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February 2014

Lyme Disease Vaccination for Dogs. Yeah or Ney?

By | Pet Health

Skyway Animal Hospital in St Petersburgs Illustrating a TickThe debate continues whether to vaccinate or not vaccinate for Lyme disease. If veterinarians can not agree, how does a client decide. Anytime a veterinarian decides to use a vaccine, Lyme disease or any other, the vet has to weigh the risks and benefits for the patient. So what are some of the factors to consider.

Where does your pet live?

Living in an endemic area for Lyme disease needs to be considered. In humans, 95% of Lyme disease cases are found in 12 endemic states in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Upper Midwest. In some of these areas, 70% to 90% of the healthy dogs have been exposed to Lyme disease. An important component for prevention in the areas is good tick control, which can reduce the risk for disease. Also, vaccination should be considered more frequently in an endemic area.

How great is the risk of severe disease, once a dog is infected?

Generally, the risk of severe disease, once the dog is infected, is low. It has been stated that less than 2% of exposed dogs develop the more serious illness, Lyme nephritis (kidney inflammation). Also, co-infection (infection with more than one agent) appears to result in more serious illness. There also may be a genetic predisposition to the degree of inflammation produced from the disease. Retrievers and soft-coated wheaten terriers appear to a genetic susceptibility. In studies, less than 5% of positive dogs had arthritis, the most common illness. These cases generally respond rapidly to common and inexpensive antibiotics.

How effective is the vaccine?

Definitely not as effective as other vaccines. The vaccine appears to prevent infection in 60%-86% of the dogs vaccinated. Protection is not long lasting and booster vaccinations are given every 6 months or at least annually.

Is the vaccine safe?

The vaccine does not appear to be as safe as the more common vaccines used today for other diseases. In a 1.2 million study of vaccinated dogs, the Lyme vaccine produced more after vaccination adverse reactions within 3 days, than any other vaccine. These reactions were judged as moderate. The reactions were related to inflammation. In a study, 30% of the dogs with Lyme nephritis had been given the Lyme vaccine 2 weeks to 15 months prior to illness. This also brings up the question whether or not to vaccinate retrievers and soft-coated wheaten terriers. They probably SHOULD NOT be vaccinated.


1. Tick control is important is helping to prevent the disease.

2. Most dogs tested positive for Lyme disease are nonclinical.

3. Vast majority of confirmed cases can be treated with common and inexpensive antibiotics

4. Most dogs do not display signs of Lyme disease after vaccination, but the same is true for naturally exposed dogs.

5. Lyme disease vaccine have a short duration and cause more post vaccination adverse events

6. The dogs most susceptible to Lyme disease (genetic predisposition), whicj=h need the most protection, should not be vaccinated.

Hopefully this provides some useful information in making a decision to vaccinate for Lyme disease or not.