Lyme Disease in Horses

Ticks can transmit a number of disease-causing organisms to horses, including Lyme disease. Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Many horses are exposed to this organism through tick bites, but few develop clinical illness, usually months post tick bite.

As in dogs and people, the possible diagnosis of Lyme disease often arises when more common causes of lameness, joint swelling, kidney disease, moon blindness or incoordination have been ruled out.

Typically, two blood samples are taken 2 to 3 weeks apart to see if anti-Borrelia antibody levels have changed significantly to indicate active infection. The two samples are important because many normal horses may carry high antibody levels. The disease can also be diagnosed by finding the organism in tissue taken by biopsy from an affected joint or lymph node. The SNAP test kits utilized for testing dogs for Lyme disease are likely valid for use in the horse, but so far are not licensed for that purpose.

If evidence of Lyme disease is found, a veterinarian may try a course of antibiotics to see if this will improve the horse’s clinical abnormalities. There are currently no Lyme vaccines approved for use in the horse.

Horse owners need to be tick-vigilant and manage their horses’ environment to reduce tick habitat. Clearing brush out of pastures and along both sides of fence lines is recommended. Keeping pastures mowed may also be helpful. Before riding through long grass or brush, use of topical insecticides is highly recommended.

Author:  Julia Wilson, DVM, MN Board of Veterinary Medicine.

This article was shared with permission from University of Minnesota Equine Extension Program. Make sure to follow them on Facebook and YouTube for even more equine information & education!

3 thoughts on “Lyme Disease in Horses

  1. Lyme disease is much more serious than we’ve been led to believe up to now. Antibiotics DO NOT WORK for Lyme!!! About 80% of horses and dogs are infected (maybe more) and the numbers of people diagnosed with Lyme, and those who have misdiagnosed is staggering and it’s growing. Lyme is completely debilitating.

  2. My horse is getting tested to see what is wrong with her. It’s bad whatever it is. She’s been receiving the best and appropriate supplements and shes not improving. She’s on Rebalance in case it’s EPM with no improvement. If its not pssm, i conclude its Lyme. I will be giving her lyme nosode, ledum, and monolaurin next week once received. Antibiotics also if prescribed. I think it’s such a strong infection, she needs all treatments.

    • Hi Bobbie,
      So sorry to hear your horse is struggling. Wishing you the best of luck in figuring out what is causing the issues. Sending positive vibes your way!

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