Lyme Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

4 min read
Mar 27, 2024

Whether it’s a walk in the woods or playtime in the park, enjoying the great outdoors is a fun way to bond with your dog. But you may also be increasing your dog’s risk of getting Lyme disease. Does that mean you should avoid going outside? Not exactly.

Here’s a breakdown of how the disease is transmitted, how Lyme disease in dogs can be treated, and some easy steps you can take to avoid it.

What Is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a fairly common tick-borne disease. The bacterium that causes it (Borrelia burgdorferi) is transmitted by a tick bite — in this case, the bite of the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) or western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus), more commonly known as the deer tick.1

These types of ticks crawl onto the tips of vegetation, like bushes or tall grass. When a dog brushes against this vegetation, the tick quickly grabs on and makes its way to the dog’s skin. When it bites to drink blood, the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium is transmitted.

How Common Is Lyme Disease in Dogs?

Lyme disease gets its name from Lyme, Connecticut, where it was originally identified, but it’s hardly unique to the area.2 In fact, Lyme disease is frequently reported in states and regions throughout the U.S., including high-incidence states such as:3

That said, exposure to a tick carrying Borrelia burgdorferi doesn’t necessarily guarantee infection. Only about 5% – 10% of dogs bitten by an infected tick develop Lyme disease.4

Is Lyme contagious?

Dogs infected with Lyme disease can’t pass it to you or other animals through casual contact, like licking or being pet.5 However, the same ticks that can infect your dog can also infect other pets and people, so it's important to remove any ticks that may have hitched a ride on your dog and dispose of them.

A MetLife Pet Policy May Help Cover Lyme Disease Costs

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What Are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs?

Lyme disease can be challenging to diagnose, since it doesn’t always present symptoms right away. It can take up to 5 months for symptoms to appear, by which time the disease has likely spread throughout the body.5

Signs of Lyme disease in dogs can include:5

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. In rare cases, Lyme disease can lead to kidney failure, resulting in:5

Any of these symptoms are a good reason to bring your dog to the vet, especially if you know they may have been exposed to ticks within the last 5 months.

How To Test Dogs for Lyme Disease

If a dog is suspected to have been exposed to Lyme disease, vets can administer tests as early as 4 weeks after a dog has been bitten by an infected tick.5 These tests look for antibodies produced by a dog’s immune system after exposure to Borrelia burgdorferi; however, these tests can give a false negative if done too early.5 Other tests, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and enzyme assays, may be used to confirm a dog’s status.5

Lyme Disease in Dogs: Treatment Options

The good news is Lyme disease can easily be treated in dogs. Vets typically prescribe an antibiotic regimen, including doxycycline, amoxicillin, and azithromycin, over a period of 4 weeks.5 Should the initial infection return — which is a possibility — your vet will likely recommend another round of treatment.5

Tips for Preventing Lyme Disease in Your Dog

As with other parasitic diseases, prevention is the best way to keep your dog safe from Lyme disease.

Talk to your vet about Lyme disease preventatives

Dogs can take preventative treatments for Lyme disease that can kill ticks and prevent the transmission of the disease. These treatments include flea and tick collars, monthly chews, and topical treatments. Some require prescriptions.5

Several of these are now combined with heartworm preventatives, making it easier and more affordable to deal with multiple parasites at once. It’s best not to wait for flea-and-tick season, as early preparation and prevention is key. Plus, some states have year-round flea-and-tick seasons, making regular protection even more crucial.6

Check your dog after walks

Examine your dog for ticks each time you return from a walk. Make sure to check under your dog’s collar, between their toes, and around their face, armpits, and groin. Ticks like warm, moist areas — although, they will latch on just about anywhere.

If you want to make a tick check enjoyable for your dog, combine it with brushing their coat. A good brushing can help dislodge ticks that are still in their fur.

Promptly remove any ticks you find

Our comprehensive guide to ticks on dogs has detailed instructions on how to examine your dog for ticks and remove them. Here are the basics:

  • Put on a pair of rubber gloves, part your dog’s fur, and use tweezers to grab the tick as close to your dog’s skin as you can.
  • Do not pinch your pup’s skin as this could rupture the tick.
  • Grab the tick and slowly pull outward to avoid leaving pieces behind.

Our tick guide also explains how to minimize your dog’s Lyme exposure by making your yard less appealing to ticks.

Ask your vet about the Lyme disease vaccine for dogs

Vaccinations against Lyme disease are now available for dogs.5 However, its efficacy has long been called into question by vet experts, and multiple studies have identified potential safety concerns.7 Ask your vet about getting the Lyme disease vaccine for your dog, but keep in mind that it shouldn’t replace preventative measures.5

Tick Dog Insurance off Your To-Do List

Whether you have an outdoor dog or an indoor dog, taking steps to protect them from Lyme disease is a smart move. Not only is it a potentially life-threatening disease, but the cost of treatment can also take a bite out of your budget. A dog insurance policy with MetLife Pet Insurance could help offset the costs of vaccinations, antibiotic treatments, vet visits, and more. Learn more about the scope of MetLife Pet’s coverage, and then get your free quote to protect your dog all year long.

We Can Help Cover Vet Bills While You Focus on Your Dog’s Care

 Dr. Hunter Finn

Dr. Hunter Finn has been paid by MetLife to discuss the importance of choosing pet insurance. He is an integrative veterinary expert first, and social media star second. He  owns Pet Method in McKinney, Texas, where he cares for pets while prioritizing their emotional well-being. When he’s not at his clinic, he’s starring in viral videos on TikTok (2 million followers) and Instagram (500K followers) — where he’s been known to snuggle puppies and conquer the latest dance trends. 

**As with any insurance policy, coverage may vary. Review our coverage and exclusions.

1 “Diseases Transmitted by Ticks – Ticks,” CDC

2 “A Brief History of Lyme Disease in Connecticut,”

3 “Tickborne Diseases of the United States – Lyme Disease,” CDC

4 “Lyme Disease in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatment,” PetMD,

5 “Lyme Disease in Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospitals,

6 “What Is Your State’s Flea-and-Tick Season?”, AKC 

7 “Why the Rationale for Canine Borrelia burgdorferi Vaccination Is Unpersuasive,” National Library of Medicine, 2021

Coverage issued by Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, and Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85454. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations and application is subject to underwriting. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC (“MetLife Pet”) for details. MetLife Pet is the policy administrator. It may operate under an alternate or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota) and MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).

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