Defend, Prevent, and Protect: All About Lyme Disease in Pets


You may be hearing more about Lyme disease in the media recently and for good reason. Current reports from the Centers for Disease Control suggest that there are between 300,000 and 400,000 new cases of Lyme disease in people in the United States annually. This makes Lyme disease the most common vector-borne disease in our country.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi and is passed through the bite of an infected tick. Although Lyme disease is considered zoonotic (spreads from animals to people), no studies support transmission outside that of a tick bite. This condition affects both humans and animals and, if left untreated, can result in debilitating and painful complications.

With spring and summer rains, tall green grass, and more time spent outdoors, protecting your pet can be painless and stress-free. May is Lyme Disease Prevention Month and in this blog, we share a few tips about how to keep your best friend safe.

Lyme Disease in Pets

Lyme disease spreads when a tick feeds on an infected host, such as a rodent or bird, and then transmits it to another animal (or person) through its bite. The black-legged tick (also known as the deer tick) spreads the disease in the mid-Atlantic, Northeastern, and north-central US. The Western black-legged tick spreads the disease on the Pacific Coast.

Dogs are most commonly affected by Lyme disease, but cats and other mammals are also susceptible. Symptoms aren’t always obvious and can lead to recurring health challenges that begin a few weeks to a few months following infection. In addition, diagnosis can be tricky since signs may seem to resolve independently, only to reappear months later.

Signs of Lyme disease in dogs include:

  • Fever
  • Joint pain (may manifest as uneven gait)
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Shifting leg lameness

If you notice any of these symptoms, don’t hesitate to have your pet evaluated by your primary care veterinarian. Blood tests can be performed to help diagnose Lyme disease, and treatment involves the administration of a particular class of antibiotics. A Lyme vaccine is available for dogs, and your veterinarian will be happy to discuss whether this is the right treatment for your pet.

Understanding Ticks

Ticks are notorious for spreading disease and can infect your pets (and you) with not only Lyme disease, but Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Anaplasmosis, and Babesiosis. Year-round parasite protection for your pet is the most effective way to prevent Lyme and other tick-borne disease.

Baby ticks, also called nymphs, thrive in overgrown, grassy, shrubby, and damp, forested environments. Like the spiders they are related to, ticks can position themselves on the tips of grasses and wait for their next host to walk by. A host may be a deer, rodent, opossum, lizard, rabbit, dog, or cat.

Ticks use special body sensors to detect breath, temperature, vibrations, and body odor and stretch out their legs to grab ahold of a nearby host. They are good at concealing themselves well and secrete a painkiller along with their bite, which often allows them to hold on and take a blood meal without their host realizing it.

Preventing Lyme Disease

Year-round use of parasite preventives is the most effective way to prevent Lyme disease. The disease can only be transmitted after 36 hours of active blood-sucking, and preventives stop ticks from being able to attach and feed in the first place. A host (no pun intended!) of safe and effective topical or chewable preventives is available. Talk to your veterinarian about the best option for your pet.

It’s also imperative to check for ticks daily and remove them immediately. Take these steps to  ensure a safe removal:

  • Use a pair of tweezers or a tick removal tool to gently grasp the tick at the base of your pet’s skin.
  • Pull the tick directly up and out without turning or twisting.
  • Clean the site with a small amount of rubbing alcohol or a pet-safe disinfectant.
  • You can save the tick in rubbing alcohol to have it tested later for Lyme disease.

Be tick aware by following these tips:

  • When hiking, wear light-colored clothing and long pants. When you return home, throw your clothes immediately into the dryer. The heat will kill any ticks on your clothing.
  • Keep out of heavily wooded and grassy areas when out with your dog.
  • Check your dog daily for ticks, paying particular attention to their ears, face, head, armpits, gums, and groin.
  • Admonish ticks from your yard by removing brush and leaf litter, keeping grass trimmed short, and maintaining fencing to keep wild animals out.

The COVE cares about your pet’s health. If you notice your pet displaying any symptoms of this condition, contact your primary care veterinarian for assistance or contact us right away. As always, we are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week should your pet be experiencing a medical emergency.

About Us

The COVE’s veterinarians and staff wholeheartedly embrace the core values of community, collaboration, commitment, compassion, and integrity. This focus ensures that pets, the people who love them, and their primary care veterinarians have as positive and affirming a healthcare experience as possible, regardless of the circumstances that bring us all together.