Does the thought of a tick crawling on you or your pet creep you out? These tiny parasites are termed “creepy crawlies” for a reason, and not only for their disturbing appearance. Ticks are well-known for carrying a large arsenal of deadly diseases that can harm you and your furry pal, with Lyme disease one of the most common. Although Lyme disease is not as prevalent in Spokane as on the East Coast, tick-borne illnesses are spreading further and further each year. With the debilitating effects Lyme disease can trigger in your pet, every pet owner needs to be aware of this serious illness. 

Do all tick species transmit Lyme disease?

Fortunately, not all tick species carry the Lyme bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi. In fact, only one type of tick carries it—the black-legged tick. Here in Spokane, we’re more likely to see Ixodes pacificus, the western black-legged tick, while the East Coast worries more about Ixodes scapularis, the deer tick. The deer tick can carry other disease organisms in addition to the Lyme bacterium, such as babesia, bartonella, anaplasma, tularemia, and the Powassan virus.

Like all ticks, the black-legged tick is especially hardy and, with a 2-year lifespan, can survive the winter. Although most ticks are active from March through November, the black-legged tick can be found when temperatures rise above 35 degrees, making year-round tick prevention essential.

How long does a tick need to stay attached to transmit Lyme disease?

Black-legged ticks “quest” for their meals by climbing up tall weeds, grasses, or shrubs, and lurking in wait until their victim brushes past. As your pet walks by, the tick grabs on and begins its journey to attach to an appropriate spot. Once attached, transmission of the Lyme bacterium from the tick to your pet can take 24 to 48 hours, but usually closer to 48 hours. To prevent the disease transfer, thoroughly check your pet after venturing outdoors, focusing between the toes, in the armpits, in the ears, and under the collar. Remove ticks promptly with tweezers by grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible, and pulling straight out with firm, steady pressure. Avoid squeezing or twisting the tick, as this can cause the Lyme bacterium to be released during removal.

What are the Lyme disease signs in my pet?

Lyme disease can be difficult to detect in pets without diagnostic testing, as signs can wax and wane, and may take months to appear after initial infection. Some pets who test positive for Lyme disease never develop signs. However, this serious tick-borne illness can affect numerous body systems, such as the kidneys, brain, heart, and joints. Common Lyme disease signs in pets include:

  • Intermittent, recurrent lameness that may switch from leg to leg
  • Fever
  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy
  • Swollen, painful joints
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Pets with Lyme disease can also develop kidney failure, which is often fatal. If you notice any of the above Lyme disease signs in your pet, or excessive thirst or urination that may indicate kidney failure, contact our team immediately.

Can I get Lyme disease from my pet?

To become infected with Lyme disease, you must be bitten by a tick carrying the Lyme bacterium. While you cannot get Lyme disease directly from your pet, you should be aware of potential infection if your furry pal tests positive for the disease. If your pet is diagnosed with Lyme disease, understand that ticks in your area carry the disease and can infect you. 

Should my pet be vaccinated for Lyme disease?

Discuss your pet’s lifestyle and exposure risk with your family veterinarian to determine if they should be vaccinated for Lyme disease. In general, active dogs who spend a significant amount of time outdoors should be doubly protected with tick prevention and vaccination, but your family veterinarian can guide you toward the appropriate decision.

While you can stock up on plenty of flea, tick, and heartworm prevention from your family veterinarian, sometimes you may forget to give your pet their regular dose and discover a tick on your furry pal. If you need help removing a tick from your pet after normal business hours, contact our team. Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center can also tackle tough Lyme disease cases in pets or, if your four-legged friend experiences a flare-up in disease signs, our animal emergency hospital team is here for you.