Monday, May 18, 2009

Lyme Disease and Horses


Lyme Disease and Horses

Recently, I was in our local tack store and was talking with the owner who inquired about our horses. How they were doing with Lyme this year was the topic we were discussing. A woman who was obviously listening to us piped up with the statement that: there is no such thing as Lyme disease in horses. After I closed my hanging jaw, I asked her where she got her information. She informed me her vet told her that Lyme Disease does not affect horses. Without being downright rude, I suggested she find a new vet. I am not sure how many believe this statement or not, but I am here to tell you there is definitely Lyme Disease and it does affect horses - and not in a good way.

Several years ago, when we leased a barn and pasture, all of our horses were infected with Lyme. I’m sure it was due to poor pasture management over which we had no control, no matter how much we asked for it and despite it being part of our rental agreement. Simple mowing would have sufficed to keep ticks to a minimum, as they will not hide anywhere in the grass where sun can reach them. But it got to a point where we actually had to hire someone from off the farm to come and mow the pastures to keep the weeds, parasites and tick population down. It was a horrible place and we didn’t like it but we were rather stuck there for a time. Sadly, all the horses were infected and treated but it did leave some residual effects on them.

Most people think Lyme Disease amounts to some flu-like symptoms, some achy joints, a little fatigue and then it’s over. No big deal, right? Few realize that Lyme can affect nearly every system in the body, causing a wide array of symptoms from fever and aches, arthritis, heart irregularities, vision problems or blindness, neuromuscular disease, neuropathy, and even symptoms like those of MS and Parkinson’s, to name just a few! In fact, tests in laboratory animals have shown that in just 3 hours after being infected with the disease-causing bacteria, Lyme can enter the central nervous system where it can do serious damage, cause meningitis, encephalitis, and/or seizures and even cause death. The Lyme spirochete itself is very effective at destroying nerve cells.

Around the time the horses were infected, my daughter was also infected with the typical bulls-eye rash on her stomach, but she couldn’t find anyone to treat her. One idiot doctor (a so-called “Lyme specialist) told her the rash wasn’t big enough to be Lyme – it had to be the size of a dinner plate before he could give her a simple course of doxycycline!!! Her infection not only involved the classic flu-like symptoms and joint inflammation, but also entered her central nervous system where it had some unpleasant, lasting effects including neuropathies, vision changes, involuntary muscle movements, and an array of cognitive and neurological symptoms. Even after taking several month-long courses of powerful antibiotics, she has lasting damage including being afflicted with fibromyalgia.

Finding treatment was even more difficult, as testing for Lyme is imperfect, to say the least, and many Lyme infections fail to show up in blood tests, either because the body fails to mount an immune response (Lyme is notorious for being able to “hide” from the immune system) or because the bacteria are not present in significant quantities in the bloodstream; often in such cases they will be identified in the spinal fluid through a spinal tap instead; it is also often found in joint fluid and body tissues. So the tests are a great tool, but are only part of a complete diagnosis – they often do not tell the whole story.

A patient complaining of Lyme symptoms will often be ignored, shuffled around or prescribed anti-depressants rather than being treated with antibiotics, giving the infection a chance to do real, permanent damage. My daughter finally found a doctor to treat her after months of searching, at which point she needed to see a neurologist and a rheumatologist, among others, and required a series of additional tests including brain MRIs. Having waited so long to receive treatment, she still has recurring bouts of symptoms that can be attributed to Lyme.

It is estimated that 50% of ticks in the Northeast carry the Lyme spirochete, and Lyme is common across the US and found around the world, though not every bite from an infected tick transmits the disease, nor does exposure to the bacteria necessarily mean you will get the disease.

I would strongly urge everyone to check out the links below for what Lyme is and how to spot it and treat it in the horse. Human sites can be found on Web M.D. or other medical sites. The only thing I would caution is that most sites claim that if you are blood-tested for Lyme’s and it comes back negative, that means you don’t have it. This is not always the case; it simply means the spirochetes may not be active at the time the test was taken, your immune system may not be fighting it, it may be working in another part of your body, or you may have one of the strains not tested for.

As for the horse symptoms, I have seen all different symptoms in my horses from just general ouchiness/grouchiness to joint and even – more controversially - respiratory problems. We had a horse come into the barn at one time for training and he was so super-sensitive his skin would twitch if you even tried to touch him, much less groom or ride him. We had the vet out to do a Lyme test and she said it was the highest titer she had ever seen! If your horse is exhibiting unusual behavior changes, gait abnormalities, sensitivity or unusual spookiness, crankiness or just isn’t “right,” it may be wise to consider Lyme. Also, don’t depend on a fever to help diagnose a problem - we’ve found that Lyme (in both my daughter and the horses) tended to have the opposite effect: their temperatures were lower than normal! However, I am sure this differs from case to case. In fact, Lyme will look and act different in each individual; no two cases are alike.

