ALL ABOUT DOGS and CATS Resource Center for Canine & Feline Lovers
By Dr Karen Becker
Origins of Lyme Disease
White-tailed deer and white-footed mice are the primary
hosts and reservoirs for the infection that causes Lyme
Adult black-legged ticks, also called deer ticks and Ixodes
ticks, thrive with plenty of deer around. The more deer there
are in an area, the more deer ticks there will be.
Younger ticks go after rodents like the white-footed mouse,
but other small hosts like chipmunks and shrews are prevalent
in certain regions.
A tick transmits the Lyme organism, a spirochete, to a dog or
a person and both can become infected. Lyme disease in cats
and cattle is uncommon, but horses can become infected in
Symptoms of Active Lyme Infection
In humans, signs of Lyme disease are a skin rash, which often resembles a bull's eye, and flu-like
symptoms including fever and lethargy.
Dogs not only don't develop a telltale rash, in most cases they don't even appear sick despite
having contracted an acute Lyme infection.
Many dogs aren't seen by a vet until they develop arthritis or other symptoms of a long-term
Lyme infection. Typically we see an otherwise healthy dog that has recently developed
polyarthritis, which may or may not move from leg to leg – and there's no explanation for the
sudden lameness. Other symptoms can include:
•Shifting joint pain
Keep in mind only 5 percent of dogs with Lyme antibodies actually become sick with the above
symptoms. In an even smaller percentage of pets, chronic Lyme disease can result in significant
kidney problems, as well as autoimmune polyarthritis, a type of joint degeneration secondary to
an undiagnosed, untreated Lyme infection.
Testing for Coinfections
Many dogs with active Lyme infection also have other infections.
If your dog is diagnosed with active Lyme disease, your vet should run another IDEXX test, the
SNAP-4Dx blood test. The SNAP-4Dx tests not only for Lyme, but also for heartworm disease,
anaplasmosis, and e. canis, and is beneficial in both diagnosis and treatment. I also recommend
checking for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever if you are in an endemic area.
Ineffective, Toxic Parasite Preventives
I'm not a proponent of Lyme disease vaccines. These vaccines are bactrins, created to treat
non-viral infections. Their immunization duration is short, usually around a year.
Even worse, these vaccines are known to be significantly more reactive to the immune system.
Sending your pet's immune system into hyper-drive can trigger a whole host of serious
secondary reactions, including autoimmune disease.
Further, many dog owners mistakenly believe the vaccine will somehow prevent ticks from
attaching to their pet. This isn't true – you still need a tick repellent.
If you live in a Lyme endemic area and use a chemical tick repellent on your pet, using the
vaccine as well will give your pup a double dose of toxins and increase his risk of toxicosis, a
disease resulting from poisoning.
Just a few weeks ago I saw my first canine patient with Lyme disease and heartworm disease --
conditions she acquired while taking a monthly, year-round chemical heartworm preventive and
a spot-on flea/tick preventive prescribed by her regular vet.
This poor dog's situation is a good demonstration of the ineffectiveness of some of these drugs.
It's also another warning sign parasites are growing resistant to the drugs used to prevent and
eradicate them, thanks in large part to overprescribing and overuse.
As I write this, veterinary drug companies are scrambling to develop the next generation of
toxic chemicals that will cause more autoimmune disease and cancer in too many precious
animals. And without question, pests will grow resistant to these newer, more deadly drugs as
Safe Ways to Prevent Lyme Disease in Your Canine Companion
•In the spring, summer and fall, avoid tick-infested areas.
•If you live where Lyme disease is endemic or you inadvertently wind up in a tick-infested area,
check your pup for ticks twice each day. Look over his entire body, including hidden crevices like
those in the ear, underneath his collar, in the webs of his feet, and underneath his tail. If you
find a tick, make sure to remove it safely.
•Use a safe tick repellent like Natural Flea and Tick Defense. If you live in a Lyme endemic region
of the U.S., your veterinarian will probably recommend you use a chemical repellent. Remember:
it’s important to investigate the risks and benefits of any medication before you give it to your
•Create strong vitality and resilience in your dog by feeding a species-appropriate diet. Parasites
are attracted to weaker animals. By enhancing your pet’s vitality, you can help her avoid the ill
effects of a Lyme infection or other opportunistic pathogens