Lyme Disease (Borreliosis)

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a tick-borne bacterial disease which affects both humans and animals. The disease is caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, which are transmitted to humans and dogs following a bite from an infected tick from the species known as Ixodes. It’s the most common tick borne disease in Europe, and the number of reported human cases has risen dramatically in the UK in recent years, with an increase of over 300% since the year 2000. With a recent survey showing that 15% of dogs are carrying ticks, unknown to their owners, the risk to our pets can’t be ignored.

Which dogs are at risk?

Ticks are found practically everywhere, from forests to gardens to vegetation on beaches. Tick numbers tend to be higher in certain areas, such as woodland, moorland, rough pasture and heathland. Urban/city parks, especially larger parks where deer are present, are also suitable habitats for ticks. So if you regularly go walking in this type of area, your dog could be at significant risk of picking up an infected tick.

Signs of Lyme disease

The disease is transmitted when an infected tick climbs on to the dog and starts to feed. The process of disease transmission generally takes around 48 hours, although it can occur more rapidly. In some dogs, infection does not cause any harmful effects but in others, a variety of symptoms can be seen.
The most common signs are:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Joint swellings
  • Stiffness when moving

The disease can also affect the nervous system and the heart. In rare cases, serious kidney problems can develop which are very difficult to treat. These signs can take a long time to develop, sometimes several months, after a dog is bitten by an infected tick.The intensity of these symptoms can fluctuate for months, and if left undiagnosed can lead to permanent disability.

Diagnosis and treatment

Diagnosis can be difficult, as the signs are similar to a wide range of other diseases, but blood tests to measure immunity levels to Borrelia can be useful. Other tests are available which can detect the bacteria in tissue samples, such as skin or joint tissue. Treatment usually consists of antibiotics, plus anti-inflammatories to control the painful lameness which can be seen. Although treatment usually gives rapid results in the short term, it is very difficult to get rid of the bacteria, and relapses can occur. Prevention is certainly better than cure.


There are several steps you can take to reduce the risk of Lyme disease for your dog. You can help protect your dog from Lyme Disease by using suitable veterinary advised products. These are designed to protect against the ticks that carry the disease.

Vaccination is an important way of protecting your pet and a vaccine against Lyme disease is now available in the UK. A primary vaccine course of two injections are required followed by annual boosters.

Avoiding high risk areas, particularly during periods of peak tick activity during Spring and Autumn, can help. Carefully examining your dog after walks to identify and then remove ticks is important, as removal of ticks within 48 hours of attachment helps to reduce the risk of disease transmission. And don’t forget that Lyme disease affects humans too, so take appropriate steps to protect yourself against ticks, such as covering up exposed skin and checking yourself carefully for ticks.

Please ask us about our FREE Travel Clinics which help you plan the appropriate disease prevention measures and also check your pet’s microchip is still active. Even if you aren’t travelling abroad you should still protect your pet. Remember to prepare well in advance as some parasite prevention products need to be applied well before any possible exposure to parasites. Please contact your local branch for an appointment.

Click on the video below to find out more about Lyme Disease.

Useful links:
Lyme Disease Pet Owner Information Leaflet


What are ticks?

Ticks are blood sucking parasites related to spiders. Adults have a pointed head, a body and four pairs of legs. Mouth parts, which possess a barbed structure, protrude from the head. A tick’s body is capable of considerable distension to accommodate the blood that the tick sucks from the host animal it infests.

The tick lifecycle

Hungry ticks position themselves on vegetation and attach to passing animals. 

The mouthparts pierce the animal’s skin and the barbed structure is then used to anchor the tick to the animal for several days. 

A tick will then feed over several days, sucking blood and passing saliva back into the host.

Once a female tick is fully fed or engorged, she drops off the host animal to lay her thousands of eggs in the environment.

Tiny larval ticks (1mm in size) that hatch from the eggs have to find a host on which to feed. They then moult to the nymph stage which also feeds on blood.

After a second moult, the tick develops into a male or female approximately 4-6 mm in size. Only the female takes blood to any extent and they can reach the size of a small grape.

