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Why you should protect your dog from Lyme disease – and how to do it

The urge to be outside during spring and summer is something that’s shared by people and dogs. We all learn to tolerate the bites from mosquitoes and other pesky insects, but there’s one pest that both people and pets need to really watch out for: Lyme disease-carrying ticks.

While you might hear a lot about checking yourself for ticks after a hike in the woods, you need to check your dog, too – and remember that it’s possible for him to pick up ticks even if you live in an urban area. A number of tick species carry the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease, but the most common is the deer tick.

While humans can look for the tell-tale sign of a bull’s-eye-shaped rash on their skin, there’s no such convenient warning for dogs, says Dr. Ernest Ward, a well-known veterinarian who has published numerous articles on MyPetED.com.

“Lyme disease symptoms in dogs are more difficult to detect than in people,” says Ward. “When people are bitten by a tick carrying the infection, they see a ‘bull’s-eye’ rash at the site of the bite within three to 30 days. This rash doesn’t appear in bitten dogs.”

Ward advises dog owners to look for other signs, like lameness, swollen joints, fever, lethargy or decreased appetite. Lameness and limping are common symptoms because Lyme disease affects the joints. The painful limping that suddenly appears may shift from one leg to another. “Some pet owners describe their dogs as ‘walking on eggshells,'” Ward adds. “This may eventually disappear and then recur weeks or months later.”

Because Lyme disease symptoms are often delayed or go unrecognized, it’s possible for Lyme disease to progress to an advanced state before it’s considered a problem. However, rare cases of Lyme disease can lead to kidney disease or failure, which is potentially fatal.

If your dog exhibits the symptoms of Lyme disease, it’s important to get him to a veterinarian quickly. A veterinarian can administer a blood test to confirm the presence of Lyme disease and prescribe antibiotics to treat it. Sites like MyPetED.com can help you find a veterinarian near you, as well as provide you with credible pet health information and a secure place to store all of your pet’s health records. MyPetED also offers a mobile app for iPhones and iPads, which can help you locate a veterinarian, even when you’re far from home.

Taking preventive measures can be an effective way to keep your dog Lyme disease-free. While avoiding areas where ticks live, such as grassy, wooded or sandy areas, it’s not always possible, particularly with pups that are eager to get outside and play. Instead, be sure to thoroughly inspect your dog after each walk or romp through the woods. If you find ticks on your dog, it’s important not to touch them – wear gloves and use tweezers to remove them instead.

For extra protection against Lyme disease, you can opt for a vaccine, which is usually administered in two doses at two- to three-week intervals, and needs to be repeated annually. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian about whether vaccination is the right choice for your dog. He or she might also recommend a topical preventive, such as those that repel both fleas and ticks.

Just a few simple steps can prevent your pet from contracting Lyme disease. When you know what to do and what to look for, you’ll be able to concentrate on having fun with your dog in the great outdoors.

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