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Sick From Tick Bites: Everything About Lyme Disease in Dogs

Ticks are parasites that feed on the blood of vertebrates. The parasite mainly lurks in tall grass and bushes and quickly gets on the dog’s body. Many dog owners fear the danger of ticks because the small arachnids are known to transmit diseases such as Lyme disease to humans and animals. But what exactly is Lyme disease, what are the signs, and what can be done to protect the dog? Here you will find the most important answers.

What is Lyme Disease and How Is It Transmitted?

Borreliosis, or Lyme disease to be precise, is the most common tick-borne disease. The cause of Lyme disease is the so-called Borrelia. These are spiral-shaped bacteria that occur around every third tick. The bacteria are initially located in the tick’s intestine and then migrate through the intestinal wall to the tick’s salivary gland. A tick bite transfers the bacteria to the dog. After infection, the Borrelia gradually spreads through the dog’s bloodstream.

How Do You Recognize Lyme Disease in Dogs?

In contrast to many other bacterial infections, the first symptoms of Lyme disease do not appear until some time after the tick bite. It often takes around four to six weeks for the first signs of illness to appear. The time lag and the unspecific symptoms often make it difficult to detect Lyme disease in dogs at an early stage. Typical symptoms of Lyme disease are:

  • The dog is tired, limp, and listless.
  • The sick dog has an increased body temperature up to a severe fever.
  • A ring-shaped reddening of the skin (wandering reddening) rarely forms around the puncture site. This is often covered by fur.
  • The lymph nodes are swollen.
  • The dog has no appetite and refuses to eat.
  • In later stages, inflammation of the joints can occur, which manifests itself as lameness, muscle discomfort, and avoidance of movement.
  • In severe cases, kidney failure and heart failure can occur.

Symptoms in later stages occur when the dog’s immune system has not been able to completely fight the pathogen. Symptoms, some of which are severe, can still appear months after infection. If the dog shows typical signs, especially if he is lame and has joint pain in his legs, you should see a veterinarian, even if the tick bite was a long time ago.

How is Lyme Disease Treated in Dogs?

The therapy of Lyme disease is most successful when the disease is recognized and treated early. To make a diagnosis, the veterinarian will first do a blood test. Tests of the skin and synovial fluid can also be carried out to detect the borrelia in the dog’s body. If the test for Lyme disease is positive, the veterinarian initiates treatment.

Borreliosis is treated with medication using antibiotics. The antibiotics fight the bacteria successfully in most cases, so the chances of a cure are very good. Treatment with antibiotics usually lasts three to four weeks. The dosage of the medication depends on the degree of the disease, but mainly on the size and weight of the affected dog. The dosage of antibiotics against Lyme disease set by the veterinarian must be strictly adhered to. It is important that the antibiotics are not stopped prematurely, even if the dog no longer shows any symptoms.

Is a Lyme Disease Vaccination Recommended for Dogs?

Dogs can be vaccinated against Lyme disease. The vaccination is also known colloquially as tick vaccination. However, this name is misleading, as the vaccination only protects against bacterial borreliosis, but not against the virus infection TBE, which can also be transmitted by ticks. The Standing Vaccination Commission for Veterinary Medicine (StIKo Vet) advises against Lyme disease vaccination if the dog is outdoors a lot and there is an increased risk of ticks, for example, if the dog lives in a region where many ticks carry the pathogen.

The vaccination creates antibodies against the borreliosis bacteria so that they do not get into the dog’s body when a tick bites. Ideally, the vaccination should be given in spring. Two vaccinations three weeks apart are necessary for complete protection. Puppies can be vaccinated against Lyme disease from the age of 12 weeks.

How Can You Protect the Dog From a Lyme Disease Infection?

In addition to vaccination, protection against tick bites in dogs is particularly effective. Anti-tick collars and spot-on preparations use chemical substances to ensure that ticks do not even bite the dog. If a tick bite does occur, it is important to remove the ticks quickly. If the tick is removed quickly enough, the borreliosis pathogen cannot be transmitted to the dog. Check your dog for ticks regularly after walks outdoors and remove them quickly and thoroughly.

Can Lyme Disease Be Transmitted From Dogs to Humans?

Lyme disease is not only a danger to dogs but also to humans. Unlike dogs, there is no effective vaccine to protect humans against the disease. If your dog has Lyme disease, however, you can rest assured: transmission from dog to human is as good as impossible. However, dog owners often get tick bites if, for example, the ticks sit in the dog’s fur and get on people via the dog. For this reason, too, tick protection is particularly important for dogs.

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