The Lyme Disease Lowdown:

It gets easy to forget that some of the infectious diseases out there that can affect us, can also affect our pets. One that has significant potential for disease in both humans and our furry family members is lyme disease. Many people are aware of the acute and chronic illnesses associated with lyme disease in people, but lyme disease can cause these issues in pets too! Here’s a rundown on lyme disease, and why it’s so important to keep your pets safe from external parasites like ticks.

What is lyme disease?

Lyme disease is the term given to the illness caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacteria is carried and transferred between infected animals and people by ticks, primarily of the species Ixodes. This bacteria can cause clinical disease in both people and our pets. Lyme disease can occasionally affect cats, but dogs tend to be more commonly affected.

What are the clinical signs of lyme disease?

Dogs may experience a host of signs including joint swelling/pain, lameness (limping), fever, decreased appetite, swollen lymph nodes and lethargy. In severe cases, the kidneys, nervous system, and heart may be affected. Similar signs can develop in humans. Some may be infected after a tick bite, but remain asymptomatic. Humans may also develop classic “bullseye” like red skin lesions, which we do not see in infected pets.

What type of environment do ticks like?

Ticks are a parasite that likes to be opportunistic. Unlike fleas, ticks aren’t major “jumpers”. Rather, ticks like to wait on vegetation and latch on to a warm body walking by. Often ticks like to make a home in tall grass, heavily wooded areas, thick brush and bushes. Ticks prefer a very moderate climate, and are most active in the spring/summer – though ticks have been found year round in the UK.

For up to date information on tick distribution, check out the following resources:

ESCCAP (European Scientific Council for Companion Animal Parasites) Ectoparasite Control:

UK Government Tick Surveillance Scheme:

MSD Animal Health Hub Tick Distribution Map:

Can my pet be tested for lyme disease?

There are antibody tests available for lyme disease from your vet. Typically antibodies will be detectable 4-6 weeks after tick exposure. This is fairly consistent for many tick borne diseases, including Babesiosis, Ehrlichia, and Anaplasma. This in conjunction with classic clinical signs help vets confirm a diagnosis of lyme disease.

What is the treatment for infected pets?

In milder cases, treatment with antibiotics for a minimum of 4 weeks may be enough to treat lyme disease. In more advanced cases, hospitalization with treatments like intravenous fluid support and pain medications/anti-inflammatories are needed. These pets may experience chronic residual clinical signs like joint pain, and in rare cases lyme disease may be fatal.

How can I help prevent lyme disease in my pets?

The good news is that there are steps you can take to help prevent lyme disease from infecting your pet. Prevention, as we say, is the best medicine. There are currently many effective and safe parasite preventatives on the market that protect against ticks. These include both topical (spot on) formulations and oral flavored chewables, typically intended for monthly administration. Preventatives that cover ticks are paired with flea prevention, HOWEVER not all products that prevent fleas ALSO prevent ticks, so it’s essential to check the product label.

Most tick borne diseases take over 24 hours to transmit any diseases via a bite, so checking your pets (and yourself) for ticks after coming in from outdoors is a huge help! This means that any ticks can be promptly removed and decrease the likelihood of disease transmission. Checking once daily particularly in high risk areas/during peak season is a good habit to get into.

Quick note on tick removal:

There are “right” and “wrong” ways to remove a tick! You must grab all the way down where the head/mouth are attached to your pet and grip firmly to ensure removal of the entire tick. Using an object like tweezers or a forcep will provide a good grasp. Failure to remove this may allow more time for disease transmission, and more likely leave an opportunity for significant local irritation/infection.

There is a lyme disease vaccine available for dogs in high risk areas, and whether this is appropriate for your pup should always be discussed with a vet.

Final tips:

  • Keep your pet on regular monthly parasite prevention.
  • Know your area! Some places are more likely to see higher tick numbers.
  • Check your pet for ticks regularly.
  • Have questions? Check with a vet!

