Ask the Vet: Does your dog need the Lyme vaccine?

Dr. Ray Cahill

Q: We sometimes find ticks on our dog. Do we need to get her a Lyme vaccine?

Sarah K., Essex, Mass.

A: There are various kinds of common ticks, including the deer tick, which carries Lyme disease. These ticks infect dogs when they are attached and feeding. Dogs cannot pass the infection to other people or pets.

Pet owners usually decide to have their dogs vaccinated for Lyme based on tick exposure. Dogs that play in wooded areas or tall grass are more likely to get ticks. Unfortunately, deer ticks are small and difficult to find, and have been known to find their way onto dogs that aren’t known to have much tick exposure. This highlights the importance of screening for Lyme, especially since if left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to kidney damage. Fortunately, one of the commonly used in-clinic heartworm tests also screens for Lyme exposure.

Dogs that get Lyme disease, as well as dogs that test positive for Lyme exposure, are certainly good candidates for the Lyme vaccine. Although no vaccine is 100 percent effective, vaccinating for Lyme offers additional protection for at-risk dogs. A new canine Lyme vaccine was recently released and promises to provide better protection than was previously available.

Other ways to decrease the risk of Lyme disease include limiting access to woods and tall grass, using once-a-month topical tick prevention, and going over your dog’s coat with your hands on a regular basis. Using topical tick preventatives on cats that go outdoors will also help prevent them from bringing deer ticks into the home. Lyme disease is a serious health risk for people, so keeping deer ticks off your pets has important human health implications as well.

As always, consult your veterinarian before making any changes.

Dr. Cahill owns and operates SeaPort Veterinary Hospital in Gloucester, Mass. Submit questions to