When Lyme strikes your four-legged friend

by Carla Robinson
Posted 5/17/24

In dogs, stiffness is the most common sign of Lyme disease, and it can develop fast enough to really surprise you.

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When Lyme strikes your four-legged friend


Last weekend, while on a weekend trip to a family memorial service in Massachusetts, my family and I received a disturbing note from our good friend and favorite dog sitter, Meg Waldron.

“I can't get Molly up off her bed,” she told us. “Literally. She just won't do it.”

Molly, a 75-pound lab mix, is normally an exuberant mass of powerful flesh and pretty much always ready to charge out into the great outdoors, so something was definitely amiss. 

Eventually, with a lot of coaxing and treats, Meg did get her to go outside for a short walk. Maybe Molly was just depressed, we thought. She’s such a social being, and she’d had to wait home alone all day for Meg to arrive.

But then we got home. And when we walked in the front door, Molly didn't even get up off her bed. And not just didn't, but couldn't.

So my husband, Ed, hoisted her up into his arms, carried her to the car, and drove her to the emergency vet. This was 7 p.m. on a Sunday, after all.

Four hours and an eye-popping sum later, we discovered the source of the problem: Lyme disease. With the weather warming up, tick season is most definitely upon us – and those pesky little critters aren't just trouble for humans.

Lucky for us, the antibiotics the veterinarian prescribed are working like a charm, and Molly was back to her hard-charging self within two or three days.

But it was a scary moment. 

So I turned to Dr. Google for a little research. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only a select few types of ticks transmit bacteria, viruses, parasites, or pathogens that cause diseases in both people and dogs. But the ones that do can cause a range of illnesses, including the Bourbon virus, ehrlichiosis, and the most common vector-borne disease in the U.S., Lyme disease.

In dogs, Molly’s stiffness is the most common sign of Lyme disease, and it can develop fast enough to really surprise you. Sometimes, you’ll notice fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite. Some dogs may also experience swollen lymph nodes and a stiff, painful gait. In more severe cases, Lyme can cause kidney damage, leading to vomiting, diarrhea, and increased thirst and urination.

So, if you notice your pup acting like they've suddenly been hit by a tranquilizer dart, it's time to call the vet. Early diagnosis and treatment can make a big difference.

The ticks that cause Lyme thrive in moist, shaded environments, making tall grass and wooded areas prime habitats. So if you’re interested in cutting down on the tick population in your own backyard, keep your grass trimmed like a fresh haircut and bag those clippings like you're prepping for a surprise party.

You can also use nature to create a natural barrier. Certain plants, including garlic, mint, lavender, and marigolds, naturally repel ticks due to their fragrances, textures, and oils. Plant these for some help repelling ticks – and enjoy their fragrance while you’re at it. (That mint can also come in handy for summer iced tea.)

Lastly, clear out any yard debris that might be doubling as a tick's dream vacation home. Those piles of leaves and brush? They've got to go. Think of it as a spring cleaning for your yard, except instead of dusting shelves, you're evicting unwanted tenants.