. Named for Old Lyme, Connecticut, where it was discovered formally identified in the 1970s, Lyme is a regional disease, with 90 percent of its cases in New England and the Middle Atlantic states. The rest come from the upper Mississippi (Wisconsin and nearby states) and parts of California and Oregon. A few dogs and people with Lyme disease live elsewhere, but they are believed to have been infected during travel or, in some cases, by ticks from migrating birds.
Lyme Disease Symptoms in Dogs
Veterinarians in the Northeast know Lyme disease well. “Its symptoms are very noticeable in dogs,” says Beverly Cappel, DVM, in Chestnut Ridge, NY. “They look like they’re coming down with the flu. They ache everywhere, walk hunched over as though stepping on eggshells, limp, have no appetite, and move in slow motion.
Their necks are stiff, their heads ache, they don’t want to look up at the light, and they squint.”
Why is Lyme Disease So Scary?
The microorganism that causes Lyme disease is Borrelia burgdorferi, a spirochete (pronounced SPY-ro-keet) or spiral-shaped bacterium. Leptospirosis and syphilis are also caused by spirochetes, which are extremely difficult to eradicate because they hide in tendons, muscle tissue, lymph nodes, organs such as the heart and brain, and other parts of the body, where they can remain dormant for years.
In humans, Lyme disease is often accompanied by a red rash that forms concentric circles (a signature bull’s eye rash), splotchy dots, or a wide band. Because its symptoms mimic other illnesses, it is difficult to diagnose. In advanced cases, it can cause vision problems, slowed or irregular heartbeat, facial paralysis, seizures, hearing loss, nerve damage, emotional instability, inflammation of arteries in the brain, and death.
According to Max Appel, DVM, PhD, Professor Emeritus at the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine and one of the nation’s leading authorities on canine Lyme disease, the illness is less ambiguous in dogs. Despite rumors to the contrary, he said in a March 2001 interview, Lyme disease does not cause bladder incontinence in spayed bitches, nor does it manifest in the variety of symptoms common in advanced human cases. “Lyme disease can be fatal in dogs,” he explains, “but its primary symptom is lameness. Dogs can get a rash, but it’s rarely seen. In advanced cases, renal (kidney) failure is the leading cause of death.”
Lyme Disease and the Immune System of Dogs
Dr. Appel’s area of research is the pathogenesis of Lyme disease, the study of how the infection enters the body, moves through the bloodstream, incubates, and causes symptoms. His research group studied hundreds of dogs for more than a decade, defining the illness, conducting vaccination trials, and testing antibiotic treatments.
“We tried four different antibiotics against canine Lyme disease,” he says, “and they seemed to have a good effect on clinical signs. The dogs recovered quite nicely, and there was a reduction in the number of spirochetes in the body. But antibiotics cannot eliminate the spirochetes entirely. They hide and, over time, can build up again and cause a relapse.” One way to trigger a relapse, says Dr. Appel, is by treating the dog with corticosteroids. “These drugs are immune system suppressants,” he explained. “We documented dogs that had been treated with antibiotics and were symptom-free for over a year and a half, but as soon as they were treated with corticosteroids, they went lame with Lyme disease. Steroid drugs are absolutely not a good idea for any dog that has been treated for Lyme disease.”
Injuries, illnesses, and other immune system stresses can also trigger recurrences. A wasp sting reactivated Samantha’s Lyme disease eight months after her first attack. Vaccinations, infections, an abscessed tooth, and even emotional stress can impair the immune system enough to let hidden spirochetes flourish.
Lyme Disease is transmitted to dogs between 24 and 48 hours after the tick bite.
Among medical doctors who treat human Lyme disease, there is much debate about its transmission by vectors other than ticks. The May 2001 edition of Alternative Medicine features a lengthy article on Lyme disease that claims it can be transmitted by fleas, mosquitoes, mites, and human-to-human contact. Dr. Appel disagrees.
