To prevent dog Lyme disease, dog owners must take several protective steps. Preventing Lyme disease in dogs takes some effort, but it can be achievable. There are seven main ways to prevent Lyme disease in dogs, and ideally several methods should be incorporated in order to take an active role in preventing this debilitating disease from occurring. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and therefore, preventing Lyme from occuring in the first place can prevent a lot of trouble, considering the impact this disease may have on dogs.
The Impact of Dog Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is a tick-borne condition that is caused by a bacteria known as borrelia burgdorferi. This bacteria is transmitted through a bite deriving from an infected tick. Once the infected tick attaches to the dog, the tick feasts on the dog’s blood, and at some point, passes the harmful bacteria to the dog.
Lyme disease is quite a widespread disease, generally mostly found in most of the northeastern US from Maine to Maryland and in the the north central states of Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Even if your dog doesn’t frequent areas where ticks normally abound (wooded areas, meadows, areas where cattle/sheep graze), he can be affected due to the fact that ticks may even make themselves at home in wood piles scattered around yards. Also, consider that small rodents, such as mice, can be infected by ticks and bring them along in the home.
Once on dogs, infected ticks can cause a cascading chain of events. While in humans, lyme disease is known to cause that typical bull’s eye red circle at the point of exposure with the tick, in dogs, the site is not very recognizable and can go undetected until signs of the disease start to manifest about 2 to 5 months later.
Dogs affected by Lyme disease may show the following initial signs: limping (firstly affecting the joint closest to the tick bite), swollen, warm joints, enlarged lymph nodes and fever. These symptoms may be subtle at first and then increase over the course of 3 to 4 days. A dog may limp slightly on one day, and then a few days later, may categorically refuse to walk around. The affected limb is usually a foreleg and there may be lymph node swelling in the affected leg. The fever is usually around 103 degrees.
Later signs may include refusal to move, lethargy, loss of appetite and affected dogs may even go on to developing serious complications such as myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), kidney disease (known as Lyme nephritis) and neurological problems.
Ways to Prevent Dog Lyme Disease
As seen, dog lyme disease is quite a devastating disease that has the potential for causing systemic signs affecting the whole body. Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent dog lyme disease, as well as preventing it from progressing (the earlier it is caught and treated, the better).
1) Consider the Lyme Vaccine
One of the most vital preventive measures is to vaccinate your dog against Lyme disease, especially if you live in Lyme affected areas. All owners should be aware though that no vaccine is 100 percent, so this is why it’s important for other preventive measures to be incorporated.
Puppies can generally be vaccinated for their 1st Lyme vaccine around 12 weeks. However, there may be variances based on the type of vaccine used. They will afterward need their 2nd Lyme vaccine approximately 3 to 4 weeks later. Once 1st and 2nd Lyme vaccine are received, then dogs can get their annual Lyme vaccine every year thereafter.
2) Invest in Topical Products
These are usually topical products that are applied monthly between the shoulder blades of your dog. Common products are Frontline and Advantix. Advantix should not be applied on your dog if you dogs share your household with cats since it can be very toxic to cats. These products usually work by repelling and killing ticks within 24-48 hours.
Another option is the Preventic Tick Collar. This is a special collar meant to repel ticks that begins working to kill ticks within 24 hours and lasts up to 3 months.
As with the Lyme vaccine, consider that topical products offer no guarantees that they will offer absolute protection. You may want to take a multifaceted approach and consider other options to lower the chances of your dog being exposed to ticks.
3) Carefully Inspect Your Dog
Did you know? In order to transmit Lyme disease, ticks must be attached to your dog for at least 24 hours. This is the time necessary for the bacteria to migrate from the tick’s midgut to the salivary glands, explains board-certified veterinarian Dr. Helio Autran de Morais.
What does this mean to you as the dog owner? It means that if ticks are removed within 24 to 48 from your dog, chances are slim your dog will get Lyme disease. So carefully inspect your dog after going outdoors, and remember to check everywhere including between toes, under ear flaps and under the tail.
Should you find a tick, arm yourself with gloves, tweezers and a container full of alcohol. Never remove a tick with bare hands! The tick’s secretions may carry the disease. So wear your gloves and try to pull the tick off by grasping its head and using an upward motion. Do not jerk or twist the tick: you do not want further irritating secretions to be excreted! Once the tick is taken off, put it in the bottle with alcohol and store as described below.
4) Have the Tick Tested
If you find an engorged tick (tick after a blood meal) on your dog, it may be worthy storing it in a bottle with alcohol and labeling it with the date it was found. This sample will come handy should your dog one day shows signs of potential Lyme disease.
However, if you are are a worry-worm and want more information even before your dog shows signs, consider that you can have the tick tested. It’s important to point out though, that testing may fail to provide enough information. According to Veterinary Information Network, having the tick tested may reveal only the type of tick and whether it is infected with Borrelia burgdorferi.
Even if the tick results show it to be infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, that doesn’t mean your dog has Lyme disease. Exposure doesn’t automatically translate into infection. Remember: in order to transmit the disease, the tick had to feed for at least 24-48 hours, also the bacteria had to successfully enter the body and bypass the immune system.
5) Make Your Yard Inhospitable
Think like a tick and make your yard very unappealing to these pesky parasites. Avoid letting your grass grow too high and collect any loose leaves. Remove any scattered weeds. Also, remember that rodents are hosts. Fence off your yard so to prevent granting them access to your yard. You also want to prevent rodents from finding your yard attractive by removing trash and never leaving food sources outdoors.
6) Avoid Tick-Prone Areas
Avoid taking your dog to places such as walks in the woods or in dense brush where there are fields of tall grass. Also, avoid taking your dog to places where there are herds of sheep and cattle and avoid areas where deer and mice abound.
If you are hiking, don’t stray off the beaten path, stick to the middle of it (away from the edges with tall grasses) and keep you dog on leash. Also, consider the time of the year: although tick bites can occur any time, dogs get infected mostly in late spring through fall which is when ticks are in their prime feeding times.
7) Test for Tick-Borne Disease
As seen, there is no 100 percent effective method to keep ticks totally at bay, so for peace of mind, running a test for tick-borne diseases may be a good option.
The immune system of dogs with Lyme disease will cause the production of antibodies. Lyme tests will look for the presence of such antibodies. However, don’t fret it: in the case of dog Lyme disease, taking the dog to the vet in a couple days following the bite would be useless considering that the test would come up negative. Following the bite, it takes several weeks for a test to come up positive. Generally, it would take at least three to four weeks for the antibodies to show up in a test.
Common tests include the SNAP 4DX Plus by IDEXX, VetScan Canine Lyme Rapid Test and VetScan Flex4 Rapid Test (which also tests for other two tick-borne diseases ehrlichia and anaplasmosis, and heartworm disease). There are several other tests your vet may carry.
The Bottom Line
There are cases of dogs who have died from this disease. Preventing this disease from occurring in the first place is preferable to preventing this disease from progressing.
Lyme disease is a tick-borne disease that can have devastating effects should it go untreated or discovered at its late stages. In most cases, dogs recover uneventfully by giving a 21 day course of Doxycycline. However, in some cases, the nerve and joint damage may be permanent.
Prevention remains the best form of defense to spare your dog from this debilitating and sometimes fatal disease. Should your dog exhibit signs of Lyme disease, have him seen by a veterinarian promptly. Recognizing these signs promptly should lead to a better prognosis.
Editor’s note: this post has been published in 2013, and has recently been updated and revamped in 2019 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.