Lyme disease in 5 questions

July 19, 2023

Even though the media is currently focusing less on Lyme disease—as COVID-19 takes centre stage—this doesn’t mean that it no longer exists!

Lyme disease, which can affect people as well as your dog, has been spreading in Canada for several years. Is your 4-legged companion at risk? What are the symptoms and treatment options? Here are 5 important questions and answers.

How do dogs get Lyme disease?

First of all, Lyme disease isn’t caused by a virus—like the sadly famous corona—but by a genus of bacteria called Borrelia. The bacteria wouldn’t be as dangerous if it wasn’t for its fearsome partner: Ixodes scapularis, the renowned black-legged tick. As it feeds on the blood of an infected rodent or other mammal, the tick accidentally transmits the bacteria to its next victim, which may well be your dog!

How does Lyme disease affect dogs?

After an outdoor walk, if your dog has contaminated ticks latched onto his skin, there’s a possibility that your dog may develop Lyme disease within 2 to 6 months. If this turns out to be the case, your dog will have clinical signs, such as limping caused by polyarthritis and joint inflammation, fever, lethargy and loss of appetite. In rare, but more serious cases, the kidneys may become affected. Large puppies may sometimes have swollen glands. But only 5 to 10% of dogs will actually get sick.

How to test for Lyme disease?

Diagnostic tests which identify contamination by a Borrelia bacteria have been available for the past few years. If infection is suspected, whether your dog has clinical signs of disease or not, your veterinarian may suggest that your dog be tested. If the results are positive, other tests will be advised to ensure that your dog’s kidneys have not been impacted. Some veterinarians, who practice in high-risk regions or places close by, may recommend your dog be tested on a yearly basis as a preventive measure.

How to treat a dog with Lyme disease?

The good news is that—in most cases—joint symptoms tend to clear up by themselves, without medical intervention. However, should symptoms persist, pain medication and antibiotics may be necessary in the short or long range.

The probability of contracting the disease varies in function with the number of ticks present on your dog’s skin and the number of days they’ve been there. We know that puppies are more likely to develop clinical signs of disease.

How to prevent Lyme disease?

Certain regions and sites, such as woods and fields, present a greater risk. But ticks can also be carried by birds, squirrels and groundhogs that frequent long grass close to your home. That’s why it’s a good idea to examine your dog with a fine-toothed comb following each outing. If you discover a tick, remove it carefully (wearing gloves and using custom-designed tweezers or hook) in the 24 to 36 hours following implantation. Note that a tick must be attached to its host for 36 to 48 hours to transmit bacteria through its saliva.

For better results, preventive medicine is strongly recommended. This will kill ticks as they ingest blood—before they get the chance to spread the Borrelia bacteria. Be sure to seek the advice of your veterinarian when acquiring this type of medicine, as the mode of action and efficacy will vary from product to product.

Lastly, a vaccine to prevent Lyme disease is also an option. Its use will be advised based on several factors, including the prevalence of disease in your area, risk of contamination and your dog’s health and/or seropositive status.


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