Another fallacy we’ve encountered over the years is that after three days on antibiotics you (or your horse) will be feeling much better. This is not always the case. Bear in mind that, when taking antibiotics for Lyme, the initial stages will often feel worse than the disease, and so it will appear the treatment is not working. This is because as the spirochete dies off it releases a toxin into the system. Being sicker after the first few doses of antibiotics may mean you have a significant infection on your hands but that treatment is working, so don’t be discouraged.

It’s a good idea to have the titers taken; we do this at least twice a year. It’s also a good idea to talk with your vet about treating with antibiotics for at least a month if your horse’s symptoms are suspicious of Lyme regardless of what the blood tests say. Doxycycline is relatively cheap, and the costs of not treating are high. They now have a Lyme’s vaccination that we are trying out in hopes it will prevent further infection in the future.




Here are a few informative links to check out on Lyme’s:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyme_disease

http://www.netpets.org/horses/healthspa/lyme.html

http://www.myhorse.com/health/preventative/lyme_disease_in_horses_requires_health_treatment.aspx#top

http://www.lyme.org/otherdis/ld.html



Until next time

Quote for Today

The day you put off vaccinations is the day your horse will be exposed.

34 comments:

  1. I just found your blog. Perfect timing, as my horse was just diagnosed with Chronic Lyme Disease. He, and my other horses are on well maintained fields. They are all wormed, vaccinated, teeth, etc., etc. reguarly. But, despite all that, those tiny little ticks can be pretty hard to find. I hope other people start paying attention. I developed Lymes many years ago, and I must have had the brother to the doctor your daughter saw, as he told me that there were no Lyme ticks in our area! Ha!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi,
    I also just found your blog. My horse was diagnosed today(!) with Lyme Disease. My husband and both of our dogs have it, so I know how invasive it can be. I'm interested in what you used and how you treated your horses symptoms beyond the ~30 days of doxycycline? I've been reading all day about this, on other blogs and some suggest that using Chinese herbs, acupuncture, probiotics, garlic....are goood for followup after the antibiotics are completed.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Diane,
    Sorry to hear your horse was diagnosed with Lyme's. We generally use the doxycycline for the prescribed time. After which we will keep an eye on all of them for symptoms and if it looks like someone is having reoccurrence we will have a blood test done. I don't think natural herbs, accupuncture, garlic etc. will help but it doesn't hurt to try it if you believe it will. I really think they need the antibiotics to knock it out. Good luck and I hope everyone feels better soon.

    Elaine,
    Those little ticks are impossible to find. I hope you and your horse are doing better now. It's a horrible disease and I only hope someday people will start taking it more seriously.

    ReplyDelete
  4. AnonymousJune 22, 2012

    ... you mention "controversial" theories about respiratory signs and symptoms in horses with Lyme Disease. Where can I find out more about this? The vets are trying to tell me my horse, which has NEVER coughed or had any respiratory related performance issues, and was capable of winning High Score Training level at a horse show on the 3rd, has classic "heaves" on the 10th... He can't trot three steps without coughing, even after 10 dfays of IV Dexamethasone, and his CBC eosinoplils are through the roof...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Anonymous,
    I'm sorry to hear about your horse's breathing problems. You don't mention if he was diagnosed with Lyme's so I don't know if they were treating him with doxycycline too. Our entire herd has had Lyme's and they were treated with doxy.

    We have one horse, Nate, who had a similar reaction to Lyme's. He developed an inflammatory airway disease (basically horse asthma) after his bout with Lyme's, though none of his vets would acknowledge that this was the cause or offer any suggestions to treat it other than the standard protocols. If your horse is still being treated for Lyme's, talk to the vet about the steroid use, because that can interfere with clearing the Lyme's infection. He might be better off with a nebulizer and/or brochodilator or something until the Lyme's is completely out of his system unless his heaves are really that severe he needs the dex now...

    I'm not a vet and feel slightly uncomfortable giving advice to you. These are just some options you might consider asking your vet about. If you don't like the way things are going get other opinions from different vets who have dealt with Lyme's Disease.

    Hope everything works out for you and your horse.

    ReplyDelete
  6. AnonymousJune 25, 2012

    But should remark on some general things, The site style is perfect, the articles is really excellent :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. AnonymousJuly 12, 2012

    Hey. Very cool website!! Guy .. Excellent .. Wonderfu bookmark your site and take the feeds am glad to locate numerous useful information here in the post.
    I have read a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style of blogging.

