Canine Lyme Disease and its Symptoms & Treatment

Canine lyme disease (also known as Borreliosis) is a serious condition seen in dogs. The condition is a relatively new health problem as it was discovered as recently as 1984. Although Lyme disease has been around since the turn of the century the main cause of the condition (the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi) was only discovered in 1975.

The condition can affect people, horses, cats and cattle and is thought to be more prevalent in certain states in the US i.e. the northeastern, midwestern and west coast of America. Interestingly in the 1980’s and 90’s there were nearly 50,000 cases of people being infected with the condition and in some areas 50% of cases were of dogs infected with the condition (although many of the dogs did not actually exhibit any symptoms).

How is Lyme disease in dogs transmitted…? The only ticks that are are able to transmit the disease are ticks that are members of the Ixodes ricinus family.

In fact the Deer Tick or Ixodes scapularis (see the picture) is the most common cause of the condition. Another common culprit is the Western Black Legged Tick (Ixodes pacificus). Interestingly research has indicated that the Lone Star Tick and Pacific Coast Tick can also carry the Lyme disease causing bacterium (you can see the Lone Star Tick in the picture below). In the United States the most amount of cases (80%) of Lyme disease occur in May through until August.

What are the symptoms of canine Lyme Disease…? Although in some cases the affected dog may not exhibit any symptoms, the common signs of the condition can include…

1. Fever is a common symptom of Lyme disease.
2. You may notice that you dog is more tired than usual.
3. Lameness is another sign of the condition – the joints may be painful.
4. Swelling of the joints can occur with the disease.
5. Interestingly although a rash is very often seen in people, dogs rarely ever develops in dogs.
6. Weight loss is fairly common.
7. Your dog may lose his or her appetite completely.
8. Kidney problems can develop (in some cases).
9. Although it is very rare, in some cases of the condition dogs can develop Acute Cardiac Syndrome.

How is Canine Lyme Disease diagnosed…? Most dogs do not develop any symptoms but if they do then the most common method to diagnose the problem is through Serological blood tests however dogs may not test positive until a few weeks after exposure.

How is Canine Lyme Disease Treated…? The disease is normally treated through a combination of antibiotics including Amoxicillin and Doxycycline. These antibiotics will need to be administered for two to four weeks.

Did you Know…?

1. The name for the condition originates from ‘Old Lyme’ which is a small town in south east US.
2. The condition was initially isolated to the southeastern states in the US and was first recognized after an outbreak of what appeared to be Acute Arthritis (when in fact it was Lyme Disease).
3. Dogs can not transmit Lyme Disease to humans.
4. Although in some cases a Tick may feed on a dog after feeding on a human this is actually very rare, as once a tick initially starts feeding on a dog it won’t seek a second host.
5. A Tick must be attached to a host for 5-20 hours for Lyme disease to be transmitted.
6. If you check your dog on a daily basis then you are quite likely to be able to prevent the condition.
7. There is a vaccine that can prevent the condition (speak with your vet about this if you live in a high risk area). Bear in mind that there are over 200 strains of Borrelia burgdorferi and the vaccine may not cover all of these strains (so speak with your vet).


Ackerman, L. 1995. Owners Guide to Dog Health.

Eldredge, d, Carlson, L, Carlson, D and Giffin, J. 2007. Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook.