Lyme disease is something that many pet parents have heard of, mainly because it’s a condition that we humans can suffer from, too. It’s commonly known that a tick transmits it; however, the details can be complicated.
In this article, we’ll aim to explain Lyme disease by answering the following questions:
- Why is Lyme disease dangerous for dogs?
- Where can a dog catch an infected tick?
- Can humans get ticks from dogs?
- What to do after removing a tick from a dog?
- Will a dog be OK after a tick bite?
- Can you tell if a tick has Lyme disease?
- How soon a dog needs antibiotics after a tick bite?
Knowing what to look for and detecting problems early can shorten the time necessary for a diagnosis and increase the chances of a pet fully recovering.
Disclaimer: Please refer to the information in this article as a guide only. Contact your veterinarian if you want specific information tailored to your pet’s condition.
Why is Lyme disease dangerous for dogs?
Lyme disease is particularly complicated because it doesn’t always show symptoms. This means that unless you’ve spotted a tick on your pet, then unfortunately, you might not have any suspicion that there could be a problem.
The good news is that most dogs develop what veterinarians call a ‘subclinical’ infection’ (source). This means that although your dog is infected, the infection does not cause clear clinical symptoms.
If a dog does appear to have some symptoms, then usually, following diagnosis, Lyme disease is treatable (we’ll talk more about this later).
In rare cases, a dog can develop what’s known as ‘chronic’ Lyme disease. In this case, serious problems with the joints and kidneys can occur.
The more common manifestation of Lyme disease if not subclinical, can cause symptoms such as:
- Increased temperature.
- Decreased energy.
- Increased size of lymph nodes.
- Lack of appetite.
- Swelling of the joints.
You can read more about this topic in our article ‘Lyme disease life expectancy in dogs.’
What types of ticks spread Lyme disease?
Tick species are commonly found in areas with vegetation, such as woods. The black-legged tick, otherwise known as a deer tick Ixodes scapularis, is the common species that transmit Lyme disease in north-central, northeast America. In the western states, Ixodes pacificus spreads Lyme disease (source).
Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. Ticks become infected with the bacteria when feeding on infected animals. Then, when they take their next blood meal, they pass the bacteria on to their new host.
It’s good to know that, generally, a tick needs to be attached for a minimum amount of time to enable it to pass on the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. According to the CDC, this time is between 36 to 48 hours, which is good news for pet parents.
This means that if you remove ticks as soon as you find them on yourself or your dog, you can drastically decrease the risk of Lyme disease. It’s important to check your pet carefully and thoroughly, as the nymph ticks are very small and can be hard to spot. The larger adult females can be easier to find and are the only other tick age category capable of spreading the disease.
Where can a dog catch an infected tick?
Dogs are exposed to ticks in the environment, particularly longer vegetation and bushes, where they wait until humans or animals walk past and then crawl onto them.
When it comes to Lyme disease, the time of year is also important to consider. Since it’s spread by affected ticks, according to Hopkins Medicine, April to October is the time when Lyme disease is most common.
You can use this map from the CDC to see Lyme disease cases over time by state.
Can humans get ticks from dogs?
Yes, ticks can crawl from dogs onto humans. Veterinarians recommend the following things to reduce this and help keep both you and your pet free from tick bites:
- Put a tick-repellent collar on your dog, and or give the medication to repel ticks and other ectoparasites.
- Check your dog thoroughly for ticks after walking in areas where they live. It’s especially important to check areas such as their armpits, belly, head, and ears.
- Safely and appropriately remove ticks from your dog if you find them. You can read more about this in our article Tick Talk – Strategies for Preventing and Removing Ticks.
It’s also a good idea to protect your pet from other ectoparasites, such as fleas. You can read more about this in our article Flea and Tick Prevention Tips – Recommendations for Dog Owners.
What to do after removing a tick from a dog?
Most likely, the tick will still be alive after you’ve removed it from your dog. To kill it, you can put it in alcohol or a disinfectant or simply squash it.
Will a dog be OK after a tick bite, and do they need antibiotics?
In most cases, after removing the tick, your dog will be just fine. If you notice any changes in your dog’s behavior or health, then it’s important to take your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
If your veterinarian has a suspicion that your dog has Lyme disease, then they may write you a prescription for antibiotics to start right away. It’s important to follow all the advice from your vet.
Can you tell if a tick has Lyme disease?
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to tell if a tick has Lyme disease by looking at them. It’s best to always thoroughly check your pet and remove ticks as soon as you find them.
We hope that after reading this article, you have information about Lyme disease in pets, how it’s transmitted, and how to help prevent it. Checking your pet regularly and treating them for ectoparasites can greatly reduce the chances of your pet catching Lyme and other parasite-associated diseases and help keep them happy and healthy.
Charlotte qualified as a veterinarian in 2023 and has been working as a writer for several years helping pet parents understand how to help their pets live happy healthy lives whilst pursuing her interests in wildlife conservation.
She enjoys traveling and has undertaken positions in Belgium, Spain, Austria, Germany, and the Galapagos and has a 15-year-old rescue dog called Chiki.