Does Your Dog Need a Lyme Vaccine?


PetMD Editorial

. Reviewed by Jennifer Coates, DVM
Updated May 7, 2019

Reviewed for accuracy on May 8, 2019 by Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM

There are two kinds of dog vaccines—core vaccinations and noncore.

Core vaccinations, like rabies and distemper, are required to keep your dog protected from some serious and potentially lethal diseases.

Noncore, or lifestyle vaccines, may be recommended by a veterinarian based on your dog’s individual lifestyle or health status.

One of these so-called noncore vaccinations is the Lyme vaccine for dogs. 

What Does the Lyme Vaccine Do?

The Lyme vaccine helps to prevent Lyme disease in dogs, a bacterial infection that’s transmitted by blacklegged (aka deer or Ixodes) ticks that tend to live in woods and tall grasses in many parts of the country.

“I tell owners [that] the Lyme vaccine is ‘belt-plus-suspenders’ for dogs with heavy exposure to deer ticks. The ‘belt’ is a spot-on product that kills deer ticks, and the Lyme vaccine is the ‘suspenders,’ says Dr. Betsy Brevitz, DVM, a vet in Fanwood, New Jersey and author of “The Complete Healthy Dog Handbook.”

Which Dogs Are More at Risk for Lyme Disease?

So, what makes for heavy exposure? Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding whether to get the Lyme vaccine for your pet:

Where You Live

The Northeastern United States has the highest risk of exposure to Lyme disease in dogs. Other high-risk areas include the mid-Atlantic states and upper Midwest.

However, the disease is spreading, says Dr. Grace Anne Mengel, VMD, an assistant professor of clinical primary care medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

Dogs who test positive for Lyme disease come from all over the US, according to this map by the Companion Animal Parasite Council. And out of over 5.5 million dogs that were tested, nearly 6 percent came up positive for the disease.

The Amount of Time Your Dog Spends Outdoors

Dogs that spend more time outside or are regularly exposed to wooded areas are at higher risk of exposure. Dr. Brevitz says that dogs with higher potential for exposure will benefit from the Lyme vaccination for dogs.

That doesn’t mean that city or suburban pets shouldn’t get the vaccine, but they probably have a lower risk—as long as they’re on prescription flea and tick prevention, she adds.

Why You Should Still Use Flea and Tick Prevention

Although getting your dog a Lyme vaccination might reduce the risk, it’s not the all-in-one cure. You still need to keep your dog on flea and tick medication.

The Lyme Vaccination for Dogs Isn’t Foolproof

The shot isn’t 100 percent effective, says Dr. Mengel.

But, Dr. Mengel adds, “anecdotally, many practices report seeing lower numbers of dogs testing positive for exposure to the bacteria that causes Lyme since using the vaccine in practice over several years.”

“The Lyme vaccine cannot replace good tick control, because it is not completely effective at preventing Lyme disease, and it does nothing to protect against the many other tick-borne diseases, such as ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever,” says Dr. Brevitz.

Dogs That Stay Mostly Indoors Can Get Ticks and Lyme Disease

Don’t brush off flea and tick prevention just because your dog sticks around the house, either. “Many of us have diagnosed clinical infection of Lyme disease (including fever, lameness and lethargy) in dogs that only go outside to ‘potty’ and spend the rest of the time indoors.  Ticks can hitch a ride into the house on humans and other pets,” says Dr. Mengel.

OTC vs. Prescription Flea and Tick Medicine

So, what constitutes good tick control? A product recommended by your vet, says Dr. Mengel, who also practices at the University of Pennsylvania’s M. J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital.

Many flea and tick preventatives require a prescription, so vets can make sure your dog is getting the right medication and dosage, she adds.

While some over-the-counter dog flea and tick treatment products work well, tell your pet’s providers what you use so they can ensure it is an appropriate choice.

No matter what type of preventative flea and tick medicine for dogs you choose, what’s very important is that it is used year-round when Lyme disease is a concern.

Deer ticks can remain active through the winter months, so it very important to keep your pet protected all year.

Also, don’t be surprised if you still see a tick on your furry friend even with protection. Some products can’t repel every single tick (a good reason to do tick-checks after going outdoors) but still do kill the bugs before they have a chance to infect your dog.

If, however, you are finding significant numbers of live, attached ticks on your dog, talk to your veterinarian about more aggressive tick control methods.

Your Veterinarian Will Decide If the Lyme Vaccine Is Right for Your Dog

Your veterinarian is your best resource for deciding if your dog is a good candidate for the Lyme vaccination for dogs. So, before you sign your pup up for this yearly shot, talk with your vet about your pet’s lifestyle and risk level for Lyme disease.

Pets who’ve been treated for Lyme disease in dogs should probably get the vaccine, but not if the disease caused kidney damage, says Dr. Brevitz. The vet will check the dog’s urine to see if there are excessive amounts of protein before giving the vaccine.

If there are abnormal amounts that are thought to be caused by Lyme disease, your pup should skip the vaccine to theoretically prevent more kidney damage from occurring.

Most dogs won’t have side effects with this shot, and if they do, they are mild ones, like feeling tired or sore at the site of the injection, says Dr. Mengel. But, if your dog has a history of severe reactions, bring it up with your vet.

By: Linda Rodgers

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