Complications of Dog Vaccines for Lyme Disease

Hiking in long grass may expose your dog to Lyme disease-carrying ticks.
Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Many dog owners who like to hike with their best friend are concerned about Lyme disease. While you may want to vaccinate to protect your pal, veterinarians say the issue of Lyme disease may be a bit more complicated. With concerns about side effects and effectiveness, you should discuss the options with your vet before taking the plunge.

Risks of Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria most commonly passed from ticks to their hosts. The disease causes sudden onset arthritis, painfully swelling of the dog's joints and can cause lameness around two to five months after exposure to the tick. In rare cares, Lyme disease may cause heart block, kidney failure, neurological changes, seizures and aggression. While the symptoms are serious, only about 5 percent of dogs exposed to the disease will catch it. Removing the tick within 12 hours of it latching on reduces the risk to almost zero. In addition, most dogs respond very well to antibiotic treatment, although some may have a recurrence of symptoms after recovering.

Common Vaccine Side Effects

There are three types of Lyme disease vaccine, Fort Dodge's vaccine, which introduces dead bacteria that may help increase antibodies; Intervet-Schering-Plough's vaccine, which blocks the protein used to transfer the disease; and Merial's vaccine, which blocks the protein and kills the bacteria. The common side effects for these vaccines are mild and may include fatigue, low fever and swelling or redness at the injection site, all of which should go away after a few days.

Less Common Side Effects

In less than 2 percent of cases, more serious side effects may occur. Your dog may suffer from facial swelling, hives, itchiness, vomiting, diarrhea, collapse or trouble breathing, generally caused by an allergic reaction. Research performed at Cornell University has shown concern that some dogs may develop Lyme disease symptoms from the vaccine itself. While the research is not yet conclusive, you may want to talk to your vet about the risk balanced against the benefit of vaccinating.

Effectiveness of the Vaccine

In a limited study, the incidence of infection in dogs that had the vaccine and had never previously been exposed to Lyme disease dropped from 4.7 percent to about 1 percent. However, if your dog has already had Lyme disease exposure, there is no evidence that the vaccine will help prevent the disease in the future. Some vets who believe the vaccine is safe still question its effectiveness. Talk with your vet to help determine what is best for you and your best friend.