Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness that affects pets and humans alike. Although once confined to the northeastern United States, Lyme disease has come to the midwestern states through migrating wildlife and climate change.

The Adamson Veterinary Services team wants to ensure you know everything necessary to protect your pet and yourself from this rising health threat. The following guide is designed to help you make strategic choices to ensure you and your pet stay safe while enjoying the great outdoors.

Lyme disease—a tick-y issue for pets

Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacteria transmitted by the black-legged tick or deer tick (i.e., Ixodes scapularis) and a few other species. Although ticks spread Lyme disease to pets and humans through their bite, they are not the primary cause but a carrier (i.e., vector) that transmits the bacteria from one species (e.g., white-tailed deer) to another. 

Lyme disease-infected mammals experience varying illness signs or may be asymptomatic. Severely affected pets may experience chronic pain and joint, kidney, heart, and nervous system damage. If the kidneys are involved, the disease may be fatal.

Although feline Lyme disease has never been confirmed outside a laboratory setting, Adamson Veterinary Services recommends protecting your cat with year-round parasite preventives.

Lyme disease season for pets

Ticks are most active during early spring and late fall, but may emerge from dormancy on mild winter days, so Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are a year-round threat to pet health. Adamson Veterinary Services recommends year-round parasite prevention for all pets, including exclusively indoor pets, and annual screening tests for dogs. These measures ensure appropriate protection against tiny nymph ticks in the spring—which can be easy to miss with the naked eye—and adult ticks in the spring and fall. 

Lyme disease signs in pets

Some pets with Lyme disease may appear completely healthy and show no visible signs, while others may experience pronounced illness. However, because signs are varied and may not appear for two to five months after exposure, misdiagnosis can occur.

Unlike humans, pets do not experience a bullseye-shaped rash. Classic Lyme disease signs in dogs include:

  • Intermittent shifting-leg lameness
  • Painful or swollen joints
  • Stiffness (i.e., pets appear to be walking on eggshells)
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Appetite loss
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Vomiting and weight loss

If your pet is showing Lyme disease signs, prompt testing and treatment at Adamson Veterinary Services can stop disease progression, relieve inflammation, reduce pain, and prevent irreversible harm.

Lyme disease diagnosis for pets

When you visit Adamson Veterinary Services, your pet will receive a complete nose-to-tail examination to assess their overall health and identify clinical signs that could be contributing to their illness. If your veterinarian suspects Lyme disease or another tick-borne illness, they will recommend a simple in-house test to screen your pet’s blood for specific antibodies (i.e., proteins) that indicate exposure. Additional blood work or urine testing may be necessary to check your pet’s organ function.

Lyme disease treatment for pets

Fortunately, Lyme disease treatment is a relatively straightforward—but lengthy—process. All dogs require a four-week antibiotic regimen to clear circulating bacteria from the body, and will need additional prescription medication four weeks later if the infection is still present. Dogs with complications, such as reduced kidney function, may require more extensive therapies or a specialist referral.

Although Lyme disease can be successfully treated, their infection can recur (i.e., relapse), or they can be re-infected by a different tick. 

Lyme disease prevention in pets

Lyme disease prevention begins by ensuring that ticks do not bite and feed on your pet. These tiny arachnids are inescapable, so tick prevention requires ongoing vigilance and a multi-step plan, which includes:

  • Year-round flea and tick prevention — Veterinarian-recommended parasite preventives are the safest, most effective method for stopping ticks from harming your pet. These products have a rapid speed-of-kill and work before disease is transmitted.
  • Annual testing for dogs — Yearly tick-borne disease screening tests can identify hidden or early infections.
  • Lyme disease vaccination for high-risk dogs — The Lyme disease vaccine provides additional protection for dogs who are frequently outdoors in wooded or grassy areas. 
  • Environmental management — Deter ticks from your yard by keeping grass cut short, clearing brush, and removing wildlife feeders that may attract deer.
  • Tick removal — Check your pet for ticks after playing outside, especially during tick season. Follow safe tick removal practices to ensure complete removal and prevent self-exposure. If you are bitten by a tick, contact your primary care provider.

Lyme disease is an emerging threat in the Midwest, but increased pet owner awareness and year-round prevention can help keep the disease in check. Ensure your pet is safe from tick-borne diseases by staying up-to-date on their yearly wellness visits and screening tests at Adamson Veterinary Services. If your pet isn’t currently receiving parasite prevention, contact our team to schedule an appointment and receive personalized recommendations for your pet.