Caitlin UltimoHealth / Symptoms & Solutions

What You Need to Know About Lyme Disease in Dogs and Cats

Contributed by Dr. Alison Birken, owner and DVM of Victoria Park Animal Hospital.

Get the Facts About Lyme Disease in Dogs and Cats

Nothing is more terrifying to my pet parents than seeing ticks on their beloved pets. Ticks are not only irritating and bothersome for our pets, but they can also transmit diseases, such as Lyme disease.

Lyme disease in cats and dogs, just like in humans, is a serious bacterial infection that is transmitted by ticks and can cause an array of ailments. While Lyme disease treatment and prevention is usually easy and straightforward, dealing with the aftermath of the tick infestation can be more challenging.

What Is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by a bacteria species called Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme disease is transmitted by the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) and the Western black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis). When an infected tick feeds on your pet, the tick transmits the bacterial infection through their mouth and into your pet’s bloodstream.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs and Cats

The most common symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs and cats are:

  • Lameness or shifting leg lameness
  • Reluctance to move
  • Arthritis
  • Joint swelling
  • Pain in joints
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Platelet abnormalities
  • Rare heart arrhythmias
  • Kidney failure in severe cases

How Do You Test for Lyme Disease in Dogs and Cats?

Your veterinarian will take a detailed history of your pet and perform a thorough physical examination. There are now snap tests that are available to specifically test for Lyme disease in cats and dogs using just a small drop of your pet’s blood. Other diagnostics include:

  • Chemistry blood panel to evaluate kidney, liver and pancreatic function, as well as sugar levels
  • Blood parasite screening
  • Fecal tests to rule out intestinal parasites
  • CBC (a complete blood count)
  • Urine tests to screen for urinary tract infections or other diseases, to look for protein, and to evaluate the kidney’s ability to concentrate urine
  • An ECG to screen for an abnormal heart rhythm

What Is the Treatment for Lyme Disease?

Doxycycline, an antibiotic, is the most commonly utilized medicine to treat Lyme disease.  However, your veterinarian may prescribe a different antibiotic according to your pet’s unique case and circumstance. The success of treatment depends upon how quickly your pet is diagnosed and how the disease has progressed. In general, most dogs respond very well to treatment and are cured. It is always advised to follow up with your veterinarian after starting treatment for assessment and further testing.

How Can I Prevent Lyme Disease in Pets?

Proper tick preventatives and examining your pets regularly for ticks (and removing them if any are seen) are all essential to preventing Lyme disease in dogs and cats. Examining for ticks is especially important if your pet takes walks or plays in tick-infested areas such as wooded regions or tall grass.

Ticks can commonly be found on the inside thighs, in between the toes, around the ears and near the belly. It takes about 24-48 hours for a tick to transmit Lyme disease after they bite your pet, so regular examination is important in preventing disease transmission.

I recommend using a pair of tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as you can and pull upwards with steady pressure. Do not twist or jerk while pulling, as this may cause the head to break off and remain in the skin. I also like ZenPet Tick Tornado Tick Removal Tool and Four Paws The Magic Coat Flea & Tick Comb to remove ticks from pet’s skin. Cat flea and tick preventatives that I recommend are Seresto 8 Month Flea & Tick Collar for Large Dogs & Puppies, which is also available for small dogs or for cats. There is also a yearly Lyme disease vaccination available for dogs. I recommend having your pet vaccinated for Lyme disease if you live in a heavily tick-infested area and your pet is outdoors frequently.

I hope this article helps to educate all my pet parents on Lyme disease in cats and dogs and stresses the importance of monthly tick preventatives and treatment for your pets. Parasites can be a pesky problem—not only in that moment of infestation, but long after your pet was treated. As always, speak with your veterinarian if any ticks are seen on your pet, or if signs of Lyme disease in dogs and cats are visible. If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian. They are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets!

Alison Birken bio