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

Click here to start your VetBox journey and keep your pets safe from ticks.

Ticks 101 and how to treat them

Peaches and Pebbles, two lovely cats with a VetBox subscription

A crash course for pet owners all about ticks

Just like their flea counterparts, ticks are a parasite that are not only excellent at making us all cringe, but also at carrying and spreading diseases. These diseases are not only able to infect your pet, they can also infect us! Ticks are commonly referred to as vectors. Vectors are creatures that are required for the life cycle and spread of an infectious disease. In this post we go into the details and tips that pet owners should know about ticks and their presence in the UK.

The different kinds of ticks

Ticks come in many shapes and sizes, and there are multiple species known to bite in order to transfer infectious diseases. There are four stages of the tick life cycle: egg, larvae, nymph and adult. People are typically familiar with enlarged adult ticks, meaning the ones that have latched onto their pet (or themselves) and taken a ‘blood meal’. You may also see adults that have yet to take a blood meal, otherwise know as a nymph tick (immature adult). Ticks do not typically “jump” like we see fleas do, rather they hover on grass or brush and wait for you or your pet to pass by so they can latch on. They don’t always attach immediately, which is helpful as it gives  us more time to be able to remove them prior to biting. Areas of your pet commonly affected are the face, ears, armpits (axilla), groin (inguinal), and in between the toes (interdigital space). These spots have thinner skin and less hair, meaning easier access and attachment for the tick. That being said, you can still find a tick anywhere. 

Ticks can cause Lyme disease

Once a tick has attached itself to you or your pet, it can take variable amounts of time to spread infectious diseases depending on the disease type. One of the most common tick borne diseases that pet owners and the public are familiar with is Lyme disease. Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and spread by the Ixodes tick. This can cause potentially severe clinical signs in both pets and humans including fever, joint pain and swelling, lymph node swelling, and lethargy. Lyme disease can be managed/treated, however does have potential for chronic problems. 

Borrelia isn’t the only offender in this category, here are a few other tick borne diseases that are present and/or have the potential to emerge in the UK:

  • Babesia spp. – Infects red blood cells and can cause anemia, spread by the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus)
  • Ehrlichia spp. – Can cause low blood cell counts and kidney problems, spread by the brown dog tick 
  • Anaplasma spp. – Similar to Ehrlichia
  • Rickettsial spp. – The agent causing Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in humans/pets
  • Acanthocheilonema (dipetalonema) spp.
  • Flavivirus 
  • Francisella spp. – The agent known to cause tularemia
  • Coxiella spp. – The agent responsible for Q fever
  • Hepatozoon and Cytauxzoon spp.

Essential tick prevention treatments

Tick borne diseases have the potential to elicit serious consequences for both pets and their humans. Because of this, vets strongly encourage tick prevention in animals that spend time outdoors. Ticks love areas with high grass, brush, heavily wooded areas, bushes, etc. as this allows for easy access to attach to passersby. Animals that spend significant amounts of time on walking paths, hiking, and in areas like those mentioned above are at higher risk. Indoor only cats and dogs that spend most of their time inside are at lower risk. Ticks prefer warmer more moderate weather like fleas, so spring and summer are times of year that pets are at higher risk. Areas that experience a consistent freeze in the winter months do typically get a break from tick activity, but those that experience moderate weather consistently like the UK should mean  monthly tick prevention year round.

Top tips to keep you and your pet free of ticks: 

  • Use monthly tick prevention, such as the one VetBox provides
  • If in any doubt, speak with a vet to determine your risk level, and what preventatives are best for your pet VetBox subscribers get free access to veterinary support
  • Keep tabs on tick distribution in your area. Maps are available through the ESCCAP website as well as here
  • Check yourself and your pets when you come back from activity in at-risk outdoor areas 
  • If you find a tick on your pet, ask your vet about removal and if testing is needed for infectious diseases

Ready to tick ticks off your list? VetBox subscriptions include monthly tick treatments as standard. Get started now.

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM – MRCVS