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Lyme Disease: The Basics

Summer will be here soon! Although that means plenty of fun for pets that romp outdoors, it also means tick season and an increased risk of Lyme disease. In the WebMD Pet Health Community, M. Duffy Jones, DVM, runs down the basics about Lyme disease, which can spread to your pet's nervous system and kidneys.

After a Lyme disease-carrying tick buries itself in your dog’s skin, bacteria multiply around the area where the tick is attached. Then the bacteria spread throughout the body, and can cause symptoms such as fever, swollen joints, and lameness that can shift from one leg to another. It can take several months for these symptoms to become noticeable. And sometimes pet owners won’t see them at all; only 5% to 10% of dogs with Lyme disease show clinical symptoms.

The good news is that it takes about 48 hours of exposure to a Lyme disease-carrying tick for the responsible bacteria to be transmitted to your dog (not seen in cats). This means that one of the best ways to prevent Lyme disease is to check your dog thoroughly for ticks after any outdoor excursions. Immediately remove any ticks that you find. Jones also recommends using long-lasting topical tick control, which usually kills ticks within 12 hours -- long before your dog would become infected.

There is a vaccine for Lyme disease in dogs, but most vets will only use it in areas where ticks are particularly common, Jones says.

If your dog does develop symptomatic Lyme disease, your vet will most likely recommend treatment with antibiotics. Jones says it’s important to move aggressively, because untreated Lyme disease can cause permanent damage to your dog, such as kidney failure.

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