“That’s speculation,” he says. “The agent has been isolated from other vectors, but there is no proof whatsoever that these vectors can transmit the disease. A tick has to feed for 24 to 48 hours before it can transmit any spirochetes. During this time the Lyme disease spirochetes, which live in the mid-gut of the tick, migrate to the tick’s salivary gland. This method of transmission is so specific that even other species of tick, such as the dog tick, have not been shown to transmit Lyme disease even if they carry the spirochete. They can transmit other illnesses, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and babesiosis, but not Lyme disease.”
Dr. Appel housed dogs infected with Lyme disease with those that did not have the illness, and their prolonged exposure convinced him that Lyme disease is not transmitted from dog to dog by physical contact or exposure to urine or saliva. Although human babies have been born with the infection, in dogs the transmission from pregnant bitch to developing offspring or from infected mother to nursing puppies has not been documented.
Prevent Your Dog from Getting Tick-Borne Illnesses
No matter where you live, ticks can be hazardous to your dog’s health. In addition to Lyme disease, ticks transmit babesia, ehrlichia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and other infections. Dogs that live where ticks are common should be inspected daily, even if they don’t spend much time outside. Samantha’s first bite occurred not in our tick-infested woods or fields of tall grass, but during her convalescence after being spayed at seven months, when her only outdoor activities were sedate walks along paved sidewalks. The timing of the bite was unfortunate, for a dog recovering from surgery is far more vulnerable than usual to infections of all kinds.
Prompt discovery and removal of ticks is key to preventing transmission of Lyme, says the Centers for Disease Control. “Transmission of B. burgdorferi from an infected tick is unlikely to occur before 36 hours of tick attachment. Daily checks for ticks and their prompt removal will help prevent infection.” However, this takes some dedication, as the ticks that transmit Lyme are incredibly tiny.
For a full understanding of the range of chemical and non-toxic tick repellents for dogs, read, “Protecting Your Dog from Tick Bites and Lyme Disease“.
How to Treat Tick Bites
A dog in the wrong place at the wrong time can be bit by dozens or even hundreds of ticks. Deer ticks go through three stages of life (larva, nymph, and adult), and feed only once in each of these stages; a blood meal ends each stage.
Larval ticks dine on mice and other small rodents, but nymphs and adults are a threat to dogs. Because they are small and their bites don’t itch, ticks are easily overlooked, especially adult deer ticks and the nymphs of any species. Ticks prefer warm, moist conditions, so double-check under collars and around ears. If you aren’t sure what a lump or bump is, inspect it with a magnifying glass. Warts, similar skin growths, and nipples can feel like feeding ticks.
Be careful when removing a tick to grasp it with tweezers firmly at the head, as close to the dog’s skin as possible, and slowly pull straight back. Never twist, press, burn, or apply irritating substances like kerosene to an attached tick because doing so can cause the parasite to expel the contents of its digestive tract, creating an unwanted hypodermic effect.
Get instructions on how to remove a tick from your dog here.
Cleaning a Dog’s Tick Bite
Three-percent hydrogen peroxide, the common disinfectant, is recommended for tick bites because the oxygen it contains destroys the Lyme disease bacteria. Hydrogen peroxide can be liberally poured over bites on light-haired dogs (keep away from eyes and apply directly to the skin) but because it’s a bleach, this method is not recommended for black or dark-haired dogs. Using an eyedropper to apply hydrogen peroxide directly to the bite helps prevent unwanted bleaching.
Aromatherapist Kristen Leigh Bell, whose Aromaleigh company specializes in products for dogs and cats, created a “tick tincture” containing the essential oils of thyme (chemotype thujanol), hyssop (chemotype decumbens), and lavender. While studying with Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt at the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy, Bell learned that these oils prevent Lyme disease when applied to tick bites, and she adapted the blend for canine use. “The thyme and hyssop should be the specified chemotypes,” she explains, “because unlike other thyme and hyssop oils, they contain no neurotoxic ketones or harsh and burning phenols. As a result, one can take advantage of their powerful antibacterial and antiviral qualities with very little risk.
