Just thinking about ticks can make your skin crawl. The truth is, those disgusting pests are more than just a nuisance. They can also be dangerous because of their ability to transmit a variety of illnesses and diseases, including Lyme disease.

Since May is Lyme Disease Prevention Month, we thought it was the perfect time to share information on how to prevent Lyme disease in dogs and cats.

What Is Lyme Disease?

According to the CDC, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States. It is transmitted through the bite of infected Ixodes ticks, which are also known as deer ticks or black-legged ticks.

Black-legged ticks tend to live in shady, moist ground litter, but they can also be found above ground in tall grass or shrubs. They also are commonly found in lawns and gardens, especially at the edges of wooded areas. Although many people think fleas and ticks are only an issue in the spring, ticks can also be active in the late summer, fall, and during a mild winter for some regions.

Signs of Lyme Disease

Lyme disease symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the disease, and it can affect different organs within the body. According to PetMD, it only causes symptoms in 5-10% of affected dogs. Common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Recurrent lameness or painful joints (due to inflammation) that often last 3-4 days
  • Swollen, warm, or painful joints
  • Reluctance to move
  • Fatigue
  • Stiff, painful gait
  • Lack of appetite
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Depression
  • Kidney damage and failure (uncommon)

If your vet diagnoses your pet with Lyme disease, treatment typically involves antibiotics.

How to Prevent Lyme Disease

Preventing Lyme disease in your pet starts with controlling ticks. Tick control includes treating your yard to reduce the tick habitat, using flea and tick preventatives, and making sure your pet is groomed regularly so you can spot ticks easier. There are also Lyme vaccines available for pets that live in areas where ticks are abundant. You should talk to your vet to see if the Lyme vaccine is right for your pet.

To help reduce the chances that a tick bite will make your pet sick, the CDC recommends checking your pets daily for ticks, especially after they are outdoors. If you find a tick, it’s important to remove it right away to limit the chance of infection. Infection typically occurs after the infected tick has been attached to a dog for approximately 24-48 hours.

The CDC shares some simple landscaping tips that can help reduce black-legged tick populations in your yard:

  • Remove leaf litter
  • Clear tall grasses and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns
  • Place a 3-ft wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to restrict tick migration into recreational areas
  • Mow the lawn frequently
  • Stack wood neatly and in a dry area (discourages rodents)
  • Discourage unwelcome animals (such as deer, raccoons, and stray dogs) from entering your yard by constructing fences
  • Remove old furniture, mattresses, or trash from the yard that may give ticks a place to hide