Don’t Ignore the Signs: Lyme Disease in Dogs

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11 min read
11 min read

Updated - Apr 7th, 2023

Let’s talk about lyme disease in dogs – a common tick-borne illness that often flies under the radar. Many dogs won’t show symptoms for weeks or even months after being bitten by an infected tick. In fact, many infected dogs never show signs of illness.

So how do you spot the signs? Better yet, how do you prevent Lyme disease in dogs? We’re covering all of this and more.

Key Points

  • Lyme disease in dogs is serious, especially if it goes untreated – but it’s also highly preventable with the use of vaccines, oral preventatives, or vet-approved tick collars.
  • Just like humans, dogs get Lyme disease from infected tick bites.
  • The most common signs of Lyme disease in dogs are lethargy, swollen joints, limping, and lameness.
  • Treatment of Lyme disease includes antibiotics and any additional medication for supportive care. The longer

How do dogs get Lyme disease?

Just like humans, dogs get Lyme disease from infected ticks. The black-legged tick also known as the “deer tick” or “bear tick” carries the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. These ticks dwell in forests, woods, marshes, tall grass, and areas with thick brush.

Dr. Sarah Wooten, a veterinarian and American Society of Veterinary Journalists (ASVJ) warns of what can happen without adequate tick protection:

When your dog spends time in the woods, marshes, grass, or bushy areas without adequate tick protection on board, these monstrous little bugs can latch on and bite. Those bites can transmit bacteria into your dog’s bloodstream, and that’s when we have a real problem.”

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs?

The symptoms of Lyme disease depend on the progression of the initial infection. Clinical signs of Lyme disease can include:

  • Swollen joints and joint pain
  • Limping or lameness (often intermittent and on different limbs)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Lethargy
  • Stiffness
  • Depression
  • Excessive salivation
  • Kidney problems (It’s worth noting that kidney symptoms are less common than other health problems. But they are often more dangerous and can lead to kidney disease.)

If you live in an area with a high tick population, your dog should absolutely be on a monthly tick preventative. If this isn’t the case, make an appointment with you vet ASAP.

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How is Lyme disease in dogs diagnosed? 

Diagnosing Lyme disease is fairly simple – it’s done through a blood test (more on that later). The not-so-simple part of a Lyme disease diagnosis is dog owners missing a tick bite or brushing off symptoms, and thus, never bringing their dog to the vet. For this reason, it’s so important to monitor your dog’s behavior and schedule an appointment if you feel something is off.

As mentioned, bloodwork is particularly important in confirming a Lyme disease diagnosis. Many symptoms of Lyme disease can be easily mistaken for other ailments, so analyzing your dog’s blood may help detect Lyme disease-specific antibodies and determine if your pup has been infected.

“Lyme disease in dogs is diagnosed through a blood test,” says Dr. Margit Muller, veterinarian, and author of Your Pet, Your Pill: 101 Inspirational Stories About How Pets Lead You to a Happy, Healthy and Successful Life. “This test detects the presence of antibodies to Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria strain that causes Lyme disease.

Typically, vets usually perform two blood tests: the C6 Test and the Quant C6 Test.

  • The C6 Test is a preliminary test conducted in most veterinary hospitals. It detects the presence of antibodies to determine whether or not your pup has Lyme disease.
  • If the C6 Test comes back positive, your vet will perform the Quant C6 Test to confirm the infection and determine whether treatment is necessary.
  • Antibodies can take some time to show up in the blood after infection. As a result, it’s generally not recommended to test dogs earlier than four weeks after a tick bite.

How is Lyme disease in dogs treated?

If caught early, treatment for Lyme disease in dogs is fairly straightforward and recovery is fairly speedy. After successful treatment of Lyme disease, antibody levels may decrease by 40% within 6 to 8 weeks if the infection is caught in the early stage. If the infection is in the later stage, it may take up to 3 months for the antibody levels to decrease.

“The treatment (for Lyme Disease) includes antibiotics for at least 30 days, plus any necessary supportive medication. The go-to antibiotics are usually doxycycline, amoxicillin, followed by azithromycin, specifically in this order”, Dr. Muller says.

Sometimes, your pet may need longer treatment durations or multiple rounds of antibiotic treatments. If your pup has been battling Lyme for a while, they may also require targeted therapy to help address heart, nerves, joint, or kidney damage.

