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Published: Mar 30, 2012

Dogs may become infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease—Borrelia burgdorferi—if they are bitten by a deer tick.  Protecting dogs from ticks is of particular concern as the weather warms up. Ticks are common in heavily wooded or grassy areas, so it's a good idea for owners to be vigilant and check their dogs for ticks if the animal has been in one of these locales. Ticks in dogs can be removed with tweezers and pet owners must be careful to remove both the head and body of the tick.

Lyme disease in dogs can be difficult to diagnose as the clinical signs are similar to many other more common illnesses.  It is important for a veterinarian to consider a number of other more common diseases in addition to testing for Lyme disease. In some cases, the signs of the condition have been known to lay dormant for over a year in dogs.

Dogs that have Lyme disease often exhibit lameness, joint pain and joint swelling and are frequently described as "walking on eggshells" according to VCA Animal Hospitals. High fevers and loss of appetite are other common clinical signs.  At times, the problem may appear to have gone away, only to return weeks later.

Once diagnosed, Lyme disease can be controlled and treated with antibiotics, although the course of medication is often longer than for other diseases.

Owners may also want to consider having their dog vaccinated against Lyme disease if they live in a heavily tick-infested area or frequently walk or hike with their dog. Dog vaccination initially requires two shots and booster shots will be required each year.  Ask your veterinarian if a Lyme vaccine might be right for your dog.