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Lyme Disease Prevention: What to do if a Tick Bites Your Dog

By Lea Jaratz

dog-behind-tweezers-with-tick

There’s no need to feel ashamed if you find one of those creepy critters on your pet. Despite doing your best to prevent tick bites and the spread of Lyme disease, ticks can find their way onto any dog who ventures into taller grasses or wooded areas. It’s part of being a dog. But part of being a conscientious pet parent is knowing what to do if a tick bites your dog.

The Good News

If you find the tick and remove it right away, your dog is likely to avoid getting Lyme disease. It takes at least 12 hours for the tick to start transmitting the disease and it must remain attached for 48 hours before it can fully transmit the disease. So give your dog a daily rub down to check for ticks, paying special attention to the head, neck, feet, and ears (most dogs like this extra hands on time) after a walk in a wooded or grassy area.

What to do if Your Dog has a Tick

Keeping alcohol, tweezers, and cotton balls in a mini tick-removal kit in your car or first aid kit can be quite handy. If you find a tick on your pet, don’t panic. Pulling it out sounds a lot grosser than it really is.

  1. First, apply the alcohol to the area liberally.  If you hold a cotton ball soaked in alcohol on the tick it may actually detach on its own in a few minutes.
  2. If it’s resisting, get the tweezers and place them as close as you possibly can to the skin, before slowly pulling upwards. Don’t twist or yank.
  3. Once it’s out of the skin, kill it by placing it in alcohol (you can even keep it in alcohol to show your vet if you want to have it identified to find out if it’s one of the disease-transmitting kind) or flushing it down the toilet.
  4. Now, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water or alcohol.
  5. Lastly, give your good dog a cookie for putting up with this annoyance.

Do I need to take my dog to the vet after a tick bite?

Most vets will say that you do not need to take your dog to the vet after a tick bite, but you should monitor your dog for signs or symptoms of Lyme disease for the next several weeks or months. Rest assured knowing that only 10% of dogs that contract Lyme disease will develop symptoms of the illness. But if your dog develops a fever, lethargy, lameness, or swollen lymph nodes, contact your vet. They can conduct a test to see if antibodies specific to the Borrelia bacteria that causes Lyme disease are present. The test may need to be repeated in 4 weeks as it can take some time before these antibodies begin to develop in response to infection.

If a test comes back positive, the vet will likely conduct a more precise test to determine the level of antibodies. They may also check the blood and urine to assess kidney function. Once all the results are back, it can still be a wait-and-watch situation before the vet proceeds with treatment, as treatment isn’t always recommended if the dog isn’t symptomatic.

Time to Treat

If your dog is symptomatic or the test results show harmful effects from the Lyme disease, your dog will likely be treated with antibiotics. In most cases, symptoms like lameness or joint pain will start to improve within the first week. You should see continued improvement, but your vet will probably retest for decreased antibody levels in 6 months to make sure things are progressing as hoped.

It can be frustrating, not knowing whether to get a dog tested or treated for Lyme disease after a tick bite. But, rest assured that a lot has to go wrong before the dog develops an active Lyme infection, and you can always call your vet’s office to discuss the next steps. Depending on what part of the country you live in and what type of tick you found they may give you a different recommendation. But in most cases tick bites aren’t serious and can be taken care of and monitored with little chance for a bad outcome.

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