Can Lyme Disease in Dogs Spread to People?

According to the CDC, the incidence of Lyme disease in humans is much higher than in previous years— with cases of tickborne diseases having doubled from 2004 to 2016, from 22,000 to 48,000, and Lyme disease accounting for 82 percent of tickborne diseases.

What is Lyme disease?

First described in 1975 the disease was first identified in Lyme, CT which gave it its name. The disease is caused by a bacteria (spirochete) called Borellia burgdorferi which is transmitted by a tick bite. The type of tick involved in the spread of the disease is called Ixodes spp. which feeds on animals at all stages of its life (larvae, nymph, adult).

How does Lyme disease spread?
Immature ticks become infected when they feed on infected rodents. The organism is then transmitted to a second host when the nymph or adult tick feeds. Ixodes scapularis and Ixodes pacificus feed on deer. Expanding ranges of deer herds have resulted in an increased distribution of infected ticks.

Subsequently, when the nymph or adult tick attaches to a new host and feeds, the infective organism is deposited at the site of attachment over a period of hours. The organism thus infects the new host be it a dog or a human.

Even though the vector tick is called the deer tick, its feeding habits are not restricted to deer. They also feed on dogs and so are frequently in close proximity to people who have dogs. There is no evidence that Lyme disease can spread directly from dogs to humans. However, the same type of tick that could infect a dog can also feed on people. There is a potential for humans to be infected due to the fact that we tend to spend time in the same places as our dogs do If our dogs are picking up ticks, we certainly could be as well.

When are people likely to be affected by Lyme disease?
In a 2011 CDC study, it was determined that there is a definite association between the incidence of canine infections and human infections. CAPC reports some of the findings from that study:

  • "Human Lyme disease incidence was effectively zero when the canine seroprevalence was <1.3 percent."
  • "Among 14 states with canine seroprevalence >5 percent, median annual human Lyme disease incidence was about 100-fold higher (24.1 cases/100,000 population) and positively correlated with canine seroprevalence."

In other words, in places where Lyme is more common in dogs it’s also more common in people.

Dogs in endemic areas should be tested yearly. A positive test demonstrates that vector ticks may be present and have the ability to transmit disease to humans. Aggressive tick prevention and control should be practiced everywhere but particularly in areas where these diseases have been demonstrated to exist. Vaccination for Lyme disease is more controversial, but many experts recommend vaccination especially in Lyme endemic areas.

Symptoms of Lyme disease
According to the Mayo Clinic, clinical signs of Lyme disease in humans can differ drastically and tend to affect more than one body system: Click here for a list of symptoms.

How can I protect myself and my dog from Lyme disease?

  • In environments that support ticks, year round tick control should be practiced. Talk to your veterinarian about Lyme vaccination for your dog and remember to test each year.
  • Check yourself and your pets closely if there’s a chance that any of you may have been exposed to ticks.
  • For people, if a tick bite is associated with a rash see your physician right away. Early therapy does much to prevent clinical disease.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Beware the Bug

Ticks 101

By Dr. Ruth MacPete

Ticks are more than just creepy; they can spread a number of different diseases that affect both pets and people. You’ve just read about Lyme disease; now learn about the others. Read more> Or learn more about dogs and parasites >

Good News! You Cannot Contract Lyme Disease From Your Dog

The Lyme bacteria has to go through the tick in its life cycle in order to carry out an infection. Dogs are not believed to act as a source of infection to people. But, that doesn’t mean you are safe. In areas with a high incidence of Lyme in dogs, there is also a high incidence of Lyme in people. If your dog can get bit by ticks, so can you.

Check out for information on many different parasites and vector-borne diseases.

Spotsylvania Animal Hospital can help you prepare your pet for summer weather. We test for and vaccinate against Lyme disease at our veterinary offices, conveniently located downtown. Contact us for details or questions.

Spotsylvania Animal Hospital provides medical and surgical care for every stage of your pet's life including preventive wellness care exams and vaccines, spays/neuters, and a variety of specialized care for your dog or cat. Learn more about us!

How will ticks affect my dog?

Ticks attach to your dog by inserting their mouthparts into your dog’s skin. Many ticks also produce a sticky, gluelike substance that helps them to remain attached. After attaching to your dog, ticks begin feeding on your dog’s blood. The places where ticks attach can become red and irritated.

