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Can dogs and cats get Lyme disease?

Now that it’s springtime and the temperature is warming up, that means more time spent outdoors for both you and your pets. Unfortunately, that also means more ticks are out, too, and they’re hungry and looking for a free meal. While people are often conscientious about doing tick checks on themselves and their kids after a hike in the woods, it’s often overlooked to do so on their pets, and that’s a big mistake. Lyme disease is a big problem here in the Northeast, and not just in humans — your pets can get it, too. Dogs (and cats, though not as often) can and do get Lyme disease, though it often looks different than in people.

Lyme disease is transmitted by lxodes scapularis, also known as the black-legged or deer tick. This tick is a slow-feeding, hard-shelled tick, and if there’s any good thing about them it’s that in order to transmit Lyme disease to you or your pet, it has to be attached for usually more than 18 hours. Which is why it’s important to give daily tick checks to your pet, especially if they go outside to play often.

When a person contracts Lyme disease, they may develop a “bullseye" rash, along with flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches, fatigue, chills, nausea, and stiff joints.

Dogs and cats do not get the tell-tale bullseye rash, and their symptoms can often masquerade as something else. Plus, only about 5-10% of dogs that get infected will become symptomatic (the rest have antibodies to fight the disease off), and the symptoms might not manifest for two to six months after becoming infected.

Symptoms of Lyme in dogs and cats appear suddenly. So if you notice your pup is normal one day and can’t stand or walk the next that’s a big sign that something is wrong. Sudden-onset lameness is a surefire indication that Lyme disease is present. Lameness of limbs is caused by joint pain, and if it’s because of Lyme, it has a tendency to “shift,” meaning it may affect different limbs at different times. Lethargy is also a key feature, as well as increased thirst and urination, fever, and appetite loss. Other symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs include walking with a stiff and arched back, sensitivity to touch, and difficulty breathing. Some dogs may even develop kidney problems, especially Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and Shetland sheepdogs, who seem to be predisposed to kidney disease.

Treatment for canine Lyme disease is a long round of antibiotics. Doxycycline, the preferred antibiotic of choice, usually is administered for no less than one month. Much like with human antibiotics, the entire prescription must be taken until it’s gone, even if your dog begins showing signs of improvement (dogs will usually feel better within a few days of starting on medication). Your vet might suggest the Lyme disease vaccine after your pup has completed treatment and comes in for the follow-up appointment. Vaccination is always a good idea for pets, but keep in mind that the Lyme disease vaccine has a failure rate of about 20 percent to 30 percent, so it’s entirely possible for your dog to get Lyme disease again even after vaccination.

You probably already do have some kind of tick-control treatment for your pet, either in the form of a topical treatment or chewable. But those don’t actually repel ticks — they eliminate them after your pet has been bitten. Theoretically, that would be okay, if you were okay with your dog getting bitten by ticks in the first place. A tick needs to stay attached for at least 18 hours before they transmit disease. But where the problem lies is that sometimes ticks will hitch a ride on your pet while out in your yard and not take a bite right away. They can be carried inside your house, or climb on your kids of loved ones while they’re playing in the yard. This is a very real and scary scenario, and the only way to have peace of mind that it won’t happen is by eliminating ticks in on your property all together.

Mosquito Squad is the most trusted name in mosquito and tick control, and our tick control methods can eliminate your yard’s tick population up to 90% to keep both your pets and family safe for three weeks at a time. Call us at 603-380-4541 for a free consultation.

For more information on Lyme disease in dogs, check out this video from CBS News, whose expert veterinarian even recommends a barrier spray from a pest control company:

(In the meantime, learn the 6Cs to learn how to make your yard less tick-friendly.)

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