“I suggest that dog owners use this blend immediately after removing ticks,” says Bell, “or upon finding a tick bite or other suspicious bite on a dog’s body. It can be applied frequently for a day or two, then daily until the bite heals.” Dog owners can use Aromaleigh’s Canine Tick Tincture or blend their own by combining one tablespoon vegetable base oil (hazelnut, sweet almond, olive, sunflower, jojoba, etc.), six drops thyme (chemotype thujanol), six drops hyssop (chemotype decumbens), and six drops lavender or lavandin essential oil.
“These essential oils are expensive,” Bell warns, “and they are not widely available, but it is important not to substitute less expensive essential oils for use on dogs. The use of essential oils in this manner is not a cure, it’s a preventive, but with daily grooming, careful tick removal, and the application of this blend, many dogs have avoided tick-borne illnesses.”
Bee propolis, sold in health food stores as a cold and flu preventive, is an excellent topical disinfectant and natural antibiotic. Liquid propolis can be applied to bites, cuts, burns, and other injuries with an eyedropper or mixed with small amounts of aloe vera gel to treat larger areas. Reapply frequently for best results, especially on the day of a tick bite and for the next two to three days.
Antibiotics for Lyme Disease
Lyme-infected dogs improve so dramatically on antibiotics that many veterinarians regard their response as a Lyme disease test in itself. If an athletic, healthy dog experiences sudden-onset lameness from inflamed, tender joints, and recovers overnight on antibiotics, it’s probably Lyme disease. “In most cases, you see results in 24 hours,” says Dr. Cappel.
Many veterinarians prescribe antibiotics for two to three weeks, but Dr. Cappel recommends longer treatment. “I find that dogs tend to relapse if you don’t really wipe the bacteria out,” she says, “so I use antibiotics for at least four weeks. I think this does a better job of finding and killing the spirochetes, so the dog is less likely to have a recurrence.”
According to Connecticut veterinarian Mary Wakeman, DVM, “One side effect of antibiotic therapy is actually a sign that the treatment is working. It’s called the Jarish-Herxheimer reaction and it occurs when the body has an inflammatory response to all those dead spirochetes. Its more common name is the ‘die-off’ reaction. Depending on how overwhelmed its system is, a dog can experience one to several days of feeling worse than before.”
More importantly, says Dr. Wakeman, the die-off reaction can affect pregnant bitches, causing miscarriage. “I recommend screening bitches living here in the Northeast with the Lyme Western Blot blood test four to six weeks before they are due in heat,” she says. “to be sure they don’t have Lyme disease.”
Homeopathy for Treating Lyme Disease
Although classical homeopathy does not consider Lyme disease a true illness – like syphilis it is considered a “chronic miasm” caused by an immaterial substance that produces disease by disrupting the vital force – one veterinary homeopath in Connecticut takes a different view. After testing different remedies with limited success, Stephen Tobin, DVM, discovered that Ledum palustre in a 1M potency given three times daily for three days is “about as close as you can get to a specific cure.” According to Dr. Tobin, this method has cured cats, dogs, and horses with recent and established infections, some of which were first treated with antibiotics. In addition, he uses the Lyme disease nosode, a homeopathic preparation of Borrelia burgdorferi 60x as a preventive, giving one dose (one dropperful) daily for one week, then one dose weekly for one month, and one dose every six months indefinitely.
Dr. Tobin says that since he began treating dogs for Lyme disease with homeopathy 10 years ago, he has worked with an estimated 1,000 patients, nearly all with complete success. “There are other homeopathic remedies that treat the symptoms of Lyme disease,” he says, “but I consider Ledum the genus epidemicus for this illness. The 1M strength is not widely sold, but lower strengths are. If your dog develops symptoms, you could try Ledum 30C, and if the symptoms come back, you could order the higher potency. If you spend a lot of time in the woods or have large fields behind your house, Ledum 1M is worth keeping on hand,” he says.
“The nosode is a good investment for dog owners here in the Northeast,” he continues, “for it provides better protection than is generally seen with the vaccine. I don’t claim that the nosode offers 100 percent protection, but it does seem to work in most cases.”