Vaccines for Lyme disease in dogs

In the United States, there are four Lymes vaccines available for dogs. However, the Lyme vaccination is classified as a “lifestyle vaccine” meaning that not all dogs need it. So, vaccination should be based on individual factors that your veterinarian can best determine.

How does the Lyme vaccine work?

The Lyme vaccine works by sterilizing the bacteria in the tick’s gut, which can prevent transmission if your dog gets exposed. While Lyme vaccines can prevent illness in 60% to 86% of vaccinated dogs, the effectiveness is inconsistent in all dogs and does not provide long-lasting immunity.

“To ensure the vaccine provides optimum protection, your dog will receive two initial injections and two injections 4 weeks apart. Your pet may also receive either annual or biannual boosters to maintain immunity.” Dr. Wooten notes.

Can all dogs take the Lyme vaccine?

Although most dogs tolerate the Lyme disease or Lyme Borreliosis vaccine, individual reactions may vary. Today’s Veterinary Practice has reported that Golden Retrievers have a genetic tendency to develop inflammatory kidney disease (Lyme nephritis) and, therefore, should avoid the vaccine.

Nevertheless, there’s no need to worry. Other tick preventatives such as oral medication can be just as effective in protecting your furry friend from Lyme disease.

Your veterinarian will consider age, breed, size, existing health conditions, and overall well-being to help guide you to the right decision. The most important thing is that you’re proactive when it comes to your dog’s health.

What happens if Lyme disease goes untreated?

Promptly treating Lyme disease is essential. Delaying treatment could cause further health complications such as:

  • Inflammation of the kidneys, and in severe cases, kidney failure. Symptoms of this kidney failure include increased thirst and urination, vomiting, diarrhea, swelling of extremities, and lack of appetite. This can be fatal. 
  • Chronic pain from arthritis 
  • Heart problems
  • Seizure disorders or facial paralysis as a result of damage to the nervous system

How much, on average, does it cost to treat Lyme disease in dogs?

The cost of treating Lyme or Lyme Borreliosis disease can vary depending on various factors, including the progression of the disease and your geographic location.

According to Dr. Muller, “The total cost of treatment often depends on the duration of therapy. For a standard four-week antibiotic course, pet owners may expect to pay around $800. Diagnostic blood tests, which range from $80 to $200 depending on the type of test and consultation fees, are extra expenses.

If your dog needs prescription medications, the total cost can quickly add up, leaving a sizable dent in your wallet. If you’re concerned about the cost of treating Lyme disease in dogs, having pet insurance can be a lifesaver. However, not all providers cover tick-borne diseases like Lyme, so it’s important to do your research!

Pumpkin Dog Insurance plans can help cover up to 90% of eligible vet bills for conditions like Lyme Disease.

How can I prevent my dog from getting Lyme disease?

The only thing equally (if not more) important than swift treatment of Lyme disease is prevention. Here are some simple measures you can take to protect your dog’s health:

  • Inspect your dogs for ticks daily, especially if they’ve been in grassy or wooded areas. Take special care to look at, around, and in your dog’s ears and lips, on and under their tail, near their anus (ugh, we know – sorry!), and around their eyes. Also, pay attention to their feet, especially between their precious lil’ toe beans.
  • Inspect yourself for ticks often, as the same ticks that get on you may have gotten on your dog – or may try to.
  • Depending on where you live and the presence of ticks, some veterinarians can perform vector-borne disease tests (blood tests to check for heartworm and tick diseases) during annual wellness exams. Make sure to ask about this test.
  • If you live in endemic tick areas where Lyme disease is prevalent, have your dog vaccinated against Lyme disease every year. Also, be sure your veterinarian does tick checks on your dog at each visit – they may be able to find ones that you might have missed.
  • Ask your veterinarian which tick prevention methods and tools are best for your dog. There are plenty on the market, including readily available flea and tick collars. Remember, not all of them are suitable for every pet.
  • Consider a prescription tick preventative medication. Popular options include monthly oral chewable like Simparica and Simparica Trio. Topical prescription preventative medication is also an option.
  • Depending on where you live, keep your dog out of tall grasses and marshes in endemic tick areas. If possible, mow your lawn to keep your grass short.

