Lyme Disease in Dogs- an Overview

Most cases of Lyme disease in dogs occur in wooded areas in the Northeast, upper Midwest (including Wisconsin and Minnesota), northern California, and the Pacific Northwest.  The infection is transmitted by ticks of the Ixodes genus.  Click here to learn more about Ixodes ticks.  The infectious agent that causes Lyme disease in dogs is Borrelia burgdorferi.  In order for a dog to develop Lyme disease, the tick must bite a dog and stay attached to the dog for at least 50 hours.  During the time the tick is attached to the dog it transmits the infection into the skin.  People do not transmit Lyme disease to dogs, or vice versa.  Tick control on the dog is an effective way to to prevent Lyme disease in dogs.  There are several effective tick control products that can be used for dogs.

Ticks and Lyme Disease in Dogs

Adult deer tick, Ixodes scapularis. Photo by Scott Bauer

Incidence of Lyme disease in dogs

Although many dogs are bitten by ticks it is rare that a dog develops Lyme disease.  This is because there are different types of ticks and not all ticks carry the infectious agent, Borrelia burgdorferi.  If a dog is bitten by an Ixodes tick, that is carrying Borrelia burgdorferi, the dog is still not assured of developing Lyme disease.  The tick must stay attached to the dog for at least 50 hours in order to transmit the infectious agent.  If that occurs some dogs will still not develop Lyme disease.  In fact, evidence shows that the percentage of dogs developing Lyme disease is about 5 to 10% compared with the frequency of exposure in endemic areas being about 75%.  The reason for the difference is unknown at this time.  There is evidence that Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are more prone to Lyme disease then other breeds. Infection causing Lyme disease in dogs

Infection causing Lyme disease in dogs

If a tick that carries Borrelia burgdorferi bites a dog and stays attached to the dog for more then 50 hours that dog might develop Lyme disease.  This does not mean that the dog will become sick immediately.  The infection that causes Lyme disease in dogs occurs over a 2 to 6 month period after the tick bite.  After transmission, the infectious agent will proliferate in the dog’s skin, where the tick bit the dog.  After the infection grows in the skin for a period of time, the infection travels throughout the body.  The infection can evade a dog’s immune system for a long period of time.  As the infection travels throughout the dog’s body the symptoms of illness can start to occur.

Worried that your dog may have Lyme disease? Click here to learn about the symptoms of this disease in the dog. To learn about tests that can diagnose Lyme disease, click here. To learn about vaccinating your dog against Lyme disease, click here.

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Dr Peter Nurre

Peter Nurre, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (internal medicine) is a board- certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. His professional interests include internal medicine and cardiology.

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