Coupled with monthly flea and tick prevention, the Lyme vaccine can add an extra line of defense for your dog.
two girls walking their dogs in a wooded area under a canopy of trees
Credit: Noel Hendrickson / Getty

Sadly, an itchy sore isn't the worst thing a tick bite can leave behind. Tick-transmitted diseases can have far more serious and long-lasting consequences in our furry friends.

Lyme disease is one such illness that can pass from ticks to dogs, and it's prevalence is growing in the United States, threatening not only dogs, but other animals and people too. And while year-round flea and tick control is the first line of defense against tick-borne diseases, dogs who are more likely to be exposed based on their lifestyle and geographic location can add a second: the Lyme vaccine.

What Is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is caused by a bacterial infection with Borrelia burgdorferi, primarily, and sometimes Borrelia mayonii. The Merck Veterinary Manual says that in the United States, these spiral-shaped bacteria are most often transmitted to dogs through the saliva of deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis), also called black-legged ticks, in the Northeast and upper Midwest. The western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) is the primary type of tick that transmits Lyme on the West Coast.

Merck explains that dogs infected with Lyme disease may not show any signs of illness but can experience symptoms like:

If left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to kidney, nervous system, and heart damage. And while antibiotics can be an effective treatment, some dogs experience life-long joint pain.

Does My Dog Need the Lyme Vaccine?

Canine vaccines are divided into two categories: core and noncore. Core vaccines are recommended for all dogs and include:

Noncore vaccines are recommended based on a dog's exposure risk due to their geographic location and lifestyle.

The Lyme vaccine belongs to the latter category, and with infections on the rise across the U.S. (a trend that's unlikely to slow down), this noncore vaccine is an important consideration for every dog owner. "Because this disease is spread by ticks, dogs that encounter these insects are the most likely to contract the disease," explains Laura Bailey, DVM, co-owner of Bridges Professional Park Animal Hospital in Morehead City, N.C. "For this reason, farm dogs, hunting dogs, and dogs who go with their owners on hikes are the obvious candidates for this vaccine." However, she adds that dogs can encounter tick-transmitted diseases in their own backyard or on a walk through the neighborhood—a reality that is especially true in areas where Lyme is endemic, like the Northeastern region of the U.S.

A veterinarian who knows your pet's history and lifestyle is in the best position to advise you on whether or not your dog is a good candidate for the Lyme vaccine. "While it's rarely a bad idea to get this vaccine if living in an area where the disease is prevalent," Bailey explains, "dogs who have a history of vaccine reactions or autoimmune diseases who don't live in a high-risk region of the U.S. may not need the shot." However, the American Animal Hospital Association adds that the vaccine may be indicated in dogs traveling from low-risk to high-risk regions of the country.

How Effective Is the Lyme Disease Vaccine for Dogs?

The Lyme vaccine for dogs isn't 100 percent effective. However, Bailey notes that as a general rule, a dog that contracts the disease after being vaccinated will likely have less severe symptoms.

Breakthrough infections are only one reason to keep your dog monthly flea and tick preventives—even if your dog has been vaccinated against Lyme disease. "Lyme Disease is one of the few tick-borne diseases that we have a vaccine for," Bailey explains. "There are many others we don't yet have a vaccine for, such as ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and anaplasmosis, that can be fatal. Moreover, these preventives also cover fleas, which are not only miserably uncomfortable for our pets, but can lead to skin problems and carry diseases, as well."

Lyme Vaccine Side Effects

Because the Lyme vaccine triggers an immune system response, mild side effects are normal. These include mild fever, swelling and soreness at the injection site, loss of appetite, and fatigue and typically go away within 24 to 48 hours.

"As with any vaccine an allergic reaction is always possible, though rare," Bailey says. "This most commonly includes vomiting, diarrhea, or facial swelling. More severe symptoms are possible but even less common." If you see signs of an allergic reaction in your dog, immediately contact your veterinarian.

If your veterinarian recommends the Lyme vaccine for your dog, you can discuss the potential reactions to determine whether the risks outweigh the benefits.

Lyme Vaccine Schedule for Dogs

According to American Animal Hospital Association guidelines, two initial doses are given 2 to 4 weeks apart and the first dose can be given as early as 8 or 9 weeks of age. If the dog remains at risk of exposure, they should be given a single dose one year after completing the initial two-dose series and then annually thereafter.

If your veterinarian recommends vaccinating your dog before traveling from a low-risk to a high-risk area, your dog will get the same two initial doses 2 to 4 weeks apart. The second dose should be given 2 to 4 weeks before your trip.

How Much Does the Lyme Vaccine for Dogs Cost?

While the price of the Lyme vaccine will vary by veterinary clinic, it typically costs between $20 and $40 per shot. You can call your veterinary clinic to learn the exact cost before making an appointment.