Lyme Disease in Dogs – Risks, Symptoms and Treatment.


In another of our Holiays4Dogs articles on canine health, this time we take a look at Lyme disease in dogs. With many more households owning pets, an increase in outdoor activity and an increasing number of ticks – the hosts of Lyme disease – there is a real risk of pets (and people) contracting this nasty disease. Keep reading for important information.

What causes Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is an unpleasant illness spread by infected ticks. As well as affecting dogs, it also affects people, horses and cats. Lyme disease is also known as Borreliosis and is caused by a bacteria (Borellia) which attacks tissue in the body.

Lymph nodes and joints are commonly affected, but it can also affect organs in the body, such as the kidneys.

There are several different species of ticks in the UK. The main carrier of Lyme disease are sheep ticks – otherwise known as the deer tick, wood tick, or castor bean tick. The hedgehog tick can also be a vector for the spread of Lyme disease.


Ticks have several life-stages. Once hatched, they will seek a host. To do this, they wait in low vegetation for a host to pass by. The tick can detect movement and heat from a passing host and will latch onto it by using hooks on its legs.

The parasite will then crawl onto the host and look for a feeding site. The tick has strong mouthparts capable of cutting into skin. It also has a barbed tube called a hypostome, which anchors into the flesh of the host.

The tick then draws blood up from the host through the tube. It is during this process of feeding that the tick can ingest the Borrelia bacteria from an infected host. Every time the tick feeds on a new host, it can transmit the bacteria to the bloodstream.

Ticks are very tiny, usually reddish-brown in colour before they begin feeding, so they can be quite hard to spot.  Brushing your dog is always a good idea if you have been walking in long grass, through livestock fields, or woodland.

How common is Lyme disease in dogs in the UK?

As pet ownership increases and tick numbers rise in the UK, there is a greater risk of companion animals, as well as  people, being affected by Lyme disease.

Since 2005 there has been a general increase in the numbers of cases of Lyme disease in people. This is attributed to increased awareness, improved diagnostics and changes in wildlife populations and habitats. Not all ticks will carry Borrelia bacteria and the percentage of those that do, will vary from area to area.

It is often believed that ticks are only a summer problem. However, they can be active at other times of the year, including mild winters, so it is important to be vigilant for ticks all year round.

Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs.

In the early stages following a tick bite, owners may not detect any initial symptoms of Lyme disease. However, owners may notice;

  • Swelling at a bite site.

  • Fatigue or fever.

  • Swollen lymph nodes near the site of the bite.

It is possible for dogs not to show any signs of illness before a two, to sixth month, incubation period has passed. As the disease develops, however, owners are likely to see more symptoms becoming apparent in the affected dog. In the weeks, or months, following an initial bite, owners may see that the dog is suffering from;

As the illness progresses, it can become more serious and there is the danger that the disease may cause kidney damage.


Mild cases of Lyme disease in dogs can be treated with antibiotics. This is why it is important to catch tick bites early. More severe cases may need intravenous fluids and pain relief and dogs can take several weeks to recover.

In general, the prognosis for Lyme disease  in dogs is reasonable, as long as the dog has not suffered other complications, such as kidney damage. It is always best to be vigilant when walking in the countryside with your dog. The next section of the article will explain how to limit the risk of tick bites.

Preventing Lyme disease in dogs.

Consider using a flea and tick repellent product for your dog. Ticks love fields, long grass and wooded areas so, where possible, avoid allowing your dog to push through undergrowth where ticks may be lurking.

Avoid areas where sheep, or deer, are grazing. Keep an eye on your dog for signs of Lyme disease.

If your dog appears to be un-well and you suspect a tick bite, it is important to take him, or her, to a vet as soon as possible.

Grooming to remove ticks.

Once home from a walk, always give your dog a good comb and check yourself and your own clothing for signs of ticks. If you spot a tick on your dog, remove it as quickly as possible.

However, it is important to remove the tick safely and effectively. You can buy special tools from high street pet stores which will safely remove ticks, without leaving the mouthparts in the dog’s skin. If this does happen, it can cause a nasty infection.

Plastic tick hooks will remove the parasite easily and safely. The gadget hooks under the tick’s body. A twisting motion will remove the tick in one go. Tick hooks are cheap to buy and are a great addition to your dogs First Aid Kit.

Can people catch Lyme disease from dogs?

There is no evidence which points to people being able to catch Lyme disease from dogs.  However, if a tick bites you, you may be at risk.  Pets can put people into close contact with ticks, by bringing them into the house and garden.


Many pet dogs are likely to suffer from tick bites at some point in their lives, but the risk is usually low for the dog to have serious health problems as a result.  However, it is wise to take preventative measures to reduce the chance of your dog coming into contact with ticks. Click here for an effective natural remedy to help prevent ticks.