Tick-borne Illness - Lyme Disease

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Tick-borne Illness - Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is transmitted to pets through the bite of an infected tick. The most common type of tick to carry Lyme disease is the Deer Tick. The longer the tick is feeding on your pet the more likely it becomes that the Lyme disease organism, a bacterium, will be transmitted. 

Symptoms of Lyme disease

  • High fever
  • Painful limping/lameness (this can shift from limb to limb, disappear and reappear, pet appears to be "walking on eggshells”) 
  • Loss of appetite

People may develop a characteristic "bull's-eye" rash at the site of the bite within three to thirty days. However, symptoms of Lyme disease are more difficult to detect in animals because they will not show the bulls-eye rash. 

Sometimes the symptoms can be invisible and sometimes they can take up to a year to develop which is the main reason why prevention and vigilance are very important. Lyme disease in animals is often not considered until other diseases have been eliminated.

Tick Prevention

Ticks are found in grasses, shrubs, logs, and leaf litter

Ticks live on and just above the ground. When a host approaches, like you or your pet, they release from low vegetation and attach.

Ticks can be active all-year round

Contrary to myth, ticks do not die in winter. They become less active during cold months but can still attach to your pet and transmit diseases. And due to our climate here in Mt Shasta, ticks are a threat all year.

Ticks are small

Tick nymphs can be as small as the head of a pin before attaching and feeding. Brushing your pet down during and after being in high risk areas is very important as is re-checking your pet a few hours after to catch any ticks that have attached and started feeding.

You cannot get Lyme Disease from your pet

If your pet has Lyme disease, it is important to know that you cannot get it from them. It is the tick that is the common denominator in the transmission of the disease. When you check your pets for ticks, make sure you are checking yourself and your family members as well to prevent tick-borne illness.

Diagnosis of Lyme disease

There are two blood tests that may be used for confirmation. The first is an antibody test. This test does not detect the actual bacterium in the blood but does detect the presence of antibodies created by exposure to the organism. A test can be falsely negative if the dog is infected but has not yet formed antibodies, or if it never forms enough antibodies to cause a positive reaction. This may occur in animals with suppressed immune systems. Some dogs that have been infected for long periods of time may no longer have enough antibodies present to be detected by the test. Therefore, a positive test is meaningful, but a negative is not.

The second test is the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, a DNA test that is very specific and sensitive. However, not all dogs have the spirochete in their blood cells. If a blood sample is tested, a false negative may occur. The best sample for PCR testing is the fluid from an affected joint.


As with humans, animals are generally treated for Lyme disease with amoxicillin or doxycycline which can get very expensive because the medication needs to be take for a longer period of time. Your veterinarian will determine the proper treatment of your pet. 

The Lyme disease spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi, is an obligate parasite that cycles between ticks and vertebrate hosts. B. burgdorferi alters the proteins expressed on its outer surface, depending on the state of each host. Here, we used immunofluorescent antibodies to identify spirochetes that express outer surface protein D (yellow and red) and merged the image with an image of all the spirochetes labeled with an anti-B. burgdorferi antibody (green). Credit: NIAID
Posted Thursday, June 18, 2015