lyme disease in horses symptoms

Decoding Lyme Disease in Horses: Symptoms and Treatment

by | Jul 9, 2023 | Equine Health, Equine Treatment

Lyme disease, caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted to horses via ticks, presents a myriad of symptoms that can complicate diagnosis. Lyme disease in horses can influence a broad range of systems, and as a zoonotic illness, it has implications for both equine and human health. Therefore, understanding the signs of this disease and employing appropriate treatments is crucial.

What is Lyme Disease?

At its core, Lyme disease is a bacterium-triggered affliction that exploits the host’s immune response. While common in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest regions of the United States where ticks are prevalent, it can affect horses anywhere ticks exist. Once transmitted through a tick bite, the bacterium makes its way into the horse’s bloodstream, leading to a variety of symptoms that can affect various body systems.

Causes of Lyme Disease in Horses

Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium causing Lyme disease, is primarily transmitted to horses by ticks of the Ixodes species. After a tick attaches to a horse and feeds for at least 24-48 hours, the bacterium enters the host’s bloodstream. As horses cannot directly transmit the disease to humans or other horses, ticks play a crucial role in the spread of this disease.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Horses

Lyme disease in horses manifests itself differently from one animal to the next, presenting a challenge for veterinarians. Some horses may exhibit stiffness and lameness, particularly in the large joints. Others may display a hypersensitivity to touch, while some horses may suffer from neurologic complications such as changes in attitude and behavior, difficulty swallowing, or even seizures. Behavioral changes might include irritability, listlessness, or difficulty concentrating on work.

It’s important to distinguish these symptoms from other equine illnesses. For instance, the stiffness associated with Lyme disease may initially resemble arthritis, but Lyme disease will often cause an intermittent lameness that shifts from one leg to another, unlike arthritis. Similarly, hypersensitivity to touch is a significant Lyme disease symptom that is not common in other equine illnesses.

Prevention and Treatment

Preventing Lyme disease mainly involves managing the tick population and using preventive measures such as topical tick repellents. A popular option is the Farnam Equine Endure Sweat-Resistant Fly Spray for Horses, which offers sweat-resistant protection against ticks.

For horses diagnosed with Lyme disease, antibiotic treatment is the first line of defense, usually with a course of doxycycline or minocycline. As an adjunct to antibiotic therapy, immune support supplements can help enhance the horse’s natural defense system. Products such as Vita Flex E-5000 Immune Support have shown efficacy in supporting a horse’s immune response. This product contains a patented blend of essential nutrients, including beta-glucan, which has been scientifically shown to stimulate immune function.

For horses suffering from joint stiffness and discomfort, joint supplements can provide some relief. Nutramax Cosequin ASU Equine Powder is a top-rated joint health supplement that combines Glucosamine, Chondroitin Sulfate, and Avocado/Soybean Unsaponifiables (ASU) to support joint health and ease discomfort associated with Lyme disease.

While these solutions can aid in managing Lyme disease symptoms, any treatment or supplementation should only be initiated under the supervision of a qualified equine vet. A detailed evaluation is required to assess each case accurately and formulate a comprehensive treatment plan accordingly.

Dealing with Neurological Symptoms

Horses with neurologic Lyme disease may exhibit more severe signs like muscle wasting, behavioral changes, difficulty swallowing, or even seizures. These symptoms often make Lyme disease a severe condition that necessitates immediate intervention. Equine vets may recommend neurologic supplements such as Vita Flex Equinyl Combo, which provides key nutrients to support muscle health and aid in preventing muscle breakdown.

Chronic Lyme Disease in Horses

In some cases, horses might experience chronic Lyme disease, also known as Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS). Symptoms such as stiffness, lameness, and behavioral changes may persist long after the completion of antibiotic treatment. Chronic Lyme disease in horses is a complex issue, and the cause is not entirely understood. However, experts believe that it could be due to lingering bacteria or an ongoing immune response.

Managing chronic Lyme disease often requires a multi-faceted approach. Your vet may recommend an extended course of antibiotics or other medications to manage lingering symptoms. Immune-supportive supplements, such as Vita Flex E-5000 Immune Support, can continue to play a crucial role in managing this stage of the disease. Additionally, incorporating a regular exercise program and a balanced diet will support overall health and recovery.

The Role of the Veterinarian

Due to the complexity and range of symptoms associated with Lyme disease, it is imperative to involve a qualified equine veterinarian in both the diagnosis and treatment. The vet can recommend appropriate diagnostic tests, such as the Lyme Multiplex blood test, and help interpret the results. Furthermore, they can guide in the administration of antibiotics, provide recommendations for supportive care, and advise on follow-up testing and ongoing care.

The vet can also provide valuable advice on tick control methods, such as rotational grazing, mowing pastures, and using appropriate acaricides. Products like Farnam Equine Endure Sweat-Resistant Fly Spray for Horses can provide effective tick control when used as part of a comprehensive management plan.


While Lyme disease in horses presents a myriad of challenges, an understanding of the symptoms and available treatments allows owners to effectively manage this disease. Ensuring good tick control, providing immune support, and regularly consulting with a vet are crucial for maintaining the health of horses in Lyme-prone areas. Remember, the swift recognition of symptoms and the prompt application of treatment strategies significantly enhance the prognosis for horses affected by Lyme disease. As always, maintaining an open line of communication with your vet is paramount to ensure the well-being of your equine companion.

About The Author

<a href="" target="_self">Issabella Mitchel</a>

Issabella Mitchel

Isabella is a remarkable equestrian and racehorse trainer, hailing from the horse capital of the world, Kentucky. Growing up in the heart of bluegrass country, she developed a deep affinity for horses from an early age.

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