Deer Ticks and Lyme Disease

Lyme disease comes from deer ticks bites. Learn about a tick's life stages and how Lyme disease progresses. Dog Lyme disease does not present itself in the same manner as human Lyme disease, so it's important to know the differences.

Life Cycle of Deer Ticks

The life cycle of deer ticks start in the spring when eggs hatch. Tick larvae feed on small mammals like mice, squirrels and chipmunk. If the mammal has Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria in its blood stream, the tick larva becomes infected.

A year later, the larvae turn into nymphs. These tiny ticks attach themselves to mammals like deers, dogs, cats and even humans. After feeding, the nymph turns into an adult. That adult deer tick will then feed on mammal blood until the fall when it lays its eggs. If the nymph or adult tick contains the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria and latches onto an animal host for 48 hours or more, the bacteria will pass into the animal's blood stream and lead to Lyme disease.

The key to Lyme disease is that the deer ticks must be attached to their host for 48 hours. If you pull off ticks before this time period, odds are low that any of the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria will be secreted.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease

In dogs, the symptoms of Lyme disease usually don't show up for weeks or months. At this point, some dogs develop a fever, though not every dog does. Lethargy and depression may also occur.

Of more concern is the joint pain your dog develops. He'll begin favoring limbs and some joints may look swollen or even feel warm to the touch. Your vet will test for C6 antibodies. If present, a course of antibiotics will be prescribed.

For Lyme disease, a tetracycline or penicillin is used to treat the disease. Your vet will give you a prescription for a minimum of 14 days, though many veterinarians prefer to treat the disease for a full month. After the full course of antibiotics, a handful of pets relapse and may need a longer treatment course.

If the dog's pain is severe, pain relievers may also be used, but do not give steroids. Steroids weaken the immune system making it harder to fight off the Lyme disease bacteria.

Antibiotics work within 48 hours, so if the joint pain has not diminished in this time frame, Lyme disease is usually ruled out as the problem. Other tests would then be run to uncover the health issue.

High Risk Areas for Deer Ticks and Lyme Disease

Not every state has a problem with deer tick infestations. Generally, deer ticks are most prevalent along the northeastern coast. However, deer ticks are found in other states, especially those near the Great Lakes.

Tick Prevention Methods

Topical treatments containing permethrin kill ticks within 12 hours. Frontline is another medication that controls ticks.

There are Lyme disease vaccines available. They are extremely effective at preventing Borrelia burgdorferi from entering the blood stream. However, they also are linked to a number of dogs developing all the symptoms of Lyme disease weeks or months later. Talk to your vet about the risks and advantages of the vaccine.