Spotlight on Lyme Disease: A Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde Story

Spotlight on Lyme Disease: A Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde Story

by Jordan Manfredi
By: Stacy Bromley Cheetham, MPA Several years ago my normally easy going gelding became a horse I didn’t recognize. Typically sweet, kind, loving and eager to please, he turned into the polar opposite seemingly overnight. It truly was as if I had entered the plot line from Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and I never knew which horse I was going to get. But what symptoms was I observing that so drastically changed his behaviors?
  • He became very girth sour
  • His appetite changed
  • He was nippy and aggressive in his stall
  • He was body sore
  • He was intermittently stiff, especially in his hocks
  • He had periods of mystery lameness, which would resolve and then move on to another part of his body
  • He was very reluctant to work
So, what do you do if your horse, like mine, turns into Mr. Hyde? Ask yourself a few questions:
  • Do we live in a high-risk area where the disease carrying ticks can be found? While the disease can be found in every state in the US, horses in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and North-Central states are most at risk.
  • Did I see a tick or tick bite at any time? Even if you did not, it doesn’t mean that your horse was not bitten as the tick often falls off after feeding.
  • Could there be another cause for my horse’s lameness/behavior change/etc.? Have you worked particularly hard lately, changed your horse’s schedule, feed or some other part of his routine? It is always a good idea to thoroughly comb through everything that could have changed or contributed to a change in behavior.
If blood tests do confirm that your horse has Lyme disease, don’t panic. Early detection is key. The sooner your horse can be diagnosed and treated the better, as most cases do respond to antibiotic treatment. Typically prescribed medications include Tetracycline and Doxycycline. Frequently a round of oral Doxycycline follows a course of IV Tetracycline. Anti-inflammatory medication might also be used to combat long-term inflammation in the joints. So what can you do to prevent your horse from getting Lyme disease? Unfortunately, you can’t keep them completely clear away from ticks if you live in a high-risk area, but there are ways to mitigate your risk. There is currently no approved Lyme disease vaccine for horses. However, some veterinarians are using a canine version of the vaccine in horses that test negative for the Lyme disease titer. The vaccine is given and then a booster is administered three weeks later. At this time, protection seems to only last a short time and a new booster must be given at six-month intervals. The vaccine has proven to have some protective effects in the horses vaccinated. Aside from this (which is still very new) other prevention methods include:
  • Giving your horse regular, thorough grooming to check for ticks before they can attach and removing any ticks that do attach within 24 hours.
  • Use a pest control product regularly to discourage the ticks from landing on your horse including sprays and drops with Permethrin or Pyrethrin.
  • Be sure to keep up with the maintenance in your horse’s paddock. Tall grass, wild brush and deeply wooded areas are all especially pleasing to ticks. Mow your grass regularly, trim the brush around your riding ring and keep horses out of thick woods if possible.
As with most things, vigilance is the best tool in your arsenal. Know your horse; be aware of his usual behavior, as well as his eating, drinking and biometric routines. If you are keen to his daily life, as soon as something changes, you will be able to keep your Dr. Jekyll from turning into a Mr. Hyde!

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