Stop Lyme Disease in Its Tracks. How to Prevent Infection After a Tick Bite in Dogs

Introduction

Lyme disease is a potentially serious bacterial infection that dogs can get from the bite of an infected tick. The disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted by ticks, primarily those of the Ixodes species. Lyme disease in dogs can lead to arthritis, fever, lethargy, and in some cases, kidney disease. Lyme disease has been diagnosed in dogs in all 50 states.

The purpose of this article is to explore whether Lyme disease can be prevented in dogs after a known tick bite. We will examine the steps that can be taken after tick removal to reduce the chances of a Lyme infection developing. This includes visiting the vet, administering preventative medication, closely monitoring the dog, and using Lyme vaccines. The goal is to provide dog owners with helpful information to lower the risks of their dog developing Lyme disease after tick exposure.

What Happens After a Tick Bite

Lyme disease is transmitted to dogs through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick (CDC). The bacteria that causes Lyme, Borrelia burgdorferi, lives in the stomach of infected ticks. When an infected tick bites a dog and feeds on its blood, the bacteria moves from the tick’s stomach into the bloodstream of the dog (VCA).

For a tick to transmit Lyme disease, it must be attached and feeding for at least 36-48 hours according to the CDC. The longer an infected tick stays attached, the higher the risk of Lyme transmission. Ticks in the nymph stage, which are very small in size, are most likely to transmit Lyme disease because they can easily go undetected on dogs for longer periods. Removing ticks quickly and properly can help prevent disease transmission.

If a tick is removed within 24 hours, the risk of Lyme transmission is very low. But if not removed in time, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and start causing infection between 3-30 days post-bite. The typical incubation period before onset of Lyme disease symptoms is 2-5 months in dogs. So while infection may occur quickly, signs of illness may take weeks or months to appear.

Can You Prevent Lyme Disease After a Tick Bite?

While Lyme disease is a serious concern, the good news is that prompt treatment and tick removal can prevent infection in many cases. According to the CDC, removing a tick within 24 hours dramatically reduces the risk of Lyme disease transmission [1]. The key is to find and remove ticks quickly before they have time to transmit the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that causes Lyme.

As soon as you notice a tick on your dog, it’s important to remove it safely and properly. Use tweezers to grasp the tick close to the skin and pull straight up with steady pressure [2]. This helps ensure you remove the entire tick. Thoroughly clean the bite area and monitor it for signs of infection. The faster you find and remove any ticks, the less likely they’ll have time to transmit Lyme disease.

Veterinarians also recommend starting tick preventative medication immediately after any tick exposure. Medications like Nexgard can quickly kill any remaining ticks and prevent further bites. While you can’t guarantee prevention, prompt action gives your dog the best chance of avoiding Lyme disease.

How to Remove an Embedded Tick

If you find a tick embedded on your dog, it’s important to remove it as soon as possible to help prevent disease transmission. According to the Humane Society, the proper technique for removing an embedded tick is:

removing an embedded tick from dog's skin

  • Use fine-tipped tweezers and grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible without pinching your dog.
  • Pull straight up slowly and steadily without twisting until the tick releases its grip.
  • Don’t squeeze the tick’s body during removal as this can push infectious fluids into the bite wound.
  • Don’t use petroleum jelly, nail polish remover, or other home remedies – they may agitate the tick and increase disease risk.

Specialized tick removal tools like the Tick Twister or TickCheck Card can also be used. These tools slide between the skin and the tick mouthparts for clean removal. Avoid handling the tick with your bare fingers and sanitize the bite area and your hands when done.

Save the tick in a sealed plastic bag in case your veterinarian wants to test it for disease. Prompt and proper tick removal limits the time pathogens have to transmit.

Visit the Vet After Tick Removal

It’s important to take your dog to the vet after removing an embedded tick, even if your dog seems fine. Ticks can transmit diseases like Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever to dogs within 24-48 hours of attaching. So even though you removed the tick, your dog may have already been infected (The Pioneer Woman).

visiting vet after removing tick from dog

Your vet will examine your dog and likely run tests to check for tick-borne diseases. These may include a blood test, a heartworm antigen test, and a urinalysis. If your dog tests positive for a disease like Lyme, your vet will prescribe antibiotics or other medications for treatment (Humanesociety.org). Prompt treatment is crucial, as delaying can allow the infection to progress.

Your vet may also recommend administering a Lyme vaccine as a preventative measure, especially if you live in an area where Lyme disease is prevalent. While not 100% effective, Lyme vaccines can help reduce your dog’s chances of contracting the disease from a tick bite (Bettervet.com).

Keep monitoring your dog closely for any signs of illness following a tick bite, such as lethargy, stiffness, swelling, fever, or limping. Seek prompt veterinary care if you notice anything abnormal. Your vet can advise the best course of action based on your dog’s unique situation.

