Stages of Lyme Disease in Dogs

Lyme disease in dogs is caused by ticks carrying the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and passed onto animals (and humans) through tick bites. Lyme disease is most prevalent in the California and the Northeast and upper Midwest of the United States, but the disease has been found in every state.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease

Symptoms generally start to appear two to five months after your dog has been bitten by a tick that carried the bacteria. It is important to note, however, that not all tick bites cause Lyme disease, though it is always important to check for ticks and to use preventative measures to stop insect bites.

Early stages: Early signs that your dog is infected with Lyme disease include lethargy, fever, loss of appetite, lameness, depression, swollen joints (which can alternate between limbs over time), sensitivity to touch, stiffness and enlarged lymph nodes.

Later stages: Chronic stiffness and inflammation in the joints and lameness may be recurrent problems later in the stages of Lyme disease. Kidney and neurological problems, and heart disease are rare side effects.

Treatment of Lyme Disease in Dogs

Lyme disease is usually treated by antibiotics for two to four weeks, though some animals will need longer treatment to prevent a relapse of symptoms. Always complete a veterinarian's treatment recommendations, even if symptoms appear to be cured.

Preventing Tick Bites

  • Keep dogs indoor during tick season if you live in an area with high occurrences of Lyme disease
  • Check your dog for ticks after spending time outdoors, even if your own backyard and for a short period of time, through daily grooming
  • Use topical products and collars to prevent insect bites, including treatments with fipronil, amitraz and permethrin (never use permethrin on cats). Always apply products according to the label or veterinarian's instructions.
  • Vaccines are available but may not be suitable for every dog. Discuss options with your vet.

How to Safely Remove Ticks

Wearing latex gloves can help prevent diseases from spreading. Using tweezers or a tick-removal instrument, pull the tick out of the dog's skin using this method.

  1. Grasp the tick by the head, making sure not to grab the body; pulling the body may cause bacteria and disease to be released from the parasite.
  2. Pull the tick out firmly in a straight upward move. Do not twist the tweezers when removing the tick.
  3. Dip the tick in rubbing alcohol, burn it in a fire or flush it down a toilet to destroy it and stop the spread of disease.
  4. If the head remains in your dog's skin you can try and get out the remaining section of the tick, but this should fall out on its own.
  5. Wash the area with warm soapy water. Keep an eye on the bite area for a few days to watch for infection or inflammation.

Only use petroleum jelly to smother the tick so it falls out on its own will also not work. Don't attempt with nail polish remover or any other chemicals.