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Can Dogs and Cats Get Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a hot topic right now as it's on the rise in both humans and their pets. Ticks that used to be found only in the northeast—particularly in Connecticut—are spreading throughout the US due to warming temperatures associated with climate change.

What is Lyme and how is it transmitted?

Lyme disease is a tick-borne infection that affects humans and other mammals. This potentially deadly disease is caused by a spiral-shaped bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) that is transmitted from the bite of an infected deer tick in the South, Midwest and Eastern states, and the Western black-legged tick on the West Coast. Dormant in the cold months, ticks become active in spring and summer when they go in search of a blood meal.

Ticks do not hop from host to host like fleas. Instead, they crawl to the tips of grasses, leaves and vegetation to wait for their host to pass by.

Like humans, dogs are very susceptible to the disease. But for reasons that are not fully understood cats are not nearly as susceptible and have only been infected in a laboratory setting. 

How to detect a tick on your dog or cat

Deer ticks are very small and can be difficult to see, especially in thick fur. The most common places for a tick to attach are the ears, neck, face and head, but they are attracted to heat and can attach themselves anywhere. According to PetMD, the five places you should look are in and around the ears, the groin area, between the toes and armpits, around the eyes and eyelids and under collars.

To check these areas closely, run your hands over your pet's entire body to check for bumps or swollen areas. If you find a suspect bump you should first verify that it is a tick before attempting removal.

Is there a vaccination against Lyme disease?

As of yet there is not. But a vaccine for humans, developed in the US, is now being tested in Germany has shown signs of being effective. 

What are the symptoms of a Lyme infection?

If you live in a tick-infested area or suspect your pet may have suffered a tick bite you can verify infection with a blood test administered by your vet. Symptoms of Lyme disease include:

  • sensitivity to touch
  • swelling around lymph nodes or joints
  • fever
  • loss of appetite and depression
  • difficulty breathing
  • lack of energy, lethargy
  • a stiff walk or an arched back

If you suspect your pet may have been bitten, or you've removed a tick from your dog or cat, be sure to consult your vet immediately. The risks posed by Lyme disease can depend largely on your pet's age, lifestyle, health and how quickly the bite is treated.

The best weapon against Lyme is to be well informed of the risks and preventive measures. The American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMA) offers an invaluable guide to Lyme disease in dogs and cats.