Lyme Disease

Canine Lyme Disease and your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

By Shelley Greggs

Summer is here – time to protect your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel from Lyme Disease! Lyme disease is a growing concern for both humans and their pups. This disease is increasing in numbers as well as expanding geographically.


What is Canine Lyme Disease and why should you be concerned? Canine Lyme disease is a potentially serious tick-borne illness that can affect your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (CKCS). While this disease is worse on the East Coast, dogs have tested positive for Canine Lyme Disease in all 48 continental US states. In fact due to warmer winters, the disease is spreading at a much faster rate than in previous years. Most commonly dogs contract Canine Lyme Disease from the bite of an infected Ixodes tick often called the “deer tick” however this bacteria also lives in mice, chipmunks, and birds in wooded areas. who also can transmit the disease. The bacteria’s formal name is Borrelia burgdorferi and it is a transmitter for Lyme disease for both dogs and humans. There is some good news though, Canine Lyme Disease is generally preventable by alert and caring dog owners who check their pups for ticks frequently, use tick control products and if necessary get their pet an annual vaccination against Canine Lyme disease.

It’s essential to assess your pup’s risk for this illness. The first step in assessing the risk of contracting Canine Lyme Disease is that you must look at several factors: where you live, your dog’s lifestyle and overall health. And most important of all these factors is recognizing the exposure risk in your local area. Some communities have actually posted signs to help alert dog owners to the local risk.

Below is a map of the severity of Canine Lyme disease in the continental US and parts of Canada.


  • The RED or endemic zone is where the disease is endemic. Most dogs are at risk and the threat is near constant and pervasive.
  • Three-quarters of human cases are contracted during activities around the home3
  • Nearly 75 percent of unvaccinated dogs in this area will eventually test positive, and each year some will develop the disease. 
  • The ORANGE or expansion zone is characterized by the increase of infected ticks putting dogs at risk based on lifestyle and geography. Canine Lyme disease may be found in wildlife corridors/ecosystems where deer live in urban and suburban areas
  • Dogs in these areas can be sentinels for Lyme disease in people
  • The YELLOW or isolated zone has infected ticks that have been introduced to the area (likely by migratory birds) but populations are not established Lyme disease may be found in wildlife corridors/ecosystems where deer live in urban and suburban areas
  • Dogs in these areas can be sentinels for Lyme disease in people

There’s no one thing that can be done to prevent ticks 100%, however, there are some ways to prevent your dog from obtaining ticks this summer and for future summers to come.

Observe where your dog roams when he/she is outside to get a better understanding of the landscape they are running through. If your pup loves running through high fields and wooded areas there is a much higher probability of being bitten by a tick. For your own yard you may want to create a climate that ticks are uncommon to be found in. Keeping your lawn nice and short, getting rid of any leaf piles or accumulation around the yard, and pruning shrubs or trees, can do this.


Despite the most perfectly maintained yard a risk remains particularly in the Red Zone. There are some products out there to repel ticks. By using a tick control product on your dog, it helps protect them reducing the risk again. Make sure to ask for your vet’s advice for a tick product that is suitable for your area.

Ticks are very small, about the size of a sesame seed, making them very easy to miss during a tick check. However, the slow transmission of the bacteria after the initial tick bite creates a window of opportunity to remove ticks before the disease is transmitted. Even if tick checks are done within the recommended 4-hour timeframe, they are often less than 100 percent effective because:

  • Ixodes ticks are very small, difficult to see and can easily be missed
  • Tick checks are time-consuming, often resulting in low dog owner compliance.


What should you do if you find a tick on your Cavalier? Here is a link to an excellent tutorial on how to check you dog for ticks and what to do if you find one. You don’t need any special tools other than tweezers although there are some specially designed instruments that may be more helpful. Check with your vet.

Canine Lyme disease can affect different organs and systems within a dog’s body. The most common symptoms are:

  • Recurrent painful joints that lasts 3–4 days, sometimes accompanied by loss of appetite and depression
  • Reluctance to move, or a stiff, painful gait 
  • Swollen joints that are warm to the touch 
  • Leg pain or pain throughout the body 
  • Fever, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes 

Symptoms of Canine Lyme disease may come and go, vary from mild to severe, and mimic other conditions. In many dogs, the signs may not appear for several months after infection. In severe cases, dogs may also develop heart disease, central nervous system disorders, or fatal kidney disease.


Tests are now available to accurately diagnose your dog for Lyme and other tick-borne infections. If your veterinarian suspects your pup may have Lyme disease, they will take a thorough history of your dog’s symptoms and activities and recommend testing your dog for Lyme disease, as well as other common tick-borne infections. In some cases, dogs can be coinfected with more than one type of tick-borne organism causing canine ehrlichiosis canine anaplasmosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Successful treatment of Canine Lyme disease is dependent upon early detection and the severity of your dog’s symptoms. Antibiotic therapy with doxycyline is most commonly prescribed, although your veterinarian may prescribe a different antibiotic and other treatments depending on your dog’s clinical signs and circumstances. In general, most dogs respond quickly with appropriate treatment, and symptoms improve in as little as 24–48 hours. Follow-up testing to ensure adequate response to treatment is recommended.

Having the correct information and being proactive with your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is the best defense against Canine Lyme Disease.


Enjoy the summer and keep checking for ticks!


Information and map adapted from brochure published by

* Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada), Ltd., 


* Meryl P. Littman, Richard E. Goldstein, Mary A. Labato, Michael R. Lappin, and George E. Moore. ACVIM Small Animal Consensus Statement on Lyme Disease in Dogs: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention [PDF - 13 pages]. J Vet Intern Med 2006;20:422-434.StatementStatement


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