    ReplyDelete
  8. AnonymousJuly 17, 2012

    my horse has lyme and he is gettin worse. I have did 3 rounds of Doxy for more them 30 days each time what should i do know. please help thank you A.E.S

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi Anonymous,

    I'm sorry to hear that your horse isn't responding to the Doxycycline treatments. Since I'm not a vet or qualified to tell you what sort of treatments your horse would benefit from I think you and your vet should discuss if there might be other options. There might be another antibiotic that might help. Or maybe you could support some of his symptoms with probiotics. The vet may be able to steer you in the right direction toward what might help treat his symptoms. Supplements might also boost his immune system.

    We've never had this problem with our horses. The doxycycline helped them.

    Good luck and I hope between you and your vet you can come up with a solution.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All, we live in the south (Florida) and so my horse was never tested for Lymes. However, after 18 months of being diagnosed "neurological" maybe we should "euthanize", I searched every avenue. They had tested via blood and spinal for EPM (prevalent here) and they were negative. My recommendation for any horse with Neuro symptoms is to have the EPM and Lymes test (the full panel from Cornell University).
      Okay, so after all of the bone scans, mylegram, etc, we are finally able to have a treatment plan for chronic lymes disease, as his test was positive. We are on day three of the IV antibiotic (Oxytetracycline 10 mg per kg iv once per day for 7 days). This must be given very slowly by a vet or can cause death. Then we are moving to Next 30 days:
      Doxycyline it is 50 tabs twice a day (100mg tabs).
      So far he seems to not feel well and is very lethargic, but from what I have read this is normal, as the dying bacteria is very toxic. You have to watch for stomach issues and founder.
      I will try to remember to give you an update in a week. (we are hoping his hind end issues will be resolved and muscle pain, along with a dulling coat and weight loss).

      Delete
    2. Hi Renee,
      I hope by now he's feeling better. Let us know how he's doing.

      Delete
  10. I looked up lyme disease and found your article! Ha! Good job!! I'm interested to hear how Rene's horse fared. We are having hind end lameness issues with Cowgirl and I'm thinking EPM...but maybe lyme. We did have a horrible tick problem this year, but I never found any on the horses. They were on the dogs. My vet appt is at 1 tomorrow. Any suggestions?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Linda,
      It wouldn't hurt to test for Lyme's when the vet is there. It is treatable. All of our horses have had it. Sometimes when one or more look a little off I will have a blood test taken to see if it's back because they can get reinfected. Good luck with Cowgirl. Hope you get to the bottom of her symptoms. Oh, p.s.- The ticks that carry Lyme are so small they are hard to detect so you might not have even seen one if it bit her.

      My daughter has just contracted Lyme's again. Bull's eye rash and all, she's been on the Doxy for about a week now. I hate those little ba----d's.

      Delete
  11. I really appreciate this post. I have been looking all over for this! Thank goodness I found it on Bing.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi, I understand you're not a vet, but I am feeling helpless and a bit alone at the moment. My 17-year old mare had been losing weight for a few months. My vet said to give her a good 5-day deworming treatment and that should do the trick. Well, I did that at the end of April and she continued to shed pounds. But, she was eating fine. Then nearly three weeks ago, she wouldn't eat and lay down in front of her food. Naturally I thought she was colicking, but she wasn't thrashing or rolling or anything like that. I took her temperature and it was 102.9. I called the vet. He said it looked like tick fever and took blood and prescribed doxycycline. He called the next day and said the tests came back negative for tick fever. "Keep her on the doxy and she should be fine." Well, her fever continued, so I called him again and he recommended hospitalization. Took her to the hospital where they performed an ultrasound, which revealed an abundance of fluid. They took a sample and tried to grow the bacteria, but after 6 full days they couldn't grow anything. She was on a strong antibiotic for 7 days (injections) then the new vet sent her home with me with a sulfa antibiotic. As soon as I got her home, I noticed she was very stiff in the stifle area. She began to change pressure from one back foot to the other never looking comfortable. I immediately called the vet who said, "Well, it could be a mass in her pelvic or bowel region that is pressing up against the nerve endings causing her discomfort." He kept talking about cancer while we were there, and maybe she does have a tumor somewhere, but I just watched her for the next few days and she began to walk better. She was a little stiff, but there was no longer and stumbling or weight shifting. Then, three days later, those symptoms returned with a vengeance. She was so uncomfortable. I have left emails and phone calls, but he was out at Tevis and while he did respond with a short email saying he'd call me, he never did. Now tonight I noticed that her joints in her hind legs are very swollen. I sprayed her with cold water, 10 minutes on each side, which looks like it offered some relief, but not completely. I've also noticed over the past four days that she has been sweating a lot and the sweat has left white crystals like salt all over her body. Now, her left eye looks swollen and is drippy. I called both vets and NEITHER has returned my call. I left a message with my old vet who lives 90 minutes from here and I will take her to him if it comes to that. Do you have any ideas as to what this could be? She is eating (very slowly) and pooping and drinking water and urinating and her fever has been gone for a week now. I'd appreciate any information. Sorry for the long, drawn out description with no paragraphs...I'm just a bit frantic and frustrated. Thank you...

