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Protect Your Dog From Ticks and Lyme Disease

By Chris Williams on July 26, 2013.
Dogs and getting ticks

Question

Can dogs get Lyme disease? We’ve been so concerned about protecting our kids from ticks that we never really thought about the dog. He does get ticks on him and now I wonder if he could get Lyme.

Answer

Yes, dogs can and do get Lyme disease. The most common sign of Lyme disease in dogs is arthritis or sudden joint pain and swelling. Lyme disease is spread by the bite of an infected tick but not all dogs that are exposed get the disease. It’s important to keep ticks off of your dog, not just for the dog’s sake but because ticks that the dog brings in, if not discovered and removed right away, can attach to people. You should talk with your veterinarian about your dog’s risk of Lyme disease and preventive measures. Below are ways that you can help protect your dog from ticks and the diseases that they carry, like Lyme disease:

Vaccination

There is a somewhat controversial Lyme disease vaccine available from your vet for dogs that live in high risk areas. The vaccine is not 100% effective and does not protect against other tick-transmitted diseases. The vaccine is usually combined with once monthly, on-pet tick preventive treatments.

Tick on-pet treatments

Ticks on dogs can be prevented with topical sprays, collars, or spot-on treatments. These are usually the same products that are used on dogs for flea control and most kill fleas and ticks only after they have been feeding on the dog. For ticks, it’s best to use a product that kills ticks on contact so that the dog does not bring ticks inside. Vet-approved tick repellents can be applied to the dog’s coat whenever it is going into a tick area.

Avoid tick zones

You can help protect your dog from ticks if you keep it away from tick zones. Ticks are found in woods and areas of underbrush or tall weeds. In residential areas, ticks are most common along the edges of the lawn where grass meets woods or weeds. Ticks are uncommon in the dry, sunny center part of a lawn. If you can keep your dog away from the yard’s perimeter either by actual fencing or by invisible fencing, you will reduce your dog’s risk of ticks.

When hiking or walking your dog, you’ll both be better off if you avoid tick zones by staying on paved areas, dirt paths, or closely mowed grassy areas. Avoid areas of high weeds or tall grass, or dense undergrowth. On woodland paths, stick to the center of the trail and avoid the edges with scrubby growth where ticks are waiting to attach to anything that passes by.

Reduce tick habitat in your yard

Keeping weeds and brush under control and keeping grass cut low will help reduce the number of ticks on your property. In a yard, 4 out of 5 ticks are typically located within 3 yards of the lawn’s edge. You can establish a 3-foot wide mulched border between the grass edge and the woods or uncultivated part of your yard. The mulch deters the movement of ticks into the lawn and also serves as an ideal treatment strip for pesticide treatment. The mulched border would be a good location for an invisible dog fence, too.

Since deer mice are a secondary host for Lyme disease, anything that you can do to reduce the number of mice on your property will also reduce your risk of Lyme disease.

Groom and inspect your dog frequently

It usually takes ticks a while to attach to a dog because of the thick fur. If you groom and check your dog after it’s been outside, you can find many ticks before they attach or before they leave the pet and end up on your family instead. Remove any attached ticks right away since the chances of Lyme disease increase the longer that the tick is attached.

Yard pesticide treatment

You can have a pest management professional treat your property for ticks. This usually involves treating only the fringes of your yard and any hot spots where ticks hang out. Treatments are often scheduled seasonally to coincide with the ticks’ life cycle.

Photo credit: ashley.adcox / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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