Lyme Disease in Dogs: What You Need to Know

Lyme disease can easily be overlooked. It is important for all dog owners to know and recognize the symptoms of Lyme disease. There are ways to prevent it and there are ways to treat it, but first you have to identify it.

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial illness. It can affect dogs, humans, and other mammals. It is transmitted by ticks.

Ticks that carry Lyme disease live in marshy areas and like tall grasses and shrubs. They are most commonly found in the Northeastern USA, Upper Midwest, and the Pacific Coast.

Ticks get the bacteria that causes Lyme disease from the animals they bite. They then transfer the disease when they bite other animals. The Blacklegged Tick, also known as the bear tick or deer tick, is the primary source of most Lyme disease cases.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease

The symptoms of Lyme disease can be hard to pinpoint. The most common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Reduced energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling of joints
  • Stiffness
  • Discomfort
  • Pain
  • Lameness

These symptoms, if not treated early enough, can lead to kidney failure and heart failure. Some fewer common symptoms may include:

  • Depression
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sensitivity to touch

Unfortunately, only 5-10 percent of infected animals will show symptoms of Lyme disease. Symptoms, if they arrive, usually appear after 2-5 months. They can take longer to show.

Since symptoms may not show it is important to take your dog to the vet if they get anything that might be a tick bite.

Tests for Lyme Disease in Dogs

Beyond the symptoms, tests can be administered to determine if a dog is suffering from Lyme disease. There are two blood tests that can diagnose Lyme disease. The tests look for antibodies that show that active Lyme disease is present. Your veterinarian will be able to perform these tests.

What Are Antibodies?

Antibodies are the proteins produced by an animal’s body to fight off infection and sickness.

Treatment of Lyme Disease

There is only one way to treat Lyme disease. Your vet will give your dog antibiotics. Follow your vet’s instructions. Most antibiotic treatments take about 30 days. If your dog is still sick, you will either need a longer treatment or more tests to see if something else is making your dog sick.

Signs that the antibiotic treatment is working include a lower antibody count when testing. Antibody levels should go down 40%. This can take anywhere from 6-8 weeks if the case is caught early to 3 or more months if the case is chronic.


The best way to keep your dog healthy is to prevent Lyme disease. One of the first things you will want to do is make sure your dog is up to date on all of their vaccines. There is a Lyme disease vaccine that can build antibodies in your dog so they can fight off Lyme disease.

It is also important to check your dogs for ticks and tick bites after you spend time outside in an area where ticks might be. Ticks will most commonly be found on paws, in between toes, on lips, around the eyes, inside and around the ears, under the tail, and near the anus.

Remove ticks immediately if you find them. Make sure you know how to properly remove the ticks so that you do not push the bacteria into your dog. Have your vet run the tests after a week or so just to be sure.

Other preventive measures include using flea and tick medications that will prevent ticks from latching on. Make sure to always be on time with giving your dog flea and tick prevention medication. Mowing your lawn and keeping the grass short will also help. 

FAQs of Lyme Disease

Here are a few frequently asked questions.

Can I Catch Lyme Disease from My Dog?

Lyme disease cannot be transmitted from pets to their owners.

Is Lyme Disease in Dogs Contagious?

No, Lyme disease in dogs is not contagious. If one pet has Lyme disease it cannot pass it on to another pet. The only way for Lyme disease to travel is through tick bites.

Are There Any Long-Term Effects of Lyme Disease?

Yes. Lyme disease in dogs can lead to damaged kidneys. This in turn can lead to kidney failure. Lyme disease can also cause heart problems and neurological issues. Your dog may also develop arthritis much earlier than normal if they get sick with Lyme disease.

How Quickly Does Lyme Disease Progress in Dogs?

Lyme disease has three stages of progression.

The first stage, called Localized, happens within a few days of the bite and infection. This stage may have symptoms of itchiness, redness, and irritation at the site of the bite. A fever and muscle aches may also start to show.

The second stage is Disseminated. This is when the infection has spread to other parts of the body. This stage takes a few weeks or more to reach. Worsening symptoms may appear.

The final stage is Persistent. This stage comes months or even years later. The most common symptoms are arthritis and neurological problems. This stage may still happen even if the Lyme disease is treated.

Will My Dog’s Lyme Disease Come Back?

Yes. Dogs that get bitten and infected with Lyme disease can get sick again. Lyme disease is a chronic problem that can flare up again in the future. Your pet will need to go through another round of antibiotic treatments to fight off Lyme disease.

Will My Dog Always Test Positive for Lyme Disease?

It depends on your dog. Most dogs can remain positive for Lyme disease for years. However, since testing is looking for antibodies, the levels will go down when your dog is not sick. Lyme disease will be in remission when the antibody levels go down at least 40%.

Let Our Veterinarians Help Your Pet with Lyme Disease Prevention

Lyme disease is treatable and preventable. To ensure the best health for your pet make sure to follow all prevention measures. Hopefully, you will never need to treat your dog for a Lyme disease infection.

To schedule your pet’s vaccination appointment, give our animal hospital a call at (301) 994-9919.