It’s tick season and you live near wooded regions. Not only can you be susceptible to tick-borne illnesses, but your horse can too. Horses can contract Lyme disease through several types of infected ticks carrying spirochete bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The deer tick, also known as Izodes scapularis, is the most common type of tick responsible for Lyme disease.
It is estimated that 30 percent of ticks found in regions where Lyme disease is present carry the bacterium Borrelia. When a horse is bit by a tick, it is believed that the infected tick must attach itself to a horse for at least 24 hours to transmit the bacterium Borrelia.
Symptoms of Lyme disease can be vague and can crossover with symptoms of other equine diseases. Possible symptoms may include swelling at the tick bite site, inflammation surrounding the eye, swollen joints, lethargy, stiffness, behavior changes, and lameness. Although rare, other symptoms may include fever, neurologic signs, reduced eating, and muscle atrophy, which may be indicative that the bacteria has reached the horse’s central nervous system, referred to as neuroborreliosis. This type of Lyme disease can be fatal. Horses cannot transmit Lyme disease to other horses.
While some horses experience illness symptoms, horses can also be infected with the bacterium Borrelia and never exhibit symptoms of Lyme disease. An equine veterinarian may do a physical examination and blood work to test for antibody levels of the bacterium Borrelia. Lyme disease, with the exception of neuroborreliosis, is treatable with treatment of antibiotics, generally lasting four to eight weeks.
Interestingly, some antibiotics provide anti-inflammatory benefits, which may improve the horse’s gait if underlying lameness was exhibited in the horse. However, once a horse is no longer on the medication, the lameness may worsen.
It is important to make the horse’s living condition unwelcoming to ticks since there is no vaccine to prevent Lyme disease. This can be done by removing debris and mowing pastures. Debris and overrun pastures make attractive breeding grounds for ticks. Grooming and applying equine tick repellant sprays to your horse can also help reduce your horse’s exposure to ticks.
Consult with your equine veterinarian if you think your horse may be exhibiting symptoms of Lyme disease.