Tick species and where they are found

In the UK

The species of tick most likely to infest dogs in the UK is Ixodes ricinus.  It is found in woodland and rough upland regions and is well known in deer parks. The immature stages of this tick often infest small mammals or birds, but the adult stages tend to attach to larger animals such as deer, sheep or dogs.

In parks and urban environments it is often the hedgehog tick, Ixodes hexagonus that is found on dogs and cats. As its name suggests, it is related to the sheep tick and it is a specialised skill to tell the two species apart.

In Europe

Dermacentor reticulatus is the so-called ornate tick; its back is covered in brown and cream patterning. This tick occurs in some parts of England but is predominantly found across Continental Europe from southern Germany southwards.

Rhipicephalus sanguineus is also known as the brown dog tick.  It occurs worldwide and is found in more southern areas of Europe. It is typically associated with dogs and their accommodation. It can survive and replicate (breed) indoors in the UK.  This is of concern because from 1st January 2012 under the new Pet Travel Scheme rules there is no longer a compulsory requirement to treat cats or dogs with tick treatments before entering the UK.  This is likely to result in increased numbers of this tick entering the country and the possible wide spread establishment of tick populations principally in urban areas. 

Ixodes ricinus is common in more northern areas of Europe in particular.

Why I should I worry about ticks?

Ticks can cause localised irritation to pets and, if they are scratched off and the mouthparts left behind, small abscesses can result. 

Ticks can spread diseases such as:

Lyme Disease caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacterium can affect both people and animals.  Lyme disease causes flu like symptoms on initial infection.  Left untreated, muscles, joints, the heart and nervous system can become affected.  Lyme disease is present in the UK.

Babesiosis is carried mainly by the foreign or ‘exotic’ species of ticks. Babesia are microscopic parasites that live in red blood cells and can cause serious illness in both animals and people. In the acute form of the disease, Babesia cause sudden rupture of red blood cells resulting in a life threatening form of anaemia. In the subacute or chronic forms, animals are anaemic, lethargic and debilitated.  Diagnostic tests often show kidney and liver damage caused by Babesia.

Tick-borne diseases such as that caused by Babesia are more likely to be acquired after a tick has been attached for more than 24 hours. Daily checking for ticks and removing them promptly will greatly reduce the chance of ticks spreading tick borne diseases to your pet.

How can I tell if my pet has ticks?

Ticks attach to an animal by embedding their mouthparts into the skin. The size of a small bean, they often look like an immobile growth or wart attached to the pet. 

As they continue to suck blood, the body of the tick expands. Many owners only notice a tick when it has already been feeding for several days and has engorged to full size.

An engorged tick will often have a grey or brown body, larval stages (hardly ever seen) or ticks that are not yet engorged look lighter in colour, sometimes white.

Ticks commonly attach to an animal’s head and legs but they can be found anywhere on an animal’s body.

What should I do if I find a tick on my pet?

Use a proprietary ‘tick remover’ that enables the tick to be removed without the embedded mouth parts being left behind to cause a small abscess. It is a good idea to have one of these tick removers as part of a first aid box for your pet. Alternatively contact your local branch of Cinque Ports Vets and your veterinary nurse will be happy to remove them for you.

Tick control

Check your pet on a daily basis for ticks and remove them before they have been attached for any length of time. 

Consider using a tick control product on a regular basis to reduce the number of ticks that can establish a hold on your pet and to reduce the chances of any ticks that do attach from spreading tick-borne diseases.

A vaccine is available for dogs to help protect against Lyme Disease which is transmitted by the Ixodes species of ticks. A primary vaccine course of two injections would be required followed by annual boosters. Please contact us for more information.

Please note that some tick control products can be toxic to cats therefore please talk to your vet about using regular tick control products to ensure they are used correctly and safely and part of a parasite control programme tailored to the individual pet and its specific lifestyle factors.

‘Ticks And How To Prevent Them’

Please see ‘Travelling with Your Pet’ in our Information sheets for more guidance on parasite control abroad.

Useful links:
Lyme Disease

ESCCAP Leaflet – Ticks