How to remove ticks from dogs

“The biggest key here is to be very careful and quick,” Dr. Wooten advises. “This is because your dog may likely contract Lyme disease from a tick that’s been feeding for 12 hours.”

Here are some quick tips on how to do that:

  • Protect your hands from bacteria and bites with a tissue or disposable gloves.
  • Get tick removal tools like tweezers. Use this tool to immediately remove any moving ticks you find by pulling them straight up and off your dog. (While unnerving, finding a moving tick is a good sign: If the tick is moving, chances are it hasn’t been feeding yet.)
  • If the tick isn’t moving and is stuck on your dog’s skin, get your tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull it straight up and off of your pet. Be careful not to twist your tweezers, as this may rip off only part of the tick and leave its mouth on your pet and leave your dog at risk of infection.
  • If necessary, ask someone to help restrain your dog while you remove the tick.
  • Place the tick in rubbing alcohol or crush it. If you crush the tick, be sure not to get any of it on your skin. (Gross, we know!)

For more details, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get a tick off your dog.

What is the prognosis of Lyme disease in dogs?

Curious about your dog’s prognosis with Lyme Borreliosis disease? There are a few factors to consider, according to Dr. Muller:

  • Early detection is key! The prognosis is usually good if your pup is treated promptly before symptoms arise.
  • If your furry friend is already showing clinical symptoms that have caused damage to vital organs like the kidneys, heart, or nervous system, then the prognosis is poor.

Remember that every dog is unique, and their response to treatment may vary. If you suspect your dog has been infected with Lyme disease, consult your veterinarian to ensure they receive the best care possible.


Where are Lyme disease ticks most commonly found?

Lyme disease ticks are most commonly found in the northeastern and midwestern regions of the United States, but they can also be found in the west coast and pacific coast regions.

What causes Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted to humans and animals through the bite of an infected black-legged tick.

What are the typical signs of Lyme disease in dogs?

The typical signs of Lyme disease in dogs include fever, lethargy, lameness, joint swelling, and decreased appetite. Some dogs may also develop a characteristic “bullseye” rash at the site of the tick bite.

Can Lyme disease in dogs be cured?

Absolutely! Dogs can recover from Lyme disease as long as treatment is administered promptly. Take your dog to the vet for a checkup if you suspect tick bites, regardless of whether they display any symptoms.

Do certain dog breeds have a higher risk of Lyme disease?

“Yes, any dog can contract Lyme disease from an infected tick. However, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers may be more susceptible to kidney complications resulting from the disease.” Dr. Muller notes.

Can Lyme disease be transmitted from pet to pet? 

No, Lyme disease cannot be transferred from pet to pet. It can only spread through tick bites. However, if one of your pets contracts the disease, get all your pets checked, as they may have been exposed to the same ticks. You may also need to check yourself for tick bites.

Can I give my dog Lyme disease – or vice versa?

No, Lyme disease cannot be transmitted between humans and dogs. Nonetheless, if you or your dog have a tick, it’s advisable to seek medical attention. Ticks may move from one body to another without detection. If you have an open wound, there’s a slight possibility of bacteria transmission. So, take the necessary precautions to keep yourself and your pet safe.

The final word on Lyme disease in dogs

Lyme disease in dogs is serious, but you have the power to prevent it as a responsible dog owner. Creating a prevention plan, checking for ticks after a long day outside, and knowing the signs of Lyme disease can help ensure your dog’s health stays in check.

  • Sykes, J. E. (2013). Canine and feline infectious diseases. Elsevier Health Sciences.
  • Jäderlund, K., Bergström, K., Egenvall, A., & Hedhammar. (2009, May). Cerebrospinal Fluid PCR and Antibody Concentrations againstAnaplasma phagocytophilumandBorrelia burgdorferisensu lato in Dogs with Neurological Signs. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 23(3), 669–672. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1939-1676.2009.0313.x
  • Barth C, Straubinger RK, Sauter-Louis C, Hartmann K. Prevalence of antibodies against Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato and Anaplasma phagocytophilum and their clinical relevance in dogs in Munich, Germany. Berliner und Munchener Tierarztliche Wochenschrift. 2012 Jul-Aug;125(7-8):337-344. PMID: 22919928.

Pumpkin Team

Pumpkin Team

Passionate Pet Experts & Parents
We are a team of writers, designers & product developers who all double as passionate (ok, obsessive) nerds of the pet world.
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