Guard Against Lyme: How to Protect Your Dog from Tick-Borne Diseases

dog fetching stick in tall grass

April is marked as Lyme disease prevention month because dogs are at an increased risk of contracting Lyme disease in the spring. As you and your pet explore more outdoors in the warmer weather, it's key to know more about Lyme disease and how you can prevent it from impacting your furry pal. 

What is Lyme Disease in Dogs?

Lyme disease is a common and serious ailment that affects our beloved furry friends around the world. It's a bacterial illness transmitted to dogs via bites from infected ticks, specifically, the blacklegged tick (also known as the deer tick) carrying the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. The disease can cause an array of unpleasant symptoms, such as fever, lameness due to joint inflammation, loss of appetite, and reduced energy. 

Lyme disease can be found in most parts of the United States and its geographical range has been spreading. Areas with the highest risk are the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic states, the Upper Midwest and some pockets of the West Coast. 

How Do Dogs Contract Lyme Disease?

The blacklegged tick along with other ticks are tiny critters that tend to hide in tall grass, bushes, or woods, patiently waiting for a warm-blooded host to pass by. When your dog bounds through their habitat - brushing the tall grass, sniffing the underbrush, or exploring the woods - these tiny ticks seize the chance to hitchhike on your dog’s fur. Given the opportunity, they'll latch on and, if left undisturbed, can begin transmitting the bacteria into your dog's bloodstream. 

One important notification to remember is that dogs are not a direct source of infection for other pets or humans. Lyme disease can only be transmitted from one host to another through the bite of an infected tick, not directly from dog to dog, or dog to human. 

To monitor the invisible enemy that is Lyme, the Companion Animal Parasite Council provides a map tracking positive cases of Lyme disease in dogs across the U.S. Additionally, this group makes a monthly forecast available at Pet Parasite Forecasts. This site which allows you to sign up for customized alerts for your area. Being aware of the risk in your local area can be a vital first step in your dog's Lyme disease prevention plan.

Prevention Comes First

Let's face it: nothing matters more than the health and safety of your furry companion. And, when it comes to Lyme disease, prevention is absolutely the way to go.  Through the right measures, Lyme disease in dogs becomes a preventable scenario. Here are some key steps to follow:

  • Year-round vigilance is needed as ticks can be active in any season.
  • Maintain a tick-safe zone for your pet. This primarily means avoiding areas that are tick-hubs, like areas with tall grass and densely wooded spaces.
  • Provide daily checks. Regular tick checks after outdoor time are important, even in your own yard. ¬†Perform a daily, detailed examination of your pup's coat. Places to look out for include under the collar, inside the ears, between their toes, and under the tail. If you come across any ticks, remove them immediately.
  • Use flea and tick prevention aids. Don't forget to have a talk with your vet, who can guide with prescription options like collars, topical solutions, and tablets or chews. Please keep in mind to use these products under the proper guidance of a professional veterinarian and strictly adhere to the usage instructions specified on the labels.
  • Consider a Lyme disease vaccine. If you live in an area densely populated with ticks, it's a good opportunity to bring up this option with your vet. However, not all dogs are ideal candidates for the vaccine.¬†

Keeping Your Yard Tick-Free

Creating a tick-resistant yard is an important step to prevent Lyme disease in dogs. Ticks gravitate towards tall grasses, thick brush, and wooded areas. Therefore, keeping your yard well-trimmed and removing piles of leaves or other debris can make it less attractive to these parasites. 

While maintaining your yard, pay particular attention to the areas where your pet spends the most time. Areas around dog houses, play structures, or along your dog’s favorite walking paths should be cleaned regularly and treated for ticks if necessary. 

Because ticks can travel on wildlife, consider ways to make your yard less attractive to animals like deer, raccoons, and stray cats. Installing fencing or using wildlife repellents can be helpful. 

If ticks are a significant problem in your area, you might consider using a yard spray or hiring a professional pest control service that uses pet-friendly products. Always follow product instructions carefully or seek advice from professionals to prevent harm to your dog and other pets. 

