We may be compensated if you purchase through links on our website. Our Reviews Team is committed to delivering honest, objective, and independent reviews on home products and services.More

Lyme Disease in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatment

Author Icon By Stephanie Koncewicz Updated 02/13/2024

Lyme disease, also known as Lyme borreliosis, is a tick-borne disease that has long-lasting effects on animal health, especially in dogs. If left untreated, the disease can cause kidney failure and death. Pet owners must learn to recognize Lyme disease and protect their dogs from infections. We’ve outlined common Lyme disease symptoms in dogs, typical treatments, and protection tips.

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial illness that can affect both humans and animals. It’s commonly found in the Northeast but is also prevalent in the upper Midwest and Pacific coast. 

Lyme disease in dogs is caused by the spirochete bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. It’s transmitted through an infected tick’s bite. The virus enters the bloodstream and affects internal organs and systems. Early symptoms include appetite loss, lameness, and nervous system issues. Lyme disease can cause serious health complications, including kidney failure and death, if left untreated.

Deer ticks (or black-legged ticks, Ixodes scapularis) are the primary transmitters and live in wooded areas of the Northeastern, North-central, and mid-Atlantic regions. Western black-legged ticks (Ixodes pacificus) are known to spread the disease on the West Coast. Although black-legged are the most common transmitters, other ticks can also carry Lyme disease.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease

In pets, Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose since the common symptoms mimic other illnesses. Below is a list of clinical signs of Lyme disease in dogs:

  • Appetite loss
  • Fatigue
  • Hypersensitivity to touch
  • Lameness in one or more legs
  • Nervous system issues
  • Stiffness or joint pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Weight loss

Kidney disease can also be a potential symptom of untreated Lyme disease. Take your dog to the vet immediately if you notice any of these signs.

Lyme Disease Diagnosis

Your vet will use two blood tests to check for Lyme disease: the C6 and Quantitative C6 (QC6). The C6 is an antibody test designed to detect the protein “C6,” which is unique to the Borrelia bacteria. These antibodies appear about four weeks after the initial tick bite. C6 antibodies may appear before the dog shows any physical signs of illness.

If the C6 test is positive, the vet will complete the QC6 test to determine antibody levels. Your dog will need antibiotic treatment if the antibody levels are high and physical symptoms present. If there are no signs of illness and the levels are low, antibiotics may not be necessary. Additional blood and urine tests may be conducted to test kidney function and signs of kidney disease.

Treatment of Lyme Disease

Treatment options for Lyme disease include antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications. Vets will prescribe doxycycline for a four-week antibiotic treatment. Hospitalization may be necessary in some cases. If caught early, most dogs make a full recovery. However, some dogs may experience long-term health problems even with treatment.

How To Prevent Lyme Disease in Dogs

Prevention is the best way to protect your dog from Lyme disease. This means using tick prevention products and performing regular tick checks. Here are some tips to keep your furry friend protected.

  • Check for ticks daily: Dog owners should avoid areas where infected ticks are known to live. Ticks commonly hide in tall grass, making dogs perfect targets. After walking in wooded areas, check your pet and yourself for ticks. Look at your dog’s eyes, ears, between the toes, and around the tail for any signs of attached ticks. Your vet can also check for ticks during regular exams. 
  • Consider flea and tick medication: Veterinary-approved flea and tick medications can be given monthly to protect your dog’s health. Consult your veterinarian for the best options for your dog. 
  • Get your dog vaccinated: If you live in an area where Lyme disease is prevalent, vaccination may be the best option. It gives your pet the antibodies needed to fight Lyme disease. Lyme vaccines can prevent symptoms but don’t work with every breed. Your vet can determine your dog’s eligibility
  • Have your pet tested: Have your dog tested for Lyme disease yearly if you live in an area where the disease is common. Vets can treat Lyme disease if caught early.
  • Remove attached ticks: Proper tick control dramatically reduces risk and gives pet owners peace of mind. If a tick is attached to your pet, use tweezers to remove it from your dog’s skin. Immediate tick removal will reduce the chances of your pet contracting Lyme disease.

Our Conclusion

Lyme disease is a serious and potentially fatal illness affecting dogs of all ages, breeds, and sizes. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to preventing the disease from progressing and causing serious health problems. Dog owners should take preventive measures to keep their pets protected. If your dog shows any signs of Lyme disease, take them to the vet immediately. If your dog is covered by pet insurance, it may help reduce some associated costs.

FAQ About Lyme Disease in Dogs

Can dogs usually recover from Lyme disease?

Dogs can recover from Lyme disease if detected early and treated. Symptoms can disappear in as little as three days. However, even after proper treatment, some dogs may remain positive for Lyme disease for the rest of their life. 

How can I prevent my dog from getting Lyme disease?

You can prevent Lyme disease by avoiding areas prone to ticks, especially black-legged ticks. For example, if you walk through grassy or wooded areas, check your dog for ticks and remove them immediately. Tick medication and Lyme vaccines may also protect your pet. Check with your vet to see if these long-term solutions are suitable for your dog. 

What are the early signs of Lyme disease in dogs?

Early signs of Lyme disease include joint pain and swelling, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, lameness, and appetite loss.

Can humans catch Lyme disease from dogs?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Lyme disease is not transferable between humans and dogs. Unfortunately, infected ticks can be brought into the home by your dog.