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From The Vet: What Every Dog Owner Needs To Know About Lyme Disease

Lyme’s disease is found in the canine species. It is caused by the bacteria, Borrelia Burgdorferi. Some scary things have been in the press about Lyme’s disease recently and clients ask me about it frequently. It is important to know the facts, so you are frightened about truly frightening things and confident about others. I have listed some things that help me gauge my level of concern about Lyme’s disease in my own dogs.

According to the CDC, the disease does not occur nationwide and is concentrated in the northeast and upper Midwest. In fact, in humans, 95% of confirmed Lyme’s disease cases were reported from only 14 states. You should definitely be less afraid if you do not live in the Northeast or upper Midwest.


Only a small percent of dogs that are exposed to the causative agent will actually become ill, so even if you do live in the endemic areas, don’t panic. Epidemiological studies do indicate that the endemic region might be expanding, so it is recommended to have all pets on effective and safe tick control products.

Good news for humans is that tests indicate that dogs may be able to serve as a sentinel species for human infection, which means in areas where dogs are frequently found to be exposed on serological testing, the humans are at risk as well. So tracking dog exposure with screening tests may help us predict if the disease is spreading to new areas.

A tick must feed for over 12 hours to transmit the disease. This means that dogs at high risk for tick infestation should be examined for the presence of ticks twice daily even if you use tick products. I have been pleased to only find dead and detached ticks on my own dogs for the last two years (Obviously I have them on a tick control program).


The efficacy of current vaccines is controversial. I do not vaccinate my own pets or my patients. I do not live in an endemic zone. Ask your own veterinarian how he or she feels about Lyme’s vaccination for your dogs.

The consequences of Lyme’s Disease when it does become an active infection for a dog or a person can be significant. Dogs are less likely to experience the long term effects that have been documented for humans. Symptoms of Lyme’s Disease in dogs include fever, lameness, stiff joints and kidney effects. Any of these clinical signs should be investigated by a veterinarian regardless of the risk of exposure to Lyme’s Disease. Together you and your vet can discuss the testing that is appropriate for your dog’s indications and while you are there, you can pick up some tick control products!


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Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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