Lyme Disease Vaccine in Dogs, Pros and Cons

Ticks may be tiny, but the threat of Lyme disease they carry is a growing concern equally for both dogs and people. Tick control and vaccination are the two most effective ways to prevent Lyme disease. There is a consensus among Veterinarians regarding the first method. However, different opinions exist about whether or not dogs should be vaccinated against Lyme disease. Here in this article, we will take a deep insight into the pros and cons of vaccination against Lyme disease in dogs. First, let’s have a look at Lyme disease in dogs. 

dog getting a vaccine

What Is Lyme Disease

If your dog is sluggish, feverish, and exhibiting lameness, and you see attached ticks or the marks of the tick bite, Lyme disease is the first to be suspected.

Cause of Lyme disease 

 Lyme disease in dogs is caused by a spirochete bacterium named Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted by the bite of the deer tick, a tiny black-legged arachnid commonly found in many areas of the world, especially in the Midwest of the United States and Canada. Once the tick is attached to the dog’s body, it takes at least 24-48 hours to transmit the bacterium to the dog. 

Signs of Lyme disease in dogs 

 The signs of Lyme disease in dogs include swollen joints, intermittent lameness, lethargy, recurrent fever, and swollen, painful lymph nodes. Lameness in Lyme disease can shift from one to the other leg. Sometimes, kidney-related fatal complications of Lyme disease can occur. Lyme disease involving kidneys is characterized by weight loss, loss of appetite, and vomiting. Lyme disease is more prevalent in warmer months because ticks are more active during those seasons. 

Diagnosis 

Diagnosis of Lyme disease is performed using a particular antibody test and ELISA. Specialized kits are available in the market, and the veterinarian will perform the test. 

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Treatment of Lyme disease 

Lyme disease in dogs can be effectively treated by giving doxycyclin at the dose of 10 mg/kg every 12 hours for 3 days, followed by Amoxicillin at the dose of 20 mg/kg orally every 8 hours for 1-2 weeks. To address the pain associated with Lyme disease, Gabapentin is given. 

How to Prevent Lyme disease 

The two most recommended ways to protect your dog from getting Lyme disease in the first place are

  1. Prevent the ticks from getting attached and transmitting the disease
  2. Vaccination against Lyme disease. 

There is a full consensus among veterinarians on the first method, but different opinions exist about vaccination against Lyme disease. The most important consideration of a veterinarian before recommending any vaccine to a pet animal is to weigh the pros and cons of that vaccine in that particular case. The risk factors are considered, and the decision is made based on that analysis. In the case of Lyme disease vaccines, the ultimate goal is to determine whether the risk factors are worthy enough to recommend vaccination. Here is an insight into both opinions

Two opposite arguments related to Lyme vaccines 

Although the disease is mild in most of the infected dogs and can also be treated effectively with antibiotics, the co-infection of Lyme disease, along with other infectious agents, can be dangerous and can trigger serious illness. Similarly, dogs without vaccination become carriers even after treatment. Humans can get infected with Lyme disease not due to carrier dogs but from tick bites. Therefore, it is always helpful to vaccinate dogs with the Lyme vaccine if they live in endemic areas.

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On the other hand, only a small percentage (5%) of dogs infected with Lyme disease organism exhibit the signs of clinical arthritis, which can be effectively treated with antibiotics. Lyme disease becomes life-threatening only when the disease involves the kidney and occurs in less than 2% of the infected dogs. A study also indicated that almost 40% of the dogs diagnosed serologically were misdiagnosed and had some other disease—the reasons why some dogs develop kidney-related Lyme disease, and others don’t are still unknown.

Pros of Lyme Disease Vaccination

Prevents Lyme Disease

The Lyme disease vaccines are highly effective in preventing Lyme disease in dogs. It works by helping the dog’s immune system produce antibodies that can fight off bacteria.

Reduces the Risk of Infection

Suppose a dog is vaccinated against Lyme disease. In that case, it reduces its risk of becoming infected if they are bitten by a tick that carries the bacteria.

Safe and Well-Tolerated

The vaccine is generally safe and well-tolerated by dogs. The side effects are usually mild to moderate and disappear within a few days.

Cost-Effective

 The cost of the Lyme disease vaccine is relatively low compared to the cost of treating Lyme disease in dogs. Prevention is always more cost-effective than treatment.

Easy to Administer

 The vaccine is easy to administer.

Cons of Lyme Disease Vaccination

Not 100% Effective:

Although the Lyme disease vaccine is highly effective, it is not 100% effective. Some dogs may still become infected with Lyme disease even after being vaccinated.

Not for all dogs 

Retriever dog breeds are genetically more sensitive to Lyme disease involving kidneys. These dogs should not be recommended with Lyme vaccines as this can sensitize them

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Possible Side Effects

Like all vaccines, the Lyme disease vaccine can cause side effects in some dogs. These can include swelling at the injection site, fever, and lethargy. This is due to the reason that the vaccines for Lyme disease are produced using surface proteins of the B. burgdorferi. These proteins can induce an inflammatory response in the body and can cause arthritis in some dogs. 

Limited Protection

The Lyme disease vaccine only protects against one specific strain of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. It does not protect against other strains or other tick-borne diseases.

Not Recommended for All Dogs

The vaccine is not recommended for all dogs. Dogs that have a history of allergic reactions to vaccines or that have a weakened immune system should not be vaccinated.

Expense

Although the cost of the Lyme disease vaccine is relatively low, it is an added expense for dog owners. Some owners may choose not to vaccinate their dogs due to the cost.

Should You Vaccinate Your Dog Against Lyme Disease or Not

In my opinion, the decision whether to vaccinate your dog against Lyme disease or not should be based on the following guidelines 

  1. The dogs living or traveling to the areas with endemic incidences of Lyme disease should be vaccinated.
  2. Dog breeds that are sensitive to Lyme disease related to kidneys should not be vaccinated. 
  3. The dogs which are detected positive for Lyme disease should not be vaccinated. 
  4. If you don’t have an effective tick control strategy, then vaccinate your dog. 

The choice is yours