Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Lyme Disease in Dogs


Pet Column for the week of May 2, 1994


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Linda March
Information Specialist

When the weather gets warmer, people and their pets go outdoors more often. Walking in
the park or camping are activities many people enjoy. Ticks are pests we may not think
about as we are soaking up nature's beauty, but they are the vector that transmit Lyme
disease to dogs.

According to Dr. Lynelle Johnson, a veterinarian formerly at the University of Illinois College of
Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, "Humans, dogs, cats, horses, and cows can all become
infected with Lyme disease, but it is seen in humans and dogs most frequently."

Two life stages (the nymph and the adult) of the small, hard-shell tick of the Ixodes species
are responsible for transmitting a spirochete organism that causes this disease. The nymphal
stage of the tick is active in the spring of the year and the adult lives until early fall. In areas
where this tick is abundant, one must be on the watch from April through September or
October.

"Researchers think it is length of attachment time as opposed to frequent exposure, that
plays a role in transmission of the disease," notes Dr. Johnson.

Signs of Lyme disease in dogs are fever, unwillingness to eat, sore joints, a stiff gait, or
lameness that may shift from one leg to the other. The lameness may be sudden in onset.
Keep in mind that many diseases exhibit these same signs. If your dog shows these signs,
see your veterinarian. Lyme disease responds within two days to treatment with antibiotics,
but the animal should be kept on the medicine for two to four weeks to ensure a cure.

Dr. Johnson says, "The best prevention is tick dips and sprays. There are also collars, but
they only protect the head and neck area of the dog."

You can also feel the adult tick on your dog. If you find a tick on your pet, grasp it with a
tweezers close to the animal's body and gently pull the tick straight out. Be careful not to
crush the tick to avoid contact with its body fluid. Don't try to burn the tick or put
petroleum jelly on it.

There is a vaccine against Lyme disease available, but its effectiveness is controversial. It
will cause the animal to show a titer to the disease in its blood. This takes away an
important tool for the veterinarian to use in diagnosing the disease. Vaccination may result in
a disease that mimics Lyme disease or more serious side effects.

Some dog breeds seem more likely to get this disease. Where you live or your lifestyle may
also mean exposure to the tick is more likely. Lyme disease is uncommon in Illinois, while in
Wisconsin it is more of a problem. If you have any questions about Lyme disease, see your
veterinarian.