While Dr. Tobin finds that Ledum by itself clears most canine Lyme disease, Dr. Cappel uses the nosode for both prevention and treatment. “I’m convinced that the homeopathics are effective,” she says, “but they take longer to work, and I don’t like to see animals suffer. I give the Lyme disease nosode at the same time as antibiotics, but I continue the nosode for several months. When I had Lyme disease, I used only the nosode for myself because it was my decision, but when my dog had Lyme, I put her on doxycycline and then the nosode.”
As part of her herbal therapy for Lyme disease, Vermont-based master herbalist Hart Brent recommends giving one dose of Ledum 1M as soon as possible after a tick bite, then giving 10 drops of the Lyme disease nosode once per day.
Alternative Lyme Disease Therapies for Dogs
With an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 new cases of human Lyme disease diagnosed annually, it’s not surprising that holistic health practitioners are experimenting with therapies that support or replace conventional treatment, especially because conventional treatment has adverse side effects and is not always effective. Numerous herbal, nutritional, and even aroma-based therapies have helped people with Lyme disease. In fact, because the treatments worked so well, they have been given to Lyme-infected dogs with excellent results.
The following have not been tested in scientifically controlled studies, and they haven’t been tried by the veterinarians I interviewed. However, the information offered by the practitioners interviewed below is compelling. If you are interested in using one of the products described below, ask your holistic veterinarian for help.
D-Lenolate olive leaf extract
Some herbal products are effective alternatives to antibiotics and kill pathogens so effectively that they, too, cause a die-off reaction. Les Nachman, Director of Herbal Technology at East Park Research, which manufactures d-Lenolate olive leaf extract, reports that thousands of human patients have successfully treated their Lyme disease with this product alone.
“D-Lenolate is helpful against any pathogenic involvement,” Nachman says, “and it’s safe for dogs and other animals. Its only side effect is the die-off that occurs when it kills viruses, bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and parasites such as pinworms.”
The recommended human dose is two capsules three times a day, but Nachman recommends giving dogs, even large breeds, substantially less. “For a 50-pound dog I’d start with one capsule twice a day,” he says. “If that doesn’t cause significant improvement, you can increase the dose every day until it does. If a dog doesn’t swallow pills readily, hiding the capsules in food works better than mixing the contents with food due to the powder’s bitter taste.”
This herbal product, developed by the late Hannah Kroeger at Kroeger Herb Products, contains nettle, yerba santa, goldenrod, monolaurin (a nutritional product that is supposed to coat receptor sites on healthy cell walls so that infectious agents cannot bind with the cell), and organic tobacco. The manufacturer alleges the product to be effective in treating active cases of Lyme, including those that are slow to improve or have complications. The recommended human dosage is two or three capsules twice daily. For dogs, use one capsule per 20 to 25 pounds of body weight daily in divided doses.
Teasel root tinture
Margi Flint is a practicing herbalist in Massachusetts whose clients include Lyme disease patients undergoing antibiotic therapy. “Most of these patients respond very well to small doses of a tincture of teasel root (Dipsacus spp.),” she says. “The other part of their treatment is hyperthermia, which means high heat, from frequent saunas or steam baths. The spirochetes hate heat, and both the tincture and the heat chase them out of hiding to where antibiotics can reach them.” While hyperthermia isn’t part of her protocol for dogs (“It’s just too hot,” she says), Flint recommends massaging three drops of teasel tincture into the ear three times per day.
“Place the drops deep in the ear canal or on the skin of the ear flap,” she explains. “Use three drops in either ear three times a day for four to six weeks, then one drop in the ear three times a day for four to six weeks, then take a month off. Repeat the cycle if symptoms recur after that.” Tom Priester, a practicing herbalist in Bradford, New York, used teasel tincture instead of antibiotics to treat his Australian Blue Heelers when they contracted Lyme disease last year. “I gave it to them by mouth between meals,” he says. “The male responded within 24 hours, and the female took even less time. After one week, I reduced the dose from three drops three times a day to one drop three times a day and continued that for six weeks.”
Propolis, Lomatium, and Waltheria Formulas
In Vermont, master herbalist Hart Brent developed a separate protocol for treating people in three different stages of Lyme disease; the protocols can be used by dogs as well as people.
