dog tick lyme disease

Q&A with Dr. Leilani Alvarez, DVM on Lyme Disease in Dogs

Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases.

Unfortunately, many dogs who are infected never develop any symptoms. Because it can take several months for symptoms to show up, if they do at all, many pet owners don’t immediately connect them with the possibility of Lyme disease. We talked to Dr. Leilani Alvarez, DVM, DACVSMR, Director of Integrative and Rehabilitative Medicine at the Animal Medical Center in NYC, to ask about the risks of Lyme disease and how to deal with it.

THE HONEST KITCHEN: How do dogs get Lyme disease?

DR. ALVAREZ: Lyme disease is transmitted by tick bites. Typically, the tick must be attached for 36-48 hrs before it will transmit the disease which is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdoferi. The ticks that carry the Lyme bacteria are very small "soft" ticks, called Ixodes scapularis (also known as "deer ticks"). The immature "nymph" ticks are most likely to transmit Lyme. Their feeding season is Spring and Summer. The adult ticks can also transmit the disease and this is more likely to occur in cooler months, especially in the Fall. The adult ticks are only about the size of a sesame seed and the nymphs the size of a poppy seed, so you can imagine how easy it is for them to hide in the hair coat of dogs. We used to think of Lyme disease as specific to the North Eastern United States; however, the tick territory has spread and the disease is now also recognized in the mid-Atlantic and North-Central US.
dog tick lyme disease tockphoto/kamontad123

THE HONEST KITCHEN: What is the best way to prevent Lyme disease?

DR. ALVAREZ: The best way to prevent Lyme is to prevent the tick bite. Since the ticks are so tiny, tick repellent products will be most effective. I recommend applying these products once a month year-round. We used to think Lyme could not be transmitted in the winter months, but with global warming, we don't get the hard freeze we used to, which allows the ticks to survive. I recommend applying spot-on products during the peak seasons (every 2-3 weeks). Another option is to add a tick collar in addition to the spot-on product during peak seasons (especially in Spring).

THE HONEST KITCHEN: Is there a natural way to prevent Lyme disease?

DR. ALVAREZ: I wish I could say yes; however, the reality is that all "natural" methods of preventing Lyme disease are not completely effective. Popular remedies include essential oil products (containing Rosemary, Lemongrass, Cedar, Peppermint, or other herbal/plant ingredients) and garlic oil. There is actually published evidence that some of these natural remedies can help in repelling ticks; however, they are not nearly as effective as the pharmaceutical spot-on or tick collars. Other effective methods of reducing the risk of Lyme transmission is to avoid hiking in heaving wooded areas (especially during Spring, Summer, and Fall) and using a flea comb immediately after being outdoors to remove any ticks. You will likely not see the ticks, so a flea comb is essential. Ticks love especially areas with higher blood flow, so be sure to check your dog's ears, around the eyes, neck, between their toes, the groin area, and the tail. Also, if your dog lives in an area that is known to have more Lyme disease (rural areas in the Northeast), I would also recommend vaccinating your dog against Lyme.
dog tick lyme disease ©istockphoto/mistersunday

THE HONEST KITCHEN: If you see a tick on your dog, what should you do?

DR. ALVAREZ: If you find a live tick or engorged tick on your dog you should remove it as quickly as possible. Remember, the longer the tick is attached, the higher the likelihood of disease transmission. For this reason, it's important to remove all ticks. This will also help reduce the risk of the tick getting on a human! The best way to remove a tick is by using tweezers or hemostats. You should grasp the tick firmly as close to the skin surface as possible and pull slow and steady. With slow upward pressure, the tick will usually release its mouthparts. If the mouthparts remain attached, don't be alarmed. If you can easily peel off the mouth-parts do so; however, if you can't easily do this, it's best to leave it alone. The area will scab over and the mouth pieces will fall off on their own along with the scab. Once the tick is removed, submerge it in alcohol or flush it down the toilet. Also, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly in order to remove any harmful bacteria or other diseases the tick could be carrying. If the tick was actually engorged and you are worried about disease transmission, you can save the tick and bring it to your veterinarian to identify it. Bring it in a sealed container (such as a closed bottle with alcohol). If the tick is still alive, however, please don't risk your own health by trying to transport it.

THE HONEST KITCHEN: How can I deter ticks from my yard?

DR. ALVAREZ: There are several methods that can help reduce ticks populations in your yard. I recommend creating a barrier between any areas where people congregate and the woods. You can do this by adding a few feet of gravel or wood chips around the perimeter of your yard. Also, cutting down shrubs and trees around the house will also help. In addition, building a tall fence will help keep deer away. Since deer carry ticks, this can reduce the tick populations. Also, in Spring and Summer, be sure to mow your lawn frequently in order to keep your grass as short as possible. Also, remove any old furniture in the yard and remove leaf piles or other dead plant materials. You can also treat your lawn with tick pesticides. A natural product that is safe for both people and pets is diatomaceous earth. This can be mixed with water (10 tsp to 1 gallon of water) and sprayed on the lawn. The Honest Kitchen offers limited-ingredient recipes that are rich in fruits and vegetables and contain added minerals and vitamins. These complete and balanced foods will help strengthen the immune system and keep your dog strong and healthy. If you have questions not covered above, please feel free to reach out to us at

Diana Bocco

Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and avid adventurer. She's gone hiking in Siberia, snorkeling in Thailand, and canoeing in the Mekong River. She also loves caves and has been known to get lost in one or five around the world. Diana's work has been published in the Discovery Channel website, Yahoo!, Popular Mechanics, and more. You can read more of her work on her website at
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