Tips to Spot and Remove Ticks

Taking the time to exam and comb through your dog's fur especially after spending time outside is well worth it. Blacklegged or deer ticks can be the size of a pinhead or can be much large after they have been feeding. The best way to identify them is with a thorough exam running your hands all over your pet's body. Ticks can feel like small bumps on the skin and can be confused with skin tags.

If you find a tick on your dog, it's important to remove it as soon as possible to reduce the risk of disease transmission. It's a good idea to wear gloves to prevent bacteria from the tick from infecting you through a cut or wound. Use a pair of fine-tipped tweezers or a special tick removal tool to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure, making sure not to twist or jerk the tick as this can cause parts of it to break off and remain in the skin. 

After removing the tick, clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, iodine, or soap and water. Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Always monitor your dog for any signs of illness following a tick bite, and consult your vet if you notice anything unusual or if you have problems removing a tick.

Common Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs

If your canine companion isn't behaving like their usual self, you might begin to wonder if something is wrong. Lyme disease can be particularly tricky to diagnose because the symptoms overlap with many other illnesses and dogs often don’t show symptoms until the disease has significantly progressed. Let's break this down and take a look at some common signs you should be vigilant about. 

The most apparent signs of Lyme disease in dogs include recurrent lameness due to inflammation of the joints, fever, and a general feeling of malaise. You might notice your pup limping or shuffling around one day, only to be fine the next. Keep a keen eye as it's not uncommon for these joint discomfort symptoms to reoccur. 

Other symptoms can be a subtle yet crucial warning. Your dog may exhibit depression, a gloomy mood that just doesn't seem to lift. Another overlooked sign is an enlarged lymph node. Be sure to check for any abnormal swelling or bumps underneath your dog's skin. Don't forget the significance of appetite. Like humans, dogs when feeling under the weather, may lose their appetite. 

Other indicative symptoms, albeit alarming, could include a stiff walk with an arched back, sensitivity to touch, and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, a dog with Lyme disease may also suffer kidney damage, so keeping a close eye on your pet's behavior and bodily functions is key. 

Remember, Lyme disease is a great masquerader. No two dogs may necessarily show the same symptoms. And the definitive signs such as fever, loss of appetite, reduced energy, lameness, stiffness, swelling of joints, and potential kidney failure may only surface in the late stages of the disease. Therefore, if your dog seems a little 'off,' showing any of these signs, do not ignore, and seek professional advice at the earliest. 

When to Visit the Vet

So, you've spotted some worrisome signs that might point towards Lyme disease and are understandably concerned. Remember, time is truly of the essence, and early intervention is vital in preventing potentially serious consequences.

Your next course of action? Reach out to your trusted veterinarian as soon as possible. They're equipped with the knowledge and resources required to conduct diagnostic tests and provide the appropriate treatment for your four-legged friend. Sure, it might be a false alarm, but a proactive approach is always better than wondering and worrying. If Lyme disease is detected early and treated promptly, your dog can start to feel relief in as little as three days.

Be sure, however, to jot down any symptoms you've noticed as well as their onset, so you can provide your vet with detailed information. This can be key in ensuring a correct and swift diagnosis. Also, mention any recent tick encounters you're aware of and remember, your dog's health should not be a guessing game. Your vet's expertise can navigate these troubled waters, helping ensure your furry family member makes a solid recovery.

Take Aways

To mark Lyme Disease Prevention Month‚ÄĒand honestly, every day‚ÄĒdedicate some time to tick checks, especially if your dog has been outdoors a lot. Ticks are masters of hide-and-seek; even a meticulous comb-through might not spot them. So, consider adding tick control products to your arsenal against Lyme disease, such as topical solutions or special collars advised by your vet.¬†

For more information about Lyme Disease in dogs, consult the American Veterinary Medical Association's Guide on Lyme Disease. 

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