“I use a Stage I (early Lyme disease) protocol as a preventive, as soon as a dog is bitten,” says Brent. “There is such a time delay between the tick bite and the onset of symptoms in dogs that I consider all dogs that show clinical signs as being in Stage II (disseminated Lyme disease) or Stage III (advanced) when they are first diagnosed.”
In Stage I of Brent’s protocol, the patient takes Propolis Formula (tinctures of propolis resin, echinacea root, red root, and licorice root) for four days, followed by three days of Lomatium Formula (lomatium root, witch hazel, elderberry, and prickly ash). This schedule is repeated as needed, usually for at least a month. For a 60-pound dog, Brent recommends 20 to 40 drops of tincture per dose by mouth or applied to the ear flap’s inner skin, which absorbs them quickly. In all three protocols, her “Spirokete” essential oil blend (peppermint, helichrysum, clove, and myrrh oils) is applied twice daily to the ear skin.
For Stage II/Disseminated Lyme disease, which affects the entire body and its organs, she recommends four days of Lomatium Formula alternate with three days of Waltheria Formula (waltheria root, osha root, American ginseng root, and Artemisia annua). For Stage III/Chronic Lyme disease, which is the most advanced stage of the infection, Brent uses four days of Waltheria Formula alternated with three days of Lomatium Formula.
Aromatherapist Suzanne Catty, of Toronto, Canada, recommends treating canine Lyme disease with antibiotic essential oils such as oregano, winter savory, cinnamon bark, thyme (chemotype thymol), and thyme (chemotype thujanol). “Alone or with prescription antibiotics,” she says, “these essential oils kill many kinds of bacteria, including spirochetes. Combine these oils, as available, and give one drop of the blend every three hours for three days, up to a maximum of six drops per day for a 50- to 75-pound dog. Only organically grown or wildcrafted, therapeutic-quality essential oils should be used in this manner. I recommend putting the drops in capsules containing herbs that support detoxification or combining them with a tincture of milk thistle seed and goldenseal root, which also support the liver.”
Catty is one of the world’s leading authorities on hydrosols, which are also called flower waters, herb waters, or hydrolats. These byproducts of the steam distillation process contain trace amounts of essential oils, are far more concentrated than herbal teas but gentle and nontoxic, have significant therapeutic benefits, and are ideal for use with pets. She notes that some hydrosols, such as Greenland moss, cleanse and support the liver while repairing damage done by bacteria, making them ideal for dogs recovering from Lyme disease. Hydrosols can be added to food or drinking water, using one tablespoon hydrosol per 25 to 30 pounds of body weight per day.
Green Terrestrial’s Auntie Lyme tea
This commercially prepared tea contains nettle, red clover, comfrey, calendula, peach leaf, strawberry leaf, mint, burdock seed, and milk thistle seed. These liver-tonic ingredients are recommended as an adjunct in treating active cases and as a support for those previously treated for Lyme disease. Brew a medicinal-strength infusion by steeping one tablespoon dry herbs in one cup boiling water; keep in a covered pan until cool. Add it to your dog’s food or drinking water, using one tablespoon strained tea per 10 pounds of body weight per day. Refrigerate leftover tea for up to a week.
Many other herbs help repair the body, improve energy, and help fight infection. The Chinese herb astragalus is a powerful immune system strengthener. Ashwaganda, long used in India’s Ayurvedic medicine, has anti-inflammatory properties and aids recuperation. Dr. Cappel often adds several drops of an echinacea-goldenseal tincture, or a tincture that combines echinacea, goldenseal, and chaparral, to her protocol. “These are all good immune system stimulants,” she explains, “and although none of them are specifically for Lyme disease, I think they make a difference.”
