Prevention of Lyme Disease in Dogs

By Mariah Donovan

Prime time

Spring is approaching – flowers are blooming, grass is growing, and ticks are crawling! Our tick season here in Maine generally runs from April to November, but with our weather-whiplash it wouldn’t be unheard of for ticks to sprout up as early as March. If you’re planning on traveling, or you are only a part-time Mainer, check out the map from the American Kennel Club to keep your critters tick-free! 

Prevent, prevent, prevent

As is the case with most matters, prevention is key when it comes to Lyme disease. There is a Lyme vaccine for dogs, with effectiveness hanging around 80%. 80% is not 100%, so taking other measures are important. Other steps you can take are monthly tick preventatives, including chewable, collars, and topical treatments. As with any treatments you give your dog, make sure to consult with your vet about the best solution for your pup

Image by the American Kennel Club
Visitors NOT welcome

While it’s usually standard practice to be a gracious host, those rules don’t apply to creepy crawlies. We can boot ticks out at the root of the source – the yard. Now the tick we want to avoid because of Lyme is the black-legged, more commonly called the “deer tick”. These little yucksters can carry borrelia bacteria, which causes Lyme disease. All kinds of ticks can spread diseases other than Lyme, so it’s best to avoid them at all costs! Put a big, fat, metaphorical “VISITORS NOT WELCOME” sign in your yard by following these tips from the CDC:

  • As tedious as it is, mowing your lawn frequently and keeping the grass short gives ticks less of a height advantage.
  • Everyone’s favorite chore – raking! Rake those leaves up. Underneath the leaves is a dark, moist tick playground.
  • Spraying pesticides where your pets live may sound undesirable, but there are safe, organic alternatives!
  • Fences help keep out other wild animals, which reduces traffic of ticks.
  • Trash and debris in your yard are the perfect hiding places for these little pests. Clean up especially after winter when things are thawing and may have moved during winter storms.
  • If you can, place a 3-ft wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to restrict access to traveling ticks. 

Make sure to check your dog for ticks after ANY time outdoors!

Symptoms in the Lyme-light

Despite diligence and care, sometimes a tick can slip through the cracks and infect your precious pup. If you find a tick on your dog, there are some things you’ll need for a safe removal. This includes gloves, tweezers/tick removing device, disinfectant, and isopropyl alcohol. Before yanking off a “tick”, make sure it’s not a skin tag or something else attached to your pup – ouch! 

When removing a tick, try your best to get as close to the skin as possible and pull smoothly, and straight out – don’t rush! Any pieces of the tick left behind could cause an infection. Once you have the tick out, place it in a closed container filled with isopropyl and note the date and time you found the tick. If your dog starts to show signs of Lyme disease, your vet may want to test the tick. With clean hands, put a dab of antiseptic on the affected area and keep an eye on the area you pulled the tick from. If it continues to be red or irritated, or looks infected, contact your vet. Other symptoms of Lyme to look out for include lameness that lasts for multiple days, swollen joints, fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and loss of appetite. Luckily, Lyme disease for dogs can be cured with a course of antibiotics that continues for at least 4 weeks, but some dogs may need continued treatment. 

As always, with any questions or concerns about your dog or Lyme disease, contact your vet for recommendations and treatments!