Lyme disease is a serious infectious disease that horses can contract if bitten by infected Ixodes species ticks (deer ticks). White-footed mice and white-tailed deer are the primary hosts of deer ticks. An infected tick must bite a horse and stay attached for at least 12 hours to transmit the bacterium effectively.

While most New England horses have been infected, only about 10% develop clinical signs of disease. In horses, clinical signs vary greatly and can include:

  • Attitude and behavior changes
  • Intermittent and “shifting leg” lameness
  • Generalized stiffness
  • Tactile (touch) hypersensitivity
  • Eye inflammation
  • Laminitis
  • Various neurological abnormalities

When we suspect a patient has Lyme disease, we follow a 6 step diagnostic/treatment protocol:

  1. lymeMedical history details are critical. They include an owner/caregiver’s concerns about a horse’s current health, medical information including previous laboratory test results, lameness episodes, behavioral changes and any previous treatments.
  2. Physical examination is performed by the doctor to assess current clinical abnormalities
  3. ELISA antibody laboratory assay measures the level of antibody against Borrelia burgdorfia circulating in the horse’s body.
  4. Western Blot antibody laboratory test evaluates overall Borrelia burgdorfia antibody population and helps differentiate between new, old or resolving infections.
  5. A patient’s clear, clinical response to the appropriate antimicrobial therapy can indicate disease. Any antibiotic we use to treat Lyme disease must be known by veterinarians to be significantly effective against Borrelia burgdorfia. It must be given at a dose, by an administration route and for a time period believed to be within the therapeutic range for horses.
  6. Measuring a patient’s response to treatment by repeating ELISA and Western Blot tests not less than 8 weeks after the end of antibiotic therapy helps ensure treatment success and can tell us that the patient has not become re-infected.

Call us at 860.653.5088 to learn more about diagnosing and treating Lyme disease at Werner Equine.