Lyme Disease

What Pet Owners Should Know about Lyme disease

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a “tickbourne” disease, which can cause serious illness in multiple body systems in your dog. Lyme disease is specifically caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorfi and transmitted by a tick. Dogs are the most common species affected, but others such as cats, horses, and humans are also susceptible. Lyme disease is a growing concern amongst pet owners because the disease is increasing in numbers and expanding geographically. Although Lyme disease is not endemic to Michigan right now, studies have shown there have been an increasing number of positive cases in the western and northern parts of the state.

Below is a map provided by the CDC showing the distribution of the Ixodes tick (the tick responsible for the tranmission of Lyme disease) in the U.S.

How can my pet become infected?

Lyme disease is transmitted when an Ixodes tick, “deer tick”, carrying the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi bites your dog. Infection for Lyme disease occurs most often during tick season (spring thorugh fall) when ticks become active in climates of 40 degrees fahrenheit or warmer

Is my pet at risk?

Your pet’s risk of exposure to Lyme disease is dependent on your pet’s environment (where they live and play), lifestyle (where they go), and their overall health. Those at risk include:

  • Pets living in an endemic area (an area where Lyme disease is prevalent) or traveling to an endemic area. Areas that have a warm climate year round can also pose a risk of exposure to Lyme disease.
  • Pets that spend time outdoors in areas where woods, bushes, and tall grasses are prevalent. Hunting dogs are those most at risk.

How do I know if my pet has been infected?
The diagnosis of Lyme disease is based on several factors, including your pets history (have they been exposed to ticks in the past), if they are showing any clinical signs associated with Lyme disease, presence of antibodies to Borrelia burgdorfi that can be found in the blood, and quick response when antibiotics are given.

Is Lyme disease treatable if my dog gets it?
Lyme disease can be treatable but also varies by case. Treatment may involve a course of antibiotics, as well as hospital support depending on the severity of the disease and the body systems of your pet.

Is Lyme disease preventable?
The answer to this is YES! Lyme disease can be preventable by giving your pet a monthly tick prevention and annual Lyme vaccination. Another helpful tip to keep your dog safe from Lyme disease is to check your pet and yourself over for ticks after spending time outdoors in areas where ticks are common.


What if I find a tick on my dog?

It is recommended that you take your pet to a veterinarian to have them remove the tick. Removing the tick can be difficult and it is important to remove the tick with the head attached as soon as possible to aid in identification of the type of tick. This will help determine which tick-bourne diseases are a possible concern in your pet. If you cannot get to your veterinarian right away, you can attempt to remove the tick at home. Below are instructions provided by the CDC on how to safely remove a tick.

How to remove a tick

  1. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure (as show in diagram below). DO NOT twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water. Also be sure to contact your veterinarian to let them know about the tick found on your pet.


Avoid folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible – – not waiting for it to detach.

Follow-up if you have removed a tick from yourself
If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor. Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.