Living in the Northeastern United States we Massachusetts residents aren’t strangers to Lyme disease. But did you know that this tick-borne disease can also cause problems in pets? Named for the Connecticut town where Lyme disease—also known as Lyme borreliosis—was discovered, this systemic condition is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. Infection occurs primarily through a bite from an affected black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, which is commonly found in wooded, marshy, or grassy areas near bodies of water. Deemed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the most commonly diagnosed vector-borne disease in the United States, Lyme disease remains a nationwide threat to people and pets, despite improvements in preventive measures. 

Question: What are Lyme disease signs in dogs?

Answer: Borreliosis signs in animals are similar to those in people, although they may be more subtle and difficult to detect. Most affected pets will develop non-specific signs such as fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, joint pain and swelling, or lameness. The typical “target” lesion or rash (i.e., erythema migrans) that people often experience at the tick bite site is not commonly seen in pets. Also, be aware that Lyme disease signs may not become evident until two to five months after infection occurs. 

Q: Can cats get Lyme disease?

A: While it is entirely possible for cats to become infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, the condition is widely uncommon in this species. This could be because many cats either stay indoors or are outside only in areas where ticks are not common, such as housing developments or villages. Lyme disease incidence in feral and non-domesticated cats may be much higher. 

Q: How can I test my dog for Lyme disease?

A: Lyme disease testing is readily available as part of a table-side rapid test that also screens for heartworm and other insect-borne diseases. All Pets Medical Center recommends this test annually for all dogs, regardless of potential exposure. However, if your dog begins showing Lyme disease signs, we may recommend repeating this test, with the caveat that the test detects antibodies to Lyme disease and false readings are possible. Therefore, additional diagnostics, including quantitative antibody testing or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests may be recommended if the disease is suspected. 

Q: How is Lyme disease treated in pets?

A: Lyme disease is a bacterial condition and therefore can be treated with a specific antibiotic. Most pets require approximately four weeks of treatment, but relapses can occur, in which case longer courses may be needed. Depending on the pet’s presentation, additional medications or treatments may be recommended to alleviate associated signs and symptoms. 

Q: Can I get Lyme disease from my pet?

A: While Lyme disease can affect humans, the only known disease transmission route is through tick bites. However, if your pet contracts Lyme disease and you suffered tick bites at the same time and place, you may possibly develop the disease, too. Consult with your physician if you are concerned you may have been exposed to Lyme disease. 

Q: Is Lyme disease preventable?

A: Thanks to modern medicine, preventing Lyme disease in pets—cats included—has never been easier. By routinely administering a tick preventive product to your pet, you can decrease their chances of ticks biting and transmitting Lyme disease and other debilitating tick-borne diseases. Owners now have the option of using collars, spot-on treatments, or long-lasting chewable tablets to protect their pets—but you must ensure you use only products labeled for cats on your feline friends. Additionally, a vaccine has been approved for dogs by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that may benefit those most at-risk. Fortunately, our pets can be well-protected against ticks. However, the same preventive measures are not available for humans, including a Lyme vaccine, so pet owners must take their own precautions to avoid tick exposure by wearing long sleeves and pants, avoiding areas where ticks like to hide, using insect repellants, and checking themselves—and their pets—for ticks when back indoors.

At All Pets Medical Center, we are passionate about protecting your pets against infectious conditions like Lyme disease. Contact us for more information, to discuss Lyme disease vaccination, to schedule your pet’s annual test, or to pick up preventive medications for your pet.