What is Lyme Disease (Lyme Borreliosis)?
Since Lyme disease is caused by a tick bite, checking your horse daily for ticks can prevent the illness. The tick has to remain on the horse for 12-24 hours to cause the disease, so if you make it a part of your daily grooming, you will not have to worry about your horse getting Lyme disease. This is extremely important in high risk areas. Even though Lyme disease is not usually fatal, it can cause permanent damage to the brain or long term muscle pain. There are acute and chronic types, of which the chronic type may take much longer to treat and tends to recur.
Lyme disease (Lyme Borreliosis) in horses is a serious condition in man as well as animals. Caused by a tick bite, Lyme disease can create crippling pain and inflammation of the muscles in the entire body. It is caused by bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) that is spread by a certain tick that also affects deer, rats, mice, pets, and even humans. Even though this is a common disease in horses, it is not always identified because many horses do not show any signs for months. Lyme disease may also attack vital organs and can cause chronic health issues and permanent damage to the liver or central nervous system.
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Symptoms of Lyme Disease (Lyme Borreliosis) in Horses
Symptoms can vary depending on the horse and the length of time the tick was on the body. The most often reported symptoms of Lyme disease are:
- High body temperature
- Appetite loss
- Losing weight
- Swelling of the joints anywhere in the body
- Excessive sleepiness
- Sore muscles
- Hypersensitive skin
- Shifting from leg to leg
- Changes in behavior
- Refusing to walk or exercise
- Laminitis (swelling of the tissues in the in the hooves)
- Acute Lyme disease includes a recent tick bite and may only show mild symptoms such as weakness or slight fever; if you can catch Lyme disease at this stage and get treatment, your horse has less of a chance of permanent complications
- Chronic Lyme disease is described as an infection that has been going on for 6-8 weeks, although it can last years if not treated; the Equine Lyme Multiplex Assay (ELISA) test can tell which one your horse is infected with because they have different types of antibodies
Causes of Lyme Disease (Lyme Borreliosis) in Horses
A bite from a tick infected with spirochete bacteria (borrelia burgdorferi) is the cause of Lyme disease. In horses, it is most commonly borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto. There are several types of ticks that can cause Lyme disease:
- Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto
- Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato
- Borrelia afzelii
- Borrelia bavariensis
- Borrelia garinii
- Borrelia miyamotoi
Diagnosis of Lyme Disease (Lyme Borreliosis) in Horses
Your veterinarian will first do a comprehensive physical examination, which includes watching your horse from a distance in motion and standing to assess body condition, lameness, behavior, and muscle and joint functions. In addition, the veterinarian will record your horse’s body temperature, breath sounds, heart rate, respirations, weight, height, reflexes, and body condition score. The veterinarian will also ask your horse’s medical history and immunizations as well as the symptoms you have seen. Also, tell the veterinarian if you have given your horse any medication in the past 24 hours.
Radiological testing will be done next to rule out other conditions such as arthritis, myopathy, and other diseases. Abdominal and chest x-rays, CT scans, and ultrasound are common, and maybe an MRI or bone scan as well. Diagnostic testing will include a complete blood count (CBC), chemical panel, glucose and insulin levels, and an ELISA followed by a Western blot test to confirm the diagnosis. In some cases, immunofluorescence assays (IFA) may be used to confirm. An antibody titer is helpful as well, but must be sent to a laboratory for assessment.
Treatment of Lyme Disease (Lyme Borreliosis) in Horses
Depending on how severe the side effects are, your horse may need an aggressive round of antibiotics and other medications for pain. There are also several therapeutic treatments that may be used.
Oral doxycycline or minocycline, intravenous (IV) oxytetracycline or intramuscular ceftiofur are the most common antibiotics used in horses with Lyme disease.
Your veterinarian may prescribe vitamin supplements, and probiotics to help with digestion. In addition, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) will be prescribed for pain and inflammation and possibly corticosteroids for serious inflammation.
Recovery of Lyme Disease (Lyme Borreliosis) in Horses
Unfortunately, this illness is hard to get rid of. It is essential that you give your horse the medication as instructed and always make sure to use all of the medication, even if your horse seems better. Also, you will need to bring your horse back several times over the next 12 months for retesting. If your horse has chronic Lyme disease, you will have to treat the symptoms as they appear.