    Valerie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Valerie,

      Sorry to hear your mare is still not feeling well. I hate to say it does sound a lot like Lyme or something similar. Even if the blood test was negative (my daughter who has contracted Lyme's again always has negative blood tests)so to me the blood tests aren't all that accurate or conclusive. The shifting, non-specific symptoms are frustrating, but are classic features of Lyme. How long was she on the doxycycline? In the past we normally kept ours on it for a minimum of one month. Also, what are you feeding, including supplements, if any? If it is Lyme, there may be a few things I can recommend that might be supportive as far as diet and supplements.

      I'd also say it wouldn't hurt to get a second opinion from another vet you feel comfortable with. He may have more answers for you concerning her condition and symptoms.

      Delete
    2. Thank you for replying so quickly!

      She was only on the doxycycline for about 3 days, then at the hospital, she was on Ceftiofur and Gentocin for 7 days. Now she's just on the sulfa drug.

      Normally, she would be eating a flake of Alfafa Grass (80/20) in the morning and afternoon with 1 to 2 scoops of senior grain once a day. Now, because she's not so interested in food, I'm giving her what she's interested in: Alfalfa and some grain with rice bran for calories. I know Alfalfa is probably not the best to give her, so I will listen intently to whatever suggestions you have!

      I have a call into two other vets hoping one will come through for us. Thank you again for your reply and I hope your daughter comes through okay. Sending good thoughts...

      Delete
  13. She might benefit from a longer course of doxy if it is Lyme. As I said our horses get a month on it. I don't think it can hurt her and it might help. I prefer a grass or timothy hay, especially over the high calcium/protein content in alfalfa, but if you are going to feed the alfalfa you might consider a magnesium supplement. It's not a bad idea even with the grass hay, depending on how much of the grain ration you are giving relative to her weight.

    I hope the other vets you contacted reply and can help you and your mare in figuring out what's wrong and how to treat her.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I just spoke to my old vet who said that there has never been a documented case of Lyme in California and that I'm in very good hands with the current vet.

      Thank you for your help. Looks like I have a long, hard fight ahead.

      Delete
  14. I didn't know you were in California and I don't think there is Lyme's there either but I don't really know about your area. Good luck with your mare and I'm glad your old vet recommends your new ones. It's hard for me to help with anything other than Lyme's since I'm not very good with medical things our horses haven't had. I hope she has all the tests she needs and someone can figure out what she has.

    ReplyDelete

  15. I found this board and I find It truly useful & it helped me out a lot.

    ReplyDelete

  16. From the volume of comments on your posts, I guess I am not the only one!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I am in California too and I think one of my horses has Chronic Lyme and the other has just come down with it. Super irritable and sensitive to touch. The one I think has chronic has also started to become very stiff in her joints and shes in a 400acre pasture so she has plenty of room to roam. I am going to try Omega 3 for inflamation and magnesium as I have always suspected a deficiency (which can be caused by lyme). Great to know that the 30day Doxy works pretty well. My vet did not discount my horses not having lyme as we do have A LOT of ticks and i pulled over 100 off my horses this spring.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I'm just learning about Lyme in horses now - Pie was diagnosed with the Cornell multiplex test with chronic Lyme, which may explain his muscle soreness, grumpiness and spookiness as well as some of the more serious symptoms he had back in the spring of 2011 - that may have been when he was infected. We're about to start our doxy treatment, and the new protocol apparently has the drug fed to the horse in the late afternoon/early evening when the organisms are available in the body to be killed rather than sequestered in their cysts and unavailable to be affected by the drug.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kate,

      That's interesting about the time of day to administer the doxy. I guess we unknowingly did the right thing because we always fed their doxy with their night time feed. Thanks for the extra info.