Apply Preventative Medications

There are preventative medications that can help reduce the likelihood of a Lyme disease infection after a known tick bite. Some common Lyme disease prevention medications for dogs include:

Doxycycline – This antibiotic is often prescribed for 1 month after a high risk tick bite. It should be started within 72 hours of tick removal to be effective at preventing disease transmission 1. Doxycycline requires a prescription from your veterinarian.

giving dog prevention medication

Amoxicillin – This antibiotic may also be prescribed after a tick bite, typically for 2-4 weeks. It’s less commonly used than doxycycline but can be effective for Lyme prevention 2. A vet prescription is required.

Lyme vaccines – Vaccines are available to help prevent Lyme disease in dogs and may be recommended if you live in a high-risk area. They require an initial series of 2 doses, followed by annual boosters. Lyme vaccines can reduce but do not fully eliminate the risk of disease.

Flea/tick preventatives – Medications that kill or repel ticks can lower the risk of bites and transmission. However, they do not fully prevent Lyme disease if a bite occurs. Still, using monthly flea/tick prevention is recommended.

Discuss the best Lyme prevention options for your dog with your veterinarian, especially after finding an embedded tick. Timely preventative medication may reduce disease transmission risk after exposure.

Monitor Your Dog Closely

After a potential tick exposure, it’s important to monitor your dog closely for any signs or symptoms of Lyme disease. According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine (https://www.vet.cornell.edu/animal-health-diagnostic-center/laboratories/serology-immunology/lyme-disease), common symptoms to look for include:

  • Lameness and joint swelling, especially in the knees
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fatigue and lethargy

VCA Animal Hospitals (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/lyme-disease-in-dogs) notes that more severe symptoms like kidney disease and neurological issues can occur in later stages of Lyme disease. Seek immediate vet care if your dog exhibits any of these serious signs.

Schedule a follow up vet visit if you notice any potential symptoms of Lyme disease in your dog within a few weeks following tick removal and treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment is key to preventing progression of Lyme disease in dogs.

Reduce Tick Exposure

There are several ways you can reduce your dog’s exposure to ticks in your yard and on walks:

In your yard:

  • Keep your grass mowed short. Ticks like to hang out in tall grasses and bushes. By keeping your lawn short, you remove a prime tick habitat.
  • Remove leaf litter and clear brush around your home. Ticks thrive in moist, shady areas with lots of debris to hide in.
  • Place a 3-foot wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between wooded areas and your lawn to restrict tick migration.
  • Treat your yard with pesticides or use natural remedies like beneficial nematodes or diatomaceous earth to kill ticks.

On walks:

  • Avoid areas with high grass and leaf litter.
  • Stay in the center of trails when hiking.
  • Use a leash when walking your dog to keep them from wandering into the brush.
  • Check your dog thoroughly for ticks when returning home.

Reducing ticks in your environment is key to preventing Lyme disease. If you limit your dog’s exposure, they are less likely to get bitten and infected. For more tips, see the CDC guidelines.

Lyme Vaccines for Dogs

There are several Lyme disease vaccine options available for dogs. Vaccines work by exposing the immune system to inactivated or altered forms of the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that causes Lyme disease. This allows the body to build up antibodies that can fight off infection if exposed to the bacteria from a tick bite.

administering lyme vaccine to dog

Some of the most common Lyme vaccines for dogs include Nobivac Lyme, Vanguard L Lyme, and Recombitek Lyme. These are all killed or recombinant vaccines given in an initial series with boosters 1 year later and then every 1-3 years depending on risk.

Studies show Lyme vaccines are often effective at preventing infection, with efficacy rates between 60-86% in vaccinated dogs. However, some dogs may still become infected or show symptoms despite vaccination. The vaccines do not provide complete immunity in all dogs (1).

In general, Lyme vaccines are well tolerated with few side effects. Possible risks include mild lethargy, fever, swelling, and soreness at the injection site. More severe reactions are rare. Overall, the vaccines are considered safe for most dogs.

Vaccination is recommended for dogs living in or traveling to areas where Lyme disease is prevalent. Talk to your veterinarian about the pros and cons of vaccination and what schedule makes sense for your dog based on lifestyle and risk factors (3).

Conclusion

After a tick bite, it’s important to take steps to prevent Lyme disease in dogs. Start by properly removing any embedded ticks, being sure to get the entire tick out. Bring your dog to the vet afterwards so they can examine the bite area and potentially prescribe preventative antibiotics. You can also administer medications like flea/tick collars, oral preventatives, or spot-ons to kill any remaining ticks and prevent future bites. Monitor your dog closely for any symptoms of Lyme disease which include lethargy, joint pain, and fever. Limit your dog’s exposure to tick-infested areas and talk to your vet about Lyme vaccines, which may help reduce their risk. While Lyme disease can be serious if untreated, taking proactive prevention measures after a tick bite can help keep your dog healthy.

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