As the days grow longer and the new family of birds happily chirp from the next in your porch fern, you are inspired to take out your puppy to romp around in the sunshine in a sun-kissed field and go on long walks in the woods.
However, the woods don’t just contain fresh shoots of unfurling ferns or dappled light filtering through the canopy. These beautiful forests and fields can contain something far uglier – disease-carrying ticks!
April is Prevent Lyme Disease in Dogs month, but do you know the ins and outs of canine Lyme disease to know how to spot it and what to do if you suspect it? Educating yourself about ticks and Lyme disease in dogs will help keep your puppy safe in the great outdoors.
What is Canine Lyme Disease?
Canine Lyme disease, also known as Lyme borreliosis, is a common tickborne illness caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. The disease primarily affects dogs and is transmitted through the bite of infected deer (black-legged) ticks in the Ixodes species. This disease is also prevalent in humans and is considered to be one of the most commonly reported tickborne illnesses in the United States.
Courtesy of the University of Rhode Island's TickEncounter
About the Ticks that Carry Lyme Disease
Did you know there are 850 tick species in the world, with 90 of them found in all 50 states? While this may seem like ticks are crawling over every surface with this news, you only have to worry about a handful of ticks in the Ixodes species.
Five tick species that carry Lyme disease, all in the Ixodes species, are found in both Europe and America. In the US, deer ticks, a type of black-legged tick, are responsible for transmission: the Ixodes pacificus and Ixodes scapularis. Both are carriers of Borrelia burgdorferi. These ticks like to hang out, especially in the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast. That’s not saying your puppy can’t get infected in other areas though, as you should always be vigilant when it comes to preventing Lyme disease in puppies.
While you may find other species of ticks on your dog, the only one carrying Lyme disease is the deer tick. Lone star ticks do not carry or transmit canine Lyme disease.
How Does a Tick Transmit Lyme Disease?
A tick becomes infected with Borrelia burgdorferi when its larval stage feeds on infected rodents. When the tick grows into the nymphal stage, it is only about the size of a sesame seed – the perfect, tiny size to go undetected or blend in with other debris, scabs, or moles on your puppy’s skin and coat. The nymph then looks for a tasty dinner from a warm-blooded mammal – you or your puppy!
When it bites a puppy, a tick must feed on the skin for 24-48 hours for the infection to transmit. Once inside, the Borrelia burgdorferi multiplies in the area and then moves on to other parts of the body.
Symptoms & Diagnoses of Lyme Disease in Puppies
The overwhelming majority of puppies will not develop a Lyme disease infection from a tick bite, but it’s important to know the symptoms of canine Lyme disease in your puppy. And if they do develop symptoms, you might not recognize them, or they may just be mild. However, some cases can be quite serious.
One of the most common areas where Lyme disease heads is to the joints, but infection can spread to lymph nodes, eyes, kidneys, heart, and other serious places.
If you find a tick right away, you may think you’re in the clear by removing the tick. However, you’re not in the clear yet. Because it can take a while for the bacteria to multiply and migrate, you may not notice symptoms immediately, as it can take weeks or even months to manifest symptoms.
These are symptoms your puppy may develop after being infected with Lyme disease:
- Swollen stiff joints or muscles
- High temperature
- Decrease in appetite
- Breathing difficulties
- Excess vomiting or diarrhea
- Increase in urination
Several of these symptoms are also the symptoms of other common puppy illnesses, so always see your veterinarian if you suspect any problem with your puppy’s health for proper testing and diagnosis.
How does my vet know if my puppy has Lyme disease?
Diagnosis of Lyme disease in dogs is typically based on a combination of clinical signs and laboratory testing. Blood tests can detect antibodies to Borrelia burgdorferi in the dog's bloodstream. These tests are often used in conjunction with clinical signs to confirm a diagnosis.
A positive antibody test result in a C6 test or Western blot test indicates that the dog has been exposed to the Borrelia burgdorferi, but it does not necessarily mean that your puppy is currently infected. False-positive results are possible, and some puppies may have antibodies without any clinical symptoms.
How is Lyme Disease in Canines Treated?
When a dog tests positive for Lyme disease and the vet has determined your puppy is in fact infected, there are a few ways canine Lyme disease can be treated.
Because Borrelia burgdorferi is a bacteria, vets can use antibiotics for treating Lyme disease in dogs such as doxycycline, amoxicillin, erythromycin, or azithromycin (yes, the same ones humans can take although in different doses and directions for use). These antibiotics are highly effective at killing the bacteria that cause Lyme disease and can typically be administered over a period of several weeks.
Other treatment methods
Your puppy will most likely be in pain from stiff or sore joints, so your vet may also prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as carprofen or deracoxib, or steroids to help manage pain and inflammation. Intravenous fluids and other supportive therapies can help as well.
Regardless of the treatment, it’s important to follow your veterinarian’s treatment instructions and finish all courses of antibiotics and other medicines, even if your puppy seems to be on the mend before treatment is done.
Is Lyme Disease in Dogs Fatal? Is There a Cure?
While a Lyme disease diagnosis in dogs does not mean your dog will pass away from the disease, complications can arise and get so severe that your dog experiences fatal effects from problems stemming from Lyme disease, such as kidney or heart failure.
There is no cure for Lyme disease. Fortunately, there are so many ways to prevent Lyme disease in your puppy, and the treatment methods are usually very successful.
How to Prevent Canine Lyme Disease
Preventing Lyme disease in dogs requires a multi-faceted approach, from natural, intervention-free methods to pet-safe lawn chemicals. Responsible pet owners will do what they can to prevent Lyme disease in their puppies. Luckily, there are lots of steps pawrents can take to keep their puppies Lyme disease-free.
