mare - dressage - horses

My Horse Has Lyme Disease: Now What?

A Diagnosis is a Curse and a Blessing

Anyone following the saga of my mare Lucida’s health issues will sympathize with my sinking hopes when I got the call from my vet telling me her blood test came back indicating she indeed has Lyme Disease. I had her tested because I’d found several ticks attached to her despite grooming and she had some lingering, suspicious symptoms. I was upset to get the diagnosis, but also relieved that it was something I knew we could attack in order to make her feel better.  Horses, like humans, can have a range of symptoms that indicate Lyme Disease, but also can be symptoms of several other afflictions. When in doubt, it’s good to do the test. Here are some of the more prevalent symptoms of Lyme’s that may indicate you need to call your vet:

  • weight loss
  • migrating joint pain
  • lameness
  • uveitis
  • dermatitis and skin sensitivity
  • poor performance or grumpy
  • stiffness, muscle tenderness, swelling
  • jumpy or spooky

A Positive Test for Lyme Disease so Now What?

The usual treatment is a course of antibiotics for 30 days such as doxycycline. This, of course, means your horse will likely have to stay indoors during the day because the medicine makes the skin more susceptible to burning. Also, treat the soreness with non-NSAID nutritional and/or anti-inflammatory support and vitamin E. The good news is this: if caught early enough, Lyme disease is treatable. Unfortunately, by the time the symptoms become noticeable, it may be rather advanced. There are cases of chronic Lyme or the disease recurring on a cyclical basis.

Prevention Worth a Pound of Cure

If you live in an area known for Lyme disease, take a few precautionary measures to reduce the risk of you or your animals being infected with the bacterium causing Lyme’s, Borrelia burgdorferi , as a result of a tick bite.

  • Keep pastures mowed to reasonable height and eliminate overhanging branches
  • Groom and inspect your horse every day especially during the critical tick seasons
  • Use insecticides to discourage ticks attaching to horses
tick - Lyme disease - bugs
Tick – Photo from JerzyGorecki/Pixabay

What’s Ahead for Lucida?

Lucida was put on a course of doxycycline and is biding her time inside her stall on these beautiful spring days, which she finds unacceptable. How to explain it’s for her own good? A few weeks earlier, she started a course of Prascend, which is a medication for Equine Cushing’s disease, now more accurately called Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID). To make diagnosis more complicated, many of the symptoms of PPID–especially early ones–are very similar to Lyme disease. Lucida’s performance declined, her top line was underdeveloped, she had a poor coat and sometimes sensitive skin… So, if and when I see an alleviation of these symptoms, I won’t be sure which medicine is working. It may well be she was more susceptible to Lyme disease because of her PPID. Nonetheless, I will take any improvement as a blessing and worry about sorting out the cause later.

mare - dressage - horses
Lucida looking out her stall window


When times of trouble come, I will call to You because I know You will respond to me. (Psalm 86:7)





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