Pet Connection: Lyme disease affects dogs and humans

Q: Do dogs get Lyme disease? I have heard that they don’t, so why is there a canine vaccine for it?

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A: That’s an interesting question with a complex answer. The short version is that yes, dogs can get Lyme disease from the bite of an infected tick. We see clinical signs in approximately 10 percent of infected cases, according to my colleague, Richard E. Goldstein, an internal medicine specialist at New York City’s Animal Medical Center. He spoke on Lyme disease in dogs recently at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla.

Now, 10 percent might not seem like much, but if you look at the numbers, Lyme disease is pretty common. Even if most dogs don’t show signs, the infection rate is 50 percent to 75 percent in some areas of the Northeast. Clinical signs in 10 percent of those dogs is a lot of dogs. It can take two to five months after infection for a dog to show signs, such as lameness, lethargy and fever. They may last for approximately three days, and the arthritis and fever are usually treatable. In more serious – but fortunately, less common – cases, dogs can develop a type of kidney disease called Lyme nephritis, which is often fatal, even in young, healthy dogs, as well as myocarditis – inflammation of the heart muscle – and neurological disease.

And in many, if not most, dogs, the bacteria are the unwanted guests who never leave, even with antibiotics. Good tick control is the first line of defense against Lyme disease in dogs. Vaccination alone isn’t enough. If you live in an area where the disease is endemic, talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s risk level, the prevalence of the disease and whether vaccination is appropriate for your dog.

The buzz

Pets have made themselves at home in the White House since the beginning. The nation’s second president, John Adams, was the first to take up residence there, and of course the family dogs accompanied him and his wife, Abigail. The Adams family had several mixed-breed dogs, including two named Satan and Juno, according to the Presidential Pet Museum.

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with