Vet Blog

Lyme Disease and Prevention: A Pet Owner’s Guide

April 12, 2023

Climate and environment change is forcing wildlife, including the tick population, to search for new homes and food sources.

Expanding ever westward, black-legged ticks are on the hunt for their next meal, which could be your pet. Read our Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center & Pet Resort team's comprehensive Lyme disease guide to learn everything you need to know about this condition and its prevention.

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a tick-borne infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. When an infected tick bites you or your pet, they transmit bacteria, which multiplies around the site, entering the bloodstream. Because the bacteria are within the bloodstream, they can travel anywhere in the body and cause a variety of signs.

How Does My Pet Contract Lyme Disease?

While ticks transmit Lyme disease, not just any tick carries the Lyme bacterium. Although only black-legged (i.e., deer) ticks carry Borrelia burgdorferi, they can also carry many other diseases. Co-infection is common after a black-legged tick's bite, with anaplasmosis regularly developing with Lyme disease

To transmit Lyme disease, the tick must remain attached to your pet for about 48 hours. If you discover a tick on your furry pal shortly after the pest latches on, you can remove it safely before the bug transmits the Lyme bacterium to your pet.

Can My Cat Contract Lyme Disease?

In theory, your cat can get Lyme disease. However, no feline Lyme disease cases have been reported outside the laboratory setting. You, your dog, and your horse are much more likely to contract this tick-borne disease. However, your cat is still at risk for contracting other tick-borne illnesses, and can also develop an infection at the bite site.

What Signs Will My Pet Show if They Have Lyme Disease?

Bacteria travel through your pet's bloodstream, and-depending on which organ or body system the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium attacks-Lyme disease can cause various effects. Signs can take weeks or months to develop, most commonly manifesting two to five months after a tick bite. Most pets never show signs, as only 5% to 10% of affected dogs will develop obvious disease. Pets' most common Lyme disease signs include:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Lameness that alternates among the legs
  • Swollen joints
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Decreased appetite

In rare cases, Lyme disease can cause kidney failure or neurologic issues. Pets do not typically develop the hallmark bull's-eye rash that people with Lyme disease exhibit.

How Are Pets Tested for Lyme Disease?

To determine whether your pet has Lyme disease, your veterinarian will perform a blood test. However, reaching an accurate diagnosis can be tricky, as Lyme disease signs are often vague and identical to many other health conditions. In addition, a Lyme disease test can be falsely negative if your pet is tested too soon after exposure-before antibodies have developed. Despite treatment, these antibodies can linger for years in your pet, resulting in a positive test in the future, with no infection actively occurring. Your veterinarian will also test your pet for Lyme disease by evaluating their kidney function to determine if the bacteria have affected these vital organs.

How is Lyme Disease Treated in Pets?

Because Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, antibiotics are warranted. Treatment often takes three to four weeks' worth of antibiotics, so ensure you give your pet the entire prescription, even if they begin showing improvement after a few doses.

Some pets also need anti-inflammatory pain medication to soothe inflamed joints during the initial treatment stage. If your pet develops kidney disease, additional treatment will be required to support kidney function.

Although antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can make your pet feel better, bacteria can harbor in their kidneys and cause future illness. Once your pet is infected, complete Lyme disease eradication can be difficult, so always be on the lookout for potential flare-ups.

How Can I Prevent My Pet From Contracting Lyme Disease?

Ticks and the diseases they transmit can be tricky, making completely shielding your pet a real challenge. Fortunately, you have many available options to help reduce your furry pal's risk of contracting Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. To prevent your pet from contracting Lyme disease, follow these recommendations:

  • Administer year-round tick prevention - Nothing protects your pet from ticks better than veterinary-approved tick prevention that you administer year-round. Use a topical application or oral chewable product to defend your four-legged friend against fleas, ticks, and other parasites.
  • Vaccinate your dog for Lyme disease - Your dog may be a candidate for vaccination against Lyme disease, so discuss this option with your Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center of Conroe veterinarian.
  • Avoid walking in ticks' prime habitat - Ticks quest for their next victim by climbing tall brush and sticking out their legs, hoping to snag a warm body as one ventures past. To minimize tick exposure, avoid hiking through tall weeds, grass, and brushy areas.
  • Remove ticks immediately from your pet - After being outdoors, comb through your pet's fur to check for ticks before they attach. Ticks especially like the warm areas in pets' ears, between their hind legs and toes, and under their collar.

Defend your pet against blood-sucking pests by administering year-round parasite prevention. Discuss the best preventive options for your furry pal with our Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center & Pet Resort team.