Signs of Lyme Disease in Dogs
Updated: May 5
After a cold winter of being stuck inside, your dog is itching to stretch his legs and run around outdoors for some exercise and adventure! Similarly, young, poppy seed-sized deer ticks called nymphs that have been growing and lying dormant all winter are now active, hungry and seeking a host. Before you let your dog roam around in tall grass or wooded areas, it’s important to protect them from Lyme disease and to know the signs and symptoms to look for that your pet might have been infected.
How would your dog contract Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is transmitted to a dog when it is bitten by a certain species of tick that attaches to the host and feed. According to the American Lyme Disease Foundation, in areas of the northeast and upper Midwest, 25% of nymphs have been found to carry Lyme disease. Ticks that carry Lyme disease are especially likely to be found in tall grasses, thick brush, marshes and woods – they latch onto your dog when he passes by.
Finding a tick on your pet.
A tick can transmit the disease once it has been attached to your pet for 36 to 48 hours, so frequent inspection for ticks and removal can reduce the risk of disease transmission. Look especially on the feet (and between their toes), on lips, around eyes, ears (even inside ears), near the anus and under the tail. If you do find a tick, use a pair of tweezers to grab it as close to the skin as possible, then gently tug until it comes loose. If the tick appears to be engorged and you’re in an area where Lyme disease is of concern, make an appointment to see your vet.
Know the signs of Lyme.
Unfortunately, Lyme disease is a fairly common illness in canines. Symptoms may come and go and can vary from mild to severe. They often mimic other conditions. In severe cases, dogs may also develop heart disease, central nervous system disorders, or kidney disease.
Here are a few of the most common signs to watch out for:
Fever: Most dogs with Lyme disease will have a slight fever. The normal temperature for a dog is between 98.5 and 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit. You can check or pet’s temp at home with a digital thermometer. Put a little bit of lubricant on the end of the thermometer and gently insert the end into the dog’s rectum. Note: you only need to insert the thermometer in about one centimeter to get a reading. If you’re not comfortable doing this on your own, contact your vet for an appointment.
“Bulls-eye” lesion on the skin: The lesion is called erythema migrans. This can occasionally be seen in dogs, but not always and can also be an unreliable indicator due to the presence of fur on your pet.
Enlarged Lymph Nodes: Lyme disease can cause the lymph nodes to become enlarged. This is a result of the immune system gearing up to fight the invader. Lymph nodes come in pairs and are roughly the size of a kidney bean. There’s one under each side of the jaw, one in front of each shoulder, one in each armpit, one on each side of the groin, and one behind each knee.
Decreased appetite: Most dogs love to eat, so a serious change in appetite or refusing food altogether is a cause for concern.
Lameness affecting more than one leg: This effect is called “shifting leg” lameness. When Lyme disease spreads throughout the system and attacks the cartilage in multiple joints, it causes something called nonerosive polyarthritis. The cartilage isn’t wearing away from the disease but causing severe inflammation within the joint.
Swollen Joints: How do you recognize a swollen joint? Being familiar with your dog’s body is important with this one. Know what they normally look and feel like to be able to identify when something is off. Swollen, inflamed joints look different than normal, unaffected joints. They’ll sometimes feel warm to the touch or when you press on them with a finger, you’ll notice they have a little give to them or are squishy.
Kidney failure: In deadly cases, the end result of Lyme disease is kidney failure. At this point, dogs are extremely sick and often cannot be cured.
If your dog is showing signs of Lyme disease, bring them into your preferred Animal Health Center clinic immediately. We diagnose Lyme disease based on the signs it’s showing and any history indicating your dog was possibly exposed to ticks. A blood test can also confirm that your dog was exposed to the bacterium after a period of time.
Prevention is key.
Don’t wait until your pet is showing symptoms to worry about Lyme disease! Taking measures to prevent Lyme disease will save you money, time and peace of mind down the line. Be sure your pet is up-to-date on their Lyme disease vaccination, and continue to give them their veterinarian-approved flea and tick medication throughout the year. While this medication won’t act as a barrier that stops a tick from getting on your pet, it will kill or incapacitate the tick so the Lyme disease bacterium cannot be transmitted to your pet.
Knowing what symptoms to look for is a great step towards protecting your pet from Lyme disease. Now that you have the information, you’ll be able to prevent and/or help your pet sooner. Get prepared for spring by stopping in today to any Animal Health Center clinic for 10% off the Lyme disease vaccine.