Springtime is here, and pet owners and pets alike are outside enjoying the new greenery and sunshine. Harmful creatures, including ticks, are also enjoying the warm spring weather, waiting to feed on your pet and putting her at risk of becoming infected with tick-borne diseases. One of the most common diseases transmitted by ticks is Lyme disease.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is an illness caused by bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) that enters the bloodstream when a tick bites. The disease can affect dogs and cats, and it’s becoming more prevalent in our state, with 925 dogs testing positive for Lyme in 2018.

How is Lyme disease transmitted?

Borrelia burgdorferi can live in the gut of an infected eastern black-legged tick (deer tick) and the Western black-legged tick. The deer tick more commonly transmits the disease when an infected tick feeds on an animal and deposits the bacteria into the bloodstream. Since ticks are slow eaters, the bacteria typically do not transmit until the tick has been feeding for up to 48 hours. These tick species mostly hide in tall grasses, bushes, trees, gardens, lawns, and along wooded areas, but may also be present in areas deer and mice populate, because ticks commonly feed on these animals and other wildlife.

What are the signs of Lyme disease in pets?

Lyme disease can affect multiple organs and systems in a pet’s body, and signs can vary from pet to pet. Infected pets may not show any signs for two to five months after being infected. Dogs who have Lyme disease commonly will exhibit joint stiffness, causing lameness that may occur for three to four days and then dissipate for a few weeks, only to return.

Other signs of Lyme disease in dogs include:

  • Swollen, warm joints
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Lyme disease can cause kidney damage and kidney failure in dogs. A dog in kidney failure may experience vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, decreased appetite, and increased thirst and urination.  

Cats often don’t show signs of Lyme disease. When a cat does show disease signs, they are the same as dogs.

How can Lyme disease be prevented?

You can help decrease your pet’s risk of contracting Lyme disease by taking the following steps:

  • Avoid areas where ticks are highly populated, such as trails with tall grasses, bushes, trees, and wooded areas.
  • Keep your outdoor space manicured and free from leaf debris.
  • Examine your pet thoroughly for ticks daily, particularly after spending time outside, and remove any tick immediately.
  • Talk with our veterinary health care team about prescribing a preventive that will discourage ticks from feeding on your pet. A Lyme vaccine is also available.

Do you have questions about Lyme disease? Is your pet on regular tick prevention? Contact our office to learn how to best protect your pet from ticks and the diseases they carry.