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10 Things You Might Not Know About Lyme Disease

Reviewed by Dr. Peter Kintzer, DVM, DACVIM on Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Posted April 09, 2014 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Dog Outside

The real cause of Lyme disease
Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-borne diseases in the world. Contrary to popular belief, ticks do not cause Lyme disease. Lyme disease is caused by the bacterial spirochetes of the genus Borrelia--most commonly Borrelia burgdorferi in North America--which is transmitted by the bite of an infected tick.

Some ticks don’t carry Lyme disease
Not all ticks carry Borrelia burgdorferi. In North America, only Ixodes scapularis (black legged tick or deer tick) and Ixodes pacificus (western black-legged tick) can transmit Lyme disease. Other species of ticks have been found to transmit Lyme disease in Europe and Asia.

Species affected by Lyme disease
Lyme Disease, known medically as Lyme borreliosis, can affect people, dogs and occasionally cats. People and pets cannot get Lyme disease directly from an infected dog. However, a dog can bring an infected tick home where it could potentially spread Lyme disease to others in the household.

Transmission time for Lyme disease
When an infected tick bites, it takes twenty-four to forty-eight hours for the tick to transmit Borrelia burgorferi, the spirochete that causes Lyme disease. That means you can prevent the transmission of Lyme disease by removing ticks promptly. Check yourself and your pets for ticks--especially after visiting areas known to have ticks--and remove them immediately.

The tick’s environment
Hiking in the woods is not the only way to encounter disease-causing ticks. You and your pets can come into contact with Lyme disease in your own backyard since landscaping and shrubbery can
harbor ticks. In addition, suburban encroachment and loss of habitat have brought deer into closer contact. Deer are important animal hosts for ticks, and tick density has been found to parallel the deer population.

The symptoms of Lyme disease
The signs and symptoms of Lyme disease can be subtle or nonexistent in animals. Unlike people, animals do not develop erythema migrans (the bullseye rash seen at the tick bite site). Common signs include fever, joint swelling or pain, shifting leg lameness or stiffness. Affected animals may also be lethargic and anorexic. Since the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease can be subtle and difficult to recognize, if your pet has been exposed to ticks, speak with your veterinarian to find out if screening tests are appropriate.

Lyme disease by region
You don’t have to be from the Northeast to get Lyme disease. While the majority of cases

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Ruth has more than 15 years of experience in the veterinary industry as a companion animal veterinarian in private practice. Along with being a writer and media personality, she is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.