Lyme Disease Vaccination Controversy
Few holistic veterinarians recommend the Lyme disease vaccine, even in dogs that live where Lyme disease is widespread. “Its side effects are so severe,” says Beverly Cappel, DVM, “that I would much rather treat the disease itself. I don’t recommend the vaccine, don’t carry it, and never use it. When it first came out, we treated dogs (that had been vaccinated elsewhere) for seizures, kidney failure, paralysis, stiff neck, and autoimmune bleeding disorders. Some dogs died and some were permanently damaged. Vaccines don’t always work, so a dog that’s supposedly protected may get the disease anyway. The newer vaccine causes fewer side effects, but it still has some. No matter how you look at it, I think the risks of vaccination far outweigh the benefits.”
Even the traditional veterinary medical community has some issues with the Lyme vaccine.
At the University of California at Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (UCD VMTH), the routine vaccination of household dogs for Lyme disease is not recommended. According to the UCD VMTH Vaccination Protocol for Dogs and Cats, “Lyme Disease is not a proven problem in California, therefore, most dogs are at low risk. Moreover, there is no evidence at this time that infection leads to any significant chronic disease problem in dogs or that infected dogs are public health risks. Vaccine reaction problems occur occasionally and may outweigh health benefits. We do not stock Lyme Disease vaccine.”
The Small Animal Vaccination Protocol published by Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital says that the Lyme may be recommended for CSU client animals on an “at risk” basis, but are not a part of the routine Colorado State University protocol for small animals.
Clearly, the Lyme vaccine should not be administered to every dog, and even people who live in areas with a high concentration of the disease should consider how much exposure to ticks their dogs really have before using the Lyme vaccine. We’d suggest that people living in Lyme “danger zones,” whose dogs are frequently outdoors, use all appropriate tick repellents, examine their dogs daily, and discuss the Lyme vaccine with their holistic veterinarians.
Building Your Dog’s Immune System
Finally, I can attest that hands-on therapies that support a dog’s immune system help prevent recurrences. In addition to her early treatment with antibiotics, nutritional supplements, and herbal support therapies, I credit Samantha’s monthly acupuncture treatments and chiropractic adjustments for her athletic, Lyme-free middle age.
Also With This Article
Click here to view “Lyme Treatment and Prevention Resources.”
CJ Puotinen, a frequent contributor to WDJ, is the author of, The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care, and Natural Remedies for Dogs and Cats. She lives in New York.
You probably know Lyme Disease is carried by ticks. Those nasty little parasites look for a warm body to attach to and feed on. Some of those ticks are infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease – Borrelia Burgdorferi.
However, you might not know that your dog can test positive for Lyme disease and not actually have it. Strange, right? But it’s true. According to Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, testing positive simply means your pet tested positive for the antibodies but only about 5% of dogs actually develop the illness.
That’s good news for dog lovers!
Yet, you should be aware of the symptoms of Lyme Disease in dogs just in case your pet is one of that 5 %. It’s also a good idea to discuss the pros and cons of the Lyme vaccine you’re your veterinarian.
The other thing you’ll want to know is that some dogs will show fever and lameness within 2-3 days and with others…it can take MONTHS before your dog shows any signs. In other words, you can pick 10 ticks off your dog in August and it can be Halloween before your dog starts showing signs of the illness. If you find ticks and your dog shows any signs of lethargy or lameness, go to vet immediately. Acute forms of Lyme are much easier to treat.
The Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs
Limping — Lyme disease can cause swollen, painful joints. This is the biggest indicator of the disease since the other symptoms are so common – as you’ll see in a minute.
If your pet starts limping or showing signs of lameness that’s important signal. In fact, you might see your dog limping on one side for a couple of days and then the pain shifts to another leg. This “shifting lameness” is a distinct sign of Lyme disease and you’ll want to report it to your veterinarian.
Joint Swelling – Swollen joints combined with limping is a good reason to contact your veterinarian and have your dog tested for Lyme disease.
Lack of Appetite — If your dog’s appetite suddenly decreases — especially if you have a dog who is normally very excited for food, that’s usually a sign your dog isn’t feeling well. While this symptom alone could have any number of causes, if this symptom shows up in concert with others on this list, Lyme disease may be the culprit.
Sluggish — If your pet also seems low energy, that’s a useful signal too. Lethargy and low appetite are indicators that something is “off.”
Fever – One way to tell if your dog has a fever is to touch his nose. A healthy nose is cool and damp. A hot and dry nose is an indication of a fever.
