Lyme Disease in Dogs and People

Understanding Canine Lyme Disease and Protecting Your Dog and Your Family

Boy and Dog Running in the Forest
Boy and Dog Running in the Forest. Getty - Digital Vision/LWA

Lyme disease is a major concern in some parts of the United States. It is contagious to both dogs and people.

What Is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a disease caused by a bacteria known as Borrelia burgdorferi. The disease is transmitted through the bite of a tick.

Lyme disease is considered a zoonotic disease because it can infect both dogs and people. It does not appear to be a major threat for cats.

How Is Canine Lyme Disease Spread?

Your dog can get Lyme disease if he is bitten by an infected tick. Canine Lyme disease is not directly contagious from one dog to another however.

What Are the Signs of Lyme Disease?

In dogs, the most common sign of Lyme disease is lameness which may shift from one leg to another. Other signs include fever, depression, lack of appetite and irritability. In more serious cases, the kidneys may become involved, causing what is referred to as Lyme disease nephritis.

How Is Lyme Disease Diagnosed?

Infection with canine Lyme disease is readily diagnosed through the use of a patient-side blood test. In some parts of the United States, the number of dogs with positive tests for Lyme disease is quite high. In the Northeast, as many as 50% of the dogs tested are found to be positive. However, of those, a large percentage (as many as 85-95%) will never show signs of disease.

How Do People Get Lyme Disease?

As in dogs, people are infected through the bite of an infected tick. Though the disease is considered zoonotic because both dogs and people can become infected, people are not typically infected directly from their dog. However, dogs and other pets can be responsible for carrying infected ticks into the home environment which may place you and your family at risk.

Dogs are considered to be a sentinel for human Lyme disease. Areas which see a large number of dogs infected with Lyme disease also tend to see larger numbers of people infected as well.

Protect Your Family and Your Dog from Lyme Disease

The most effective means of protecting both your family and your dog from infection with Lyme disease is to prevent tick infestations.

  • Check your dog thoroughly and often for ticks. Remove them promptly when found. Never handle a tick with your bare hands. Always wear gloves when removing them. Be particularly wary of checking your dog for ticks when he has been outdoors.
  • Check any cats in the household for ticks as well. Though cats are not at high risk for Lyme disease, they can become infested with ticks when outdoors.
  • Consider using one of the many monthly flea and tick preventive medications for your dog and/or cat.
  • Take precautions to help keep your living area free of ticks, such as keeping your grass mowed and removing high grasses and brush from near your home.
  • Check yourself thoroughly for ticks, particularly if you have been in a high risk area such as a wooded location or an area with high grasses. Do not forget to check your children as well.
  • Thoroughly inspect any clothing, backpacks, or other gear that have you have used for hiking or camping. Look for crawling ticks on these items before you bring them inside your home.
  • Do not assume that wooded or grassy areas are the only places where ticks can hide. It is possible for wildlife and even birds to bring ticks into your own backyard. So be vigilant in checking your pets as well as your family for ticks, particularly during the warmer months of the year.

Please note: This article has been provided for informational purposes only. If your pet is showing any signs of illness, please consult a veterinarian as quickly as possible.