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Lyme Disease in Horses

Date Published: 05/15/2006
Date Reviewed/Revised: 12/23/2013

Lyme disease is common in people and is also seen in dogs especially in the northeast. However, Lyme disease is also seen in other states, such as Texas, that have lots of ticks. The disease has also been found in horses. Diagnosis of it in horses is fairly difficult because not as much work has been done in horses as in dogs but it is believed to occur. The disease is transmitted to horses by ticks and the ticks must be attached for at least 24 hours for transmission to occur. The organism that causes the disease is called Borrelia and it lives in the GI tract of the tick, which allows transmission to occur as the tick takes a blood meal. Dr. Thomas Divers from Cornell indicates in The Journal of Equine Veterinary Science that a wide variety of clinical signs have been attributed to Lyme's disease in horses but cause and effect have been difficult to prove.

In the northeast, the disease is very controversial because many vets diagnose it commonly and others believe it rarely occurs. The reason for the confusion is Lyme disease is blamed for clinical signs such as stiffness, lameness in more than one limb, increased sensitivity, lethargy, and behavioral changes and these are common with many equine diseases. Also, muscle wasting, back pain and even nervous system disease are believed by some to be caused by Lyme disease. Recommendations to diagnosis Lyme disease at this time includes the chance of exposure to infection, clinical signs, a PCR lab test, and ruling out other diseases with similar clinical signs. Treatment of suspected cases involves use of intravenous tetracycline or oral doxycycline or minocycline from 1 to 2 months. Tick control is important in preventing the disease. Use of the canine Lyme vaccine in horses is not approved but has been used so if your horse has ticks, Lyme disease is unlikely to occur in Texas but it is possible.

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