The bacterium that causes Lyme disease - a worm-like, spiral-shaped bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi - is carried and transmitted primarily by the tiny black-legged tick known as the deer tick. Deer ticks are found in forests or grassy, wooded, marshy areas near rivers, lakes or oceans. People or animals may be bitten by deer ticks during outdoor activities such as hiking or camping, or even while spending time in their back yards.
Named after numerous cases were identified in Lyme, Connecticut in 1975, the disease has since been reported in humans and animals across the United States and around the world. Within the U.S., it appears primarily in specific areas including the southern New England states; eastern Mid-Atlantic states; the upper Midwest, particularly Wisconsin and Minnesota; and on the West Coast, particularly northern California. The CDC maintains a map detailing confirmed cases of Lyme disease throughout the years.
Lyme disease is a reportable disease -- which means that health care providers and laboratories that diagnose cases of laboratory-confirmed Lyme disease are required to report those cases to their local or state health departments, which in turn report the cases to the CDC.
The best way to protect pets from Lyme disease is to take preventive measures to reduce the chance of contracting the disease. Even during the last weeks of summer, it's important to remember that pets and people are at greater risk of being infected with Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases such as anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
People with pets should:
- Use reliable tick-preventive products. Speak with your veterinarian about what tick preventive product is right for your pet.
- Work with your veterinarian to decide whether to vaccinate your dog against Lyme disease. Your veterinarian's advice may depend on where you live, your pet's lifestyle and overall health, and other factors.
- When possible, avoid areas where ticks might be found. These include tall grasses, marshes and wooded areas.
- Check for ticks on both yourself and your animals once indoors.
- Clear shrubbery next to homes.
- Keep lawns well maintained.
As noted above, there are preventive Lyme disease vaccines available for dogs, but they aren't necessarily recommended for every dog. Consult your veterinarian to see if the vaccination makes sense for your pets. If your veterinarian does recommend that your dog be vaccinated against Lyme disease, the typical protocol will involve an initial vaccination followed by a booster 2-4 weeks later and annual boosters after that.