Except for the “shifting lameness” and swollen joints, these other symptoms are generic indicators that your dog isn’t feeling well. Your veterinarian will run a blood test to determine if Lyme Disease is present.
Treatment of Lyme Disease
The good news is, Lyme Disease can be easily cleared up in your dog with a round of antibiotics. So, if your pet is affected then it’s simple enough to treat.
Your veterinarian may recommend a yearly test to evaluate your dog for the presence of Lyme disease. As mentioned earlier, some dogs will test positive but not show any symptoms. It’s up to you and your veterinarian how you’d like to proceed if your dog is one of these asymptomatic pooches.
The Best Protection is Prevention
You may think of ticks as being prevalent in the woods, and that’s true. Yet, they can even be in suburban backyards. Ticks prefer long grass and shrubbery so keep your grass cut short and shrubs trimmed back to minimize their hiding places.
For tick protection, your veterinarian may suggest a tablet that lasts 3 months called Bravecto. It kills fleas and ticks for 3 months. There are also some topicals and a few tick collars which will kill ticks.
The best prevention is avoidance. Ticks are attached to grasses and shrubs and low hanging tree limbs. When humans and animals brush against these, the ticks will attach to hair and clothing. When these areas are wet, the ticks are much more likely to attach.
You’ll also want to know that ticks can thrive year-round – especially in warmer climates like the Southeast. Ask your veterinarian for their recommendations on tick protection.
Also, give your dog a thorough check when you come in after a walk – especially, if your dog was near grass or shrubs where ticks like to hide. When it comes to your pet, ticks enjoy burrowing at the base of the tail, around the ears, and in between the paws.
Knowledge is Your Friend
With the prevalence of ticks, it’s a good idea to know what to look for and how at risk your dog is for developing the disease.
Your veterinarian will recommend a good tick prevention treatment for your dog. Ticks transfer many diseases so avoiding and preventing are the best option. Lyme disease in humans is a serious disease. If you or your family members are exposed and show any signs of rash or illness, see your doctor immediately. Treatment of the acute form of the tick-borne disease has a much higher success than treatment of the chronic form.
If you suspect your dog has Lyme disease, book an appointment with us today.
Lyme Disease in dogs
Welcome back to Staff Chat! For this posting, Dr. Bando would like to discuss an infectious disease that has become more prevalent in Ohio over the last several years – Lyme disease in dogs.
Last year was the first year in Ohio that veterinarians reported more dogs that tested positive with Lyme disease than with Heartworm infections. This change has been brought on by the increase in population of the Black Legged Tick (due to migration from the eastern states), and the current lack of prevention for Lyme disease for the average dog in Ohio.
Dogs and humans alike are in danger of contacting this disease from a tick bite. Lyme disease is caused from the spirochete bacteria Borrelia Burgdorferi, which lives inside the Black Legged Tick. When an infection of Lyme disease leads to disease in dogs, the dominant sign is recurrent lameness due to inflammation of the joints, lack of appetite, and depression. More serious long term complications can include damage to the kidneys, heart, or nervous system.
The nymph to adult stages of ticks can contract Lyme disease, and they can be very difficult to detect due to their size. To control your dog’s tick exposure, we should all inspect their coat and skin. If a tick is detected you should remove the tick with tweezers, grabbing as close to the skin as possible, and then pulling straight out. Avoid twisting or crushing the tick. Our team at Berwick Animal Clinic would be happy to help you if you detect a tick on your dog.
Prevention is the best way to avoid Lyme disease. We can do this through two methods. First, all dogs at risk for Lyme disease should be vaccinated. The Lyme vaccine will help your dog’s immune system fight the disease if your dog is infected. Second, all dogs should use some form of tick prevention such as Simparica or Bravecto. These will kill ticks once they are attached, before they can transmit any diseases. While no prevention is 100%, the combination of the Lyme vaccine along with the use of a tick preventative, will give our companions the best protection against this harmful disease.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to discuss this further with the staff and veterinarians at the Berwick Animal Clinic.