Although rare, ticks can consume enough of your dog’s blood to cause a deficiency called anemia. Certain female ticks can also cause a rare paralysis in dogs as a result of a toxin they produce while feeding. More important, ticks are capable of causing many diseases in your pet. The disease with which most people are familiar is called Lyme disease. Another is Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Lyme disease can cause arthritis and swelling of your dog’s joints, resulting in painful lameness. Rocky Mountain spotted fever can cause fever, lameness, and other signs. There are also other diseases that ticks can transmit to your dog. Your veterinarian can answer questions about the diseases that are important where you live. View forecasts for Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis in your local area at

Lyme disease: A pet owner's guide

Lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis) is an illness that affects both animals and humans – what is known as a zoonotic disease – and is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Transmitted through tick bites, the disease can be difficult to detect and can cause serious and recurring health problems. Therefore, it is best to prevent infection by taking appropriate measures to prevent tick bites and, for dogs, possibly vaccinating against the disease.

The bacterium that causes Lyme disease – a worm-like, spiral-shaped bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi – is carried and transmitted primarily by the tiny black-legged tick known as the deer tick. Deer ticks are found in forests or grassy, wooded, marshy areas near rivers, lakes or oceans. People or animals may be bitten by deer ticks during outdoor activities such as hiking or camping, or even while spending time in their back yards.

Named after numerous cases were identified in Lyme, Conn., in 1975, the disease has since been reported in humans and animals across the United States and around the world. Within the U.S., it appears primarily in specific areas including the southern New England states eastern Mid-Atlantic states the upper Midwest, particularly Wisconsin and Minnesota and on the West Coast, particularly northern California. The CDC maintains a map detailing confirmed cases of Lyme disease throughout the years.

Lyme disease is a reportable disease – which means that health care providers and laboratories that diagnose cases of laboratory-confirmed Lyme disease are required to report those cases to their local or state health departments, which in turn report the cases to the CDC.

How to prevent Lyme disease

People with pets should:

  • Use reliable tick-preventive products. Speak with your veterinarian about what tick preventive product is right for your pet.
  • Work with your veterinarian to decide whether to vaccinate your dog against Lyme disease. Your veterinarian’s advice may depend on where you live, your pet's lifestyle and overall health, and other factors.
  • When possible, avoid areas where ticks might be found. These include tall grasses, marshes and wooded areas.
  • Check for ticks on both yourself and your animals once indoors.
  • Clear shrubbery next to homes.
  • Keep lawns well maintained.

As noted above, there are preventive Lyme disease vaccines available for dogs, but they aren't necessarily recommended for every dog. Consult your veterinarian to see if the vaccination makes sense for your pets. If your veterinarian does recommend that your dog be vaccinated against Lyme disease, the typical protocol will involve an initial vaccination followed by a booster 2-4 weeks later and annual boosters after that.

Lyme disease in pets – symptoms and treatment

Pets infected with Lyme disease may not show any signs for 2-5 months. After that time, typical symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lameness
  • Joint swelling
  • Decreased activity

Recurrent lameness also is possible, and the involved extremity may be tender. Inflammation of the joint can last from days to weeks, and may migrate from one extremity to another.

Horses with Lyme disease can develop lameness, joint pain, neurologic disease, eye problems and dermatitis.

Symptomatically, Lyme disease can be difficult to distinguish from anaplasmosis because the signs of the diseases are very similar, and they occur in essentially the same areas of the country. Lyme disease is diagnosed through a blood test that shows whether an animal has been exposed to the bacterium.

Antibiotics usually provide effective treatment for Lyme disease. However, it’s important to follow your veterinarian’s advice regarding follow-up care after your pet has been diagnosed with and treated for the disease.

It's a "One Health" problem

Lyme disease in people

  • Avoid areas where ticks are found
  • Cover arms, legs, head and feet when outdoors
  • Wearilight-colored clothing
  • Use insecticides
  • Checking for ticks once indoors.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more information about Lyme disease in people.

Treating Lyme Disease in Minnesota Dogs

"Prevention is the best method to reduce tick encounters"

Video demonstration of juices transmitting Lyme Disease from tick to pet.

Spare Your Dog the Pain of Lyme Disease at Advanced Care Pet Hospital

Lyme disease Common in St Cloud

Advanced Care Pet Hospital treated 58 dogs in 2016, 60 dogs in 2015 with Lyme Disease, 65 in 2014, 39 in 2013.

Lyme disease cases are growing. There is an upward trend in Lyme Disease transmission in Minnesota. People are now learning their yards are not immune to ticks.

Before Advanced Care opened in 2009, few dog owners in the St. Cloud area were advised to treat their dog's Lyme disease.

Many did not know a vaccine was available before coming to Advanced Care.

Strong Risk for Lyme Disease in Minnesota

This map from the CDC indicates regions of the U.S. (2015) where humans have been diagnosed with Lyme disease.

A clear risk is seen across most of Wisconsin and northern Minnesota.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease was recognized in Europe for nearly a century but not described in humans in the United States until 1975.