      Delete
  19. I am so thankful that I was able to find and read your article. I am suspecting that my mare has Lyme. She is a 7 yr old appy mare that I have owned for about 2 yrs now. She was the sweetest, most willing, smart, loving to work, happy appy there is. she started having various body issues. Pain, discomfort perhaps but also a real sensitivity to touch. I have done everything for her to ensure good saddle fit, mild bit, good padding for her saddle, comfortably fitting bridle, even have been riding her bitless off and on, etc, anything to make her comfortable. Every ride seems to be a different issue but there is always something bothering her. For grooming or even to touch and run my hands or finger along her top line she sucks in her back. She started having a little issue when I would remove her saddle pad and then it escalated to when putting it on OR off, she is almost afraid of it. Under saddle she has become less and less willing to work and even flat out refusing to move forward into trot. She is getting more and more spooky and just seems to have an overall nervousness she never had before. This is a horse that I could put anything on her, throw a tarp up on her back, flap plastic bags all around her and do pretty much anything with. She loved to work, she loved to please and she was always very happy and easy to handle. Even today when longeing she refused to trot in one direction and then when doing ground work after longeing she was very upset about me approaching her right side. She even got shaky when I would try to move to that side of her to pet her or just lead her from the wrong (right) side. When exercising she seems to get fatigued so quickly and she never use to show fatigue at all really. She is getting so fatigued that even after 20 minutes of light work she feels almost like a person with wobbly legs. I am quite suspicious of Lyme. What does it sound like to you? I have requested that my vet allow me to treat her for Lyme without testing. Is this something that vets will normally be ok with? I want my sweet happy mare back. I would say she has been getting worse over this year! I would love to hear your thoughts on what is going on with my mare. Thank you for reading!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi,

      Sorry to hear about your horse and her problems. The symptoms you describe could be Lyme's or not. I'm not a vet and don't feel comfortable offering opinions on others horses health issues. If I could recommend something it would be to have a blood test to diagnose Lyme's disease. If it's not that perhaps a full blood workup would be in order. Good luck I wish you and your mare the best.

      Delete
  20. Thank you for your response and I understand you are not a vet and would not want to give out any sort of professional guidance when it comes to equine medical issues but I do thank you very much for your reply! I will check back and let you know what we find out!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Since early September, We have been trying to diagnose my young horse's disease. weight loss, Muscle wasting (hind end), lethargy, intermittent low grade fevers, swelling in the hocks and a nasal discharge acerbated by a congenital defect in his palate (found during the search for causes). The Vet School at the University of Florida has been wonderful. I know there is Lyme in FL, but it is not first on the list. We've been on doxycyline for 4 weeks as we search of the diagnosis. Cornell has been very helpful leading the UF docs through this. The doxy seems to be helping. But he also seems to have plateaued for now. We still don't have a definite diagnosis. Friday on the second blood test sent to Cornell one factor is positive 2 negative. The spinal fluid sent 2 weeks ago (then all blood was negative) had 1 negative and 2 unconditional. He had muscle biopsie's sent to Michigan a week ago to see if there is an immune issue as the cause possibly linked to PPSM (starch metabolism problem). I am really interested in how Renee is doing? I'm also glad to know there are others groping in the dark like us.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I had z horse with EPSM once...your horse's symptoms arent classic for that. It is so frustrating to try to figure out what is wrong with them! They need to talk to us!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  23. Right he doesn't have classic EPSM symtoms. I have a 19 yo mare who presented with tying up and was diagnosed with EPSM at about this same age. The wasting primarily in the hind end makes me think of EPSM (now called PPSM). Wasting rather than tying up. Dr Stieler told me PPSM can set the horse up for immune disfunction. The spiking fevers are what confuses the diagnosis. Although the highs are lower and the normal times are getting longer. The other confusing factor is not being clearly positive for Lyme. I am learning things about horses I really don't want to know. I wish I were talking about effective half halts and smooth transitions!

    ReplyDelete
  24. Right he doesn't have classic EPSM symtoms. I have a 19 yo mare who presented with tying up and was diagnosed with EPSM at about this same age. The wasting primarily in the hind end makes me think of EPSM (now called PPSM). Wasting rather than tying up. Dr Stieler told me PPSM can set the horse up for immune disfunction. The spiking fevers are what confuses the diagnosis. Although the highs are lower and the normal times are getting longer. The other confusing factor is not being clearly positive for Lyme. I am learning things about horses I really don't want to know. I wish I were talking about effective half halts and smooth transitions!

    ReplyDelete
  25. They certainly are puzzling arent they? I wish you find out what's going on with yours and hope i figure mine out too! Good luck. Keep updating!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Making the diagnosis of Lyme disease can be challenging in performance horses as it mimics many other diseases. Infected horses often have the vague and variable signs.

    ReplyDelete

It's so nice of you to take the time to visit. I appreciate your stopping by and commenting on what I've written. Even though I sometimes don't have the time to reply to each comment, I do enjoy reading them.