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Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi that is spread by the deer tick, or blacklegged tick. Horses, dogs, humans, and other mammals can all contract Lyme Disease, and it is most prevalent in New England plus the surrounding states Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia, as well as the upper Midwest (Wisconsin and Minnesota). It is typically treated with the tetracycline family of antibiotics, including oxytetracycline, doxycycline, or minocycline. In horses, clinical signs of Lyme Disease are vague -- encompassing many different systems -- and may include sporadic or shifting lameness, swollen joints, arthritis, stiffness, muscle tenderness/soreness, muscle atrophy or wasting, chronic weight loss, fever, lethargy, a hypersensitivity to being touched, uveitis (eye inflammation), hepatitis (liver inflammation), abortion, laminitis, and poor performance. Some horses may demonstrate neurological signs such as behavioral changes, difficulty swallowing, a head tilt, paresis or weakness, and ataxia (unable to voluntarily control movement or the gait).
The tetracycline family of antibiotics seems to be effective against B. burgdorferi, including extended courses of oxytetracycline, doxycycline, or minocycline, but even these may not completely eliminate the organism from the body. In horses and other species, a low level infection can persist, causing a chronic condition that requires added rounds of even lengthier treatment. In addition, the particular system targeted by the infection (musculokeletal, neurological, eye, liver, etc) may require specific therapy with steroid or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or other medications.
Horses with Lyme Disease may benefit from supplements with ingredients that provide general wellness support – such as omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and adaptogens -- as well as support towards specific, affected areas. For example, horses that are displaying joint discomfort may appreciate traditional ingredients like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, HA, and MSM. Also look for turmeric, resveratrol, collagen, and various herbs. Muscle recovery can often use an assist from amino acids like lysine, methionine, threonine, and others. Both muscle and neurological systems may find value in the addition of Vitamin E. Also, digestive support from probiotics, prebiotics, and yeast during a course of antibiotics is regularly recommended to help maintain normal, healthy gastrointestinal function, as is reinforcement for gastric (stomach) tissues under stress with ingredients like soothing herbs, soluble (mucilage) fiber, and buffering agents.
Horse owners that live in a tick-infested area should follow advice to reduce exposure of their animals (and themselves) to these parasites such as avoiding woods or forests; removing brush, leaves, and long grass; using products shown to repel ticks; and performing full-body “tick checks.” Also, discourage animals such as deer, birds, and rodents that form a part of the life-cycle of ticks and help them spread.