According to Beth Berlin, Minnesota Extension, Minnesota is home to 13 known species of ticks, with the majority known as "hard ticks," which have fairly hard bodies with plate like shield behind the head.

Many wildlife mammals and birds become infected, serving as reservoirs for tick populations. During the 1980s the incidence of the disease in both humans and dogs increased dramatically.

Lyme disease is now the most common arthropod-borne disease of humans in the United States, and one of the most common in dogs.

Lyme Disease risk for dogs is higher than for humans as they are running down low among the grasses and undercover where the ticks are, pets can't easily identify and pick off the ticks themselves and finally, ticks can be hard to spot under fur by pet owners.

What Causes Lyme Disease in Dogs?

Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia Burgdorferi, a corkscrew-shaped bacterium of the spirochete group.

Deer ticks, hard-shelled ticks of the genus lxodes, transmit B. burgdorferi by attaching to and feeding on various hosts. After the tick attaches and begins to feed, spirochetes residing in the mid gut of the tick to migrate to the salivary glands and from there move into the host.

Infection danger goes up when ticks are allowed to feed for prolonged periods becoming engorged. Some research found infection danger is minimal during the first 12 hours of tick feeding. Beyond this, the risk of infection increases exponentially.

Lyme Disease Symptoms in Dogs

In contrast to human cases of Lyme disease, where 3 stages are well known, pet owners tend to first notice arthritic symptoms in their dogs like sudden lameness, limping, pain indications.

The first stage in humans, a skin rash called erythema chronica migrans, is rarely seen in dogs. Dogs simply do not get the round ring surrounding the bite, however there may be irritation at the bite site because it itches and dogs will scratch or bite to relieve the itch.

Commonly noticed symptoms include a lethargic dog off their feeding. Some dogs appear depressed and are reluctant to move. Lameness occurs in 2 to 5 months after tick exposure on average. Lameness may recur after a period of recovery lasting several weeks. Consequences of untreated disease include kidney failure, neurological issues like seizures, aggression and behavior changes.

How Likely is My Dog to Get Lyme Disease?

In Minnesota, an endemic area, tick infestation “hot spots” have greater probability of exposing your dog to Lyme disease. Grassy areas are a favorite environment for certain species of ticks. Back yards and lawns which receive bird and outdoor mammal traffic are not immune to hosting ticks.

How is Lyme Disease in Dogs be Diagnosed?

There are several ways to examine the immune response to B. burgdorferi infection in dogs. At Advanced Care, we use a "Snap" test which detects Lyme antibodies in dogs blood and results are available while you wait. We have results for you before you leave so we may treat your dog with antibiotics if needed.

While there are additional antibody titer tests which measure the dog's specific antibody response to B. burgdorferi infection, the tests require samples to be sent into a lab. These are quite a bit more costly and time consuming. Numerous titers need to be performed to measure change in response.

Snap tests detect the presence of the antibodies for Lyme disease and 2 other tick borne diseases as well as test for Heartworm disease. It is part of our annual examination/screening program for all dogs here.

Can My Infected Dog Be Treated?

Antibiotics are the treatment of choice for Lyme disease in dogs. Because B. burgdorferi has the tendency to persist in dogs, antibiotics are administered for three or four weeks. Like human treatment, medication needs to be fully administered through the end of treatment despite seeing a relaxation of symptoms. Failure to administer all the medication may cause the disease to persist.

What is the Prognosis for Lyme Positive Dogs?

Dogs respond very well to antibiotic treatment. There may be recurrent disease, but dogs again respond well to treatment. Complete recovery can eventually be expected in a majority of cases. It can be stubborn to eliminate, we have seen several patients requiring several repeats of the prescribed antibiotics. We have seen only a few cases where the disease progressed beyond the ability of the patient to be treated.

How Can Lyme Disease be Prevented?

There are several approaches to preventing infection in dogs. One is limiting tick engorgement on dogs by controlling tick populations, using tick repellents, and/or grooming daily. Another is vaccination. And finally there is limiting your dog to living indoors. Of course this last one sounds unreasonable, but it is no less unreasonable than the pet owners who say they dogs can't get ticks because they stay in the yard.

CAPC continues to recommend year-round parasite control for both dogs and cats. Additionally, the organization recommends regular examinations at least annually by a veterinarian. “While virtually all infestations of parasites are preventable, estimates indicate that fewer than half the dogs in the country are protected,” says Chris Carpenter, DVM, MBA, executive director for CAPC.

In Minnesota dog owners can expect drastically reduced tick populations during months with solid snow cover on the ground. However, any warm snaps which expose the underlying ground cover can arouse tick populations.

Play video to learn why we recommend Vectra for our clients who care for their pets.

