April is Lyme disease prevention month. At this point, I’m sure we’ve all heard of the infamous Lyme disease. Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne (coming from an infectious organism) disease in the United States! While it is so common, there are several ways to prevent and treat lyme disease to help keep your pet protected.

dog with a tick on its back

What is Lyme Disease and How Does it Spread? 

Lyme disease is caused most commonly by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme disease is transmitted when your dog is bitten by an infected deer tick, also called the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis). 

Ticks get infected with Lyme disease-causing bacteria when they bite a host (like a deer). A tick attaches onto and bites its host and feeds off the host’s blood while the bacteria is transmitted into the bloodstream. Lyme disease is most commonly spread by nymphs (juvenile ticks) because they are incredibly small (about the size of a poppy seed) and less likely to be noticed on the skin or in the fur. A tick has to be attached for 24-48 hours to spread Lyme disease.

What Are the Signs?

  • Shifting lameness (limping on one leg and then the other)
  • Limping
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Inappetance 
  • Weight loss

Diagnosing Lyme Disease 

Your veterinarian will first start with doing a physical exam of your dog. If signs of Lyme disease are noted, they will likely start out with running a blood test that checks for antibodies in the blood. These tests might, however, come up with a negative result if the body has not yet had time to produce adequate antibodies to be detected with the test, or if the dog has been Lyme positive for a long time and no longer produces antibodies. Oftentimes a veterinarian will recommend waiting 30 days after tick exposure to run the test to ensure an accurate result, so long as the pet is doing well and is stable. Other diagnostics, such as radiographs (x-rays) and other blood work may also be performed to rule out other possible causes.

Treating Lyme Disease

Since Lyme disease is caused by bacteria, the first treatment is an antibiotic. The first antibiotic of choice is typically doxycycline. If this is ineffective or causes an upset stomach, the veterinarian may switch to a different antibiotic, such as amoxicillin. Your dog may also get sent home with a pain reliever to help with stiffness and limping. 

dog with a tick on its belly

While Lyme disease typically settles in the joints, it can also settle in the kidneys. This condition is called Lyme nephritis. Lyme nephritis causes acute kidney failure that is oftentimes irreversible. This condition requires immediate hospitalization for aggressive treatment, including IV fluids, antibiotics, and medication to aid in kidney function. While their condition may improve, it is unlikely to completely resolve.

Preventing Lyme Disease 

Lyme disease is best prevented with a Lyme vaccine in combination with monthly tick prevention. The lyme vaccine is a two dose vaccine, meaning that they need one vaccine, and another about 3-4 weeks after the initial dose. This is given once a year thereafter and just needs one dose instead of two. 

On top of the vaccine, it is recommended to use tick prevention as well. These are available over the counter and from your veterinarian. Over the counter preventions tend to be less effective than those prescribed by a veterinarian, so use them with caution! The preventions come as a topical liquid that goes onto the skin (Bravecto topical, Vectra 3D, Frontline PLUS), or in chewable tablets, such as Nexgard, chewable Bravecto, and Credelio! Talking with your veterinarian can help you decide which option is the best to help keep your pet protected! 


How to Remove a Tick

It’s important to check your pet for ticks after coming inside, especially after being in an area where ticks like to hide! Ticks like to live in tall grasses, shaded areas, and woodpiles. They’re most active from spring until the end of fall, but they can stay active during warmer winters! 

If you find a tick on your pet and want to remove it at home, start by isolating the area where the tick is attached. Wetting the fur around the tick helps you have a better view of the tick and your pet’s skin. Once you can see where the tick is attached, use a pair of tweezers or a tick remover to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible without pinching the skin. It’s important to avoid squeezing the body of the tick, as that expels the contents back into the pet. Once you have a good grip, give a quick and firm pull. Once the tick is removed, place it in a sealable container with rubbing alcohol to dispose of it. 

**Use caution when handling ticks. The blood and other contents in the tick’s body can infect us through open wounds or cuts.

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