Tick prevention can begin at home by using pet-safe tick repellent products on your dog year-round and not just during particular seasons. Tick collars, topical spot-on treatments, and oral medications are all available and can be effective at repelling or killing ticks. It is important to use these products as directed and to reapply them as needed to maintain their effectiveness.
Oftentimes, tick prevention is also combined with heartworm and flea prevention. Always ask your veterinarian which tick prevention option is the best fit for your puppy.
Vaccinate against Lyme disease
Vaccination is another important tool in the prevention of Lyme disease in dogs. In addition to the necessary core vaccines puppies need, the Lyme disease vaccine is recommended for dogs that live in or travel to areas with a high prevalence of Lyme disease. The vaccine is typically administered in a series of two doses, followed by annual boosters to maintain protection.
Your veterinarian will recommend to you if the Lyme disease vaccine is a good fit for your puppy, but it may not be necessary for all dogs.
Boost your puppy’s immune system
Proactively build a healthy immune system. Since bacteria can wreak havoc on an already-weakened immune system, make sure you’re doing everything you can to keep your puppy safe. Stay current on vaccines, well visits, and dental visits, feed nutritious dog food for puppies, and give your puppy plenty of exercise.
Avoid tick-rich areas
Minimize your and your puppy’s exposure to infected ticks. This can be achieved by avoiding tick-infested areas, especially during spring, fall, or whenever ticks are most prevalent and active in your area.
You don’t have to take a long stroll out in a natural area to encounter ticks. Your yard can be the perfect place for ticks to thrive! Be sure to walk around your yard and remove or reduce any tick-loving habitats, such as leaf piles, overgrown areas, long grass, or trash such as old mattresses. This should be part of your puppy spring cleaning and lawn safety routine.
Treat your yard with pet-safe chemicals
Another way to deter ticks is to find a puppy-safe spray or treatment to use in your yard. Definitely check your findings with your vet to see if the product you selected is safe for pets, as many insecticides are not pet-safe.
Check your puppy for ticks
Another step that you should do regularly is to inspect your dog for ticks. This is also a great way to bond with your puppy through extra attention, snuggles, and massage. A long-haired, shaggy dog or a dog with a thick double coat may be harder than a short, sleek-haired dog, but all dogs deserve our body scans!
Starting at the top of your puppy’s head, apply gentle, firm, and steady pressure, feeling for any bumps or knots. Work your way down, especially paying attention to the following areas:
- Eyes and eyelids
- Inner and outer ears
- Around the neck
- Under the front legs and back legs
- On paws and in between toes
- Tail and sanitary area
Checking your puppy for ticks can also be a way to catch other health conditions. Always call your vet if you suspect any changes in your puppy’s skin.
…And check yourself!
When you take your puppy outside, it helps to know how to prevent ticks from biting you and also check yourself afterward for ticks.
Wear long-sleeved, light-colored pants and shirt. Wear a hat with a flap that covers the neck. To complete your fashionable look, tuck your tall socks into your pant legs! There are even some outdoor-specific clothing containing pesticides in the fabric itself. If you use these, make sure the ingredients are safe for puppies.
While you might not be red-carpet ready, wearing this outfit will definitely help prevent ticks from burrowing into your flesh and spot them crawling on your clothes.
What to do if you find a tick on your puppy
If you find a tick on your puppy, it’s not the end of the world! Not every tick contains Lyme disease, even if it’s from the tick species known to be carriers. Whether the tick is round and full of a blood dinner or flat yet just getting started, ticks will need to be removed right away.
Instead of panicking, knowing how to remove a tick before you encounter one can give you peace of mind that you’ll be able to respond right away. And speaking of right, yes, there are right ways and wrong ways to remove a tick from your puppy. The goal is to not only remove the tick but also remove the tick with its mouth and head intact to reduce the chance of germs, infection, and illness.
- Be as gentle, slow, and consistent as possible
- Get as close to the skin as you can to grab onto the head without crushing it
- Use sterilized fine tweezers or a special tick-removing tool
- Clean the infected site
- Preserve the tick by putting it in a date-labeled baggie and freezing it, putting it in isopropyl alcohol in a closed container, or wrapping it up in a piece of tape to be sent off for testing
- Follow up with your vet
- Squeeze, jerk, or twist the body
- Use pliers, credit cards, or matches to release the tick
- Douse it in petroleum jelly or gasoline
- Leave it on to see if it will fall off itself
- Throw it away by itself in a trashcan
Impact of Canine Lyme Disease
Canine Lyme disease can have a significant impact on a dog's health and quality of life. In addition to causing pain and discomfort, untreated Lyme disease can lead to serious complications such as kidney disease and neurological damage.
Lyme disease can also be expensive to treat, with veterinary bills for diagnosis and treatment often totaling hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Can puppies infect humans with Lyme disease? Is it contagious?
While it’s true that puppies and humans can both get Lyme disease, the bacteria found in ticks are the culprit in the spread of Lyme disease. It’s possible an infected tick from your puppy can infect a human, which is why it’s so important to take precautions.
Keep Your Pawrade Puppy Tick-Free
Canine Lyme disease is a fairly common infection in dogs that can cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms, but that doesn’t mean you have to powerlessly wait for it to happen. The good news is that with early diagnosis and proper treatment, most puppies can make a full recovery.
But the great news is that every puppy at Pawrade arrives with a comprehensive health guarantee where we put our puppies’ health as a #1 priority. Our trusted breeders raise puppies in a sanitary, healthy environment so they can grow up to be cherished family members.
Browse our puppies for sale to find your canine companion!