Myth vs. Fact: Truth About Ticks

Make sure parasites have no place on your pets

Disease-carrying ticks pose health risks to dogs and people, no matter where you live. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that ticks in every U.S. state carry diseases, and the number of tick-borne diseases is increasing. But do you know the myths and facts about ticks? Here, debunks some of the most commonly believed myths about ticks so you can protect your pets.

Myth #1: The best way to remove a tick is with a lit match, fingernail polish, or petroleum jelly.

Fact: None of these methods cause the tick to “back out,” and all of them may actually result in the tick depositing more disease carrying saliva into the wound, increasing the risk of infection.

The best way to remove a tick is to grasp it as close to the skin as possible with tweezers and pull the tick’s body out with a steady motion. Wear rubber gloves, and clean the skin with soap and water after removal. Dispose of the tick by placing it in alcohol or flushing it down the toilet.

Myth #2: Lyme disease is the only illness that ticks can transmit to dogs and humans.

Fact: Lyme is the most widely known and common tick disease, but there are many others that ticks carry and can transmit to dogs and people. These include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis (sometimes known as “dog fever”), ehrlichiosis, and some emerging diseases with potentially devastating effects.

Myth #3: If I find a tick on myself or someone in my family, Lyme and other tick diseases can be ruled out immediately with a blood test.

Fact: According to the CDC, laboratory results for tick-borne illness in people are often negative on the first sample and require a second test two to three weeks later to confirm infection.

Children are more susceptible to infection due to their immature immune systems. Signs of Lyme are flu-like symptoms such as fever and malaise with or without a bull’s-eye rash, but many people (and dogs) with tick-borne illness don’t experience any symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease.

Myth #4: Ticks aren’t a problem in the winter when it’s too cold for them to live outside.

Fact: In most areas of the country, high season for ticks runs from April to November. Experts recommend year-round preventives, however, as infection can occur at any time of the year. In the winter, for example, some tick species move indoors and are in closer contact with pets and people, while others make a type of antifreeze to survive during the winter months.

Myth #5: Ticks live in trees, so as long as I don’t live near or visit a wooded area, I don’t have to worry about them.

Fact: Ticks live on the ground no matter the locale, be it an urban park or a rural farm. They typically crawl up from grass blades onto a host and migrate upward, which is why they’re often found on the scalp.

Myth #6: Ticks are insects.

Fact: Ticks are actually a species of parasite called arachnids that belong to the same family as mites.

Since signs of tick-borne disease are difficult to recognize in pets and people, simple preventive measures and understanding as much as possible about these creepy crawlers is the simplest way to keep everyone safe.

Lyme disease FAQ

Here are answers to commonly asked questions about ticks and Lyme disease. For more information, follow up with your veterinarian.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial disease spread by ticks. It’s most prevalent in the North East, but it has been discovered in almost all parts of the United States. Lyme disease affects dogs and humans and is rare in other domestic animals.

How does it spread?

A bite from a tick, most commonly the blacklegged deer tick, transmits the bacteria to dogs. Wooded, dense areas are common locations for these ticks. When it’s attached to a host, ticks can spread Lyme disease through their saliva. It is not spread from one person to another or from a dog to a human.

What are Lyme disease symptoms?

A rash may appear around the tick bite soon after infection however, it may not be noticeable if your dog has a lot of fur. Other symptoms include fever, lethargy, swollen lymph nodes, loss of appetite, and limping. Some infected dogs don’t show any symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose. The disease can cause kidney inflammation, and it can damage the heart and nervous system in its later stages. Blood or joint fluid tests are often needed to diagnose the disease.

How is Lyme Disease treated?

Antibiotics like doxycycline can help treat dogs. Additional medications can help with pain and inflammation. Treatment can take months or longer, and it’s most successful when it’s started within a few weeks of infection. It’s possible for the bacteria to remain in the body long-term, leading to periodic flare-ups.

How is Lyme Disease prevented?

It’s best to avoid areas infested with ticks. Tick repellents are beneficial for people and pets, but be sure to read all labels carefully and follow safety precautions. Your veterinarian can recommend effective tick control products that are safe for dogs. After leaving a tick-infested area, check your dog—and yourself—thoroughly. You can remove attached ticks with tweezers or inexpensive tick removal tools.

How do I remove a tick?

Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull it straight out. Do not apply insecticide or a hot match—this may increase the amount of saliva released by the tick. After you remove the tick, clean the area with antiseptic soap and wash your hands. There are Lyme disease vaccinations recommended for dogs living in areas where the disease is prevalent. Check with your veterinarian to see if your dog should be vaccinated.

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Watch the video: Part 2: Tick-Borne Diseases Other Than Lyme Disease Hot Topic (September 2021).