Horses and Lyme Disease
 By Winniefield Park   •   30th Jun 2016   •   990 views   •   0 comments

Something that seems to be far more prevalent in my area over the last few years is Lyme Disease. Singer Avril Lavigne has been battling Lyme Disease for over a year and my vet and I have discussed Lyme Disease vaccine for my dog. My daughter has found a tick logged on the belly of one of her horses. For both humans and animals, including dogs and horses, Lyme Disease can be devastating. And, to add to the problem, a new strain of the bacterium has been discovered that brings with it even worse symptoms.

Lyme Disease is caused bacteria carried from mammal to mammal by the black legged tick. Ticks arenít the dash and dine type eaters that mosquitoes and many other insects are. Rather, they like to tuck in for up to two days before they are full enough to leave the buffet. If the tick is discovered very soon after it digs in, chances are it wonít have enough time to spread the bacteria responsible for the disease. This is where vigilance and a tick puller is needed. If you live in an area - and the areas are growing - where ticks hang out, you want to be able to remove them from your horse (or dog, cat, brother, whatever) ASAP. Hopefully they wonít have been attached long enough to offload their bacteria.

If a tick does go undiscovered, and transfers the bacteria, it's not unusual for the symptoms to be confused with other sicknesses. A horse, or human may seem to be feeling a bit Ďoffí. But, as the bacteria multiply, the symptoms become worse. In horses, Lyme Disease symptoms can include:

Stiff or painful muscles
Sporadically swollen or sore joints
Eye and Vision Problems
Depressed Attitude
Decreased Appetite and Weight Loss

Many of these things can occur for other reasons, but if any occur with fever, itís a good indication that youíre dealing with Lyme Disease. If treatment begins right away, the horse has a good chance for recovery. But, if it goes untreated, severe neurological damage can occur and the horse may never recover fully, or it could die.

Ticks live in the grass - which is basically where horses live, so keeping ticks off of your horse is difficult. Itís estimated that up to 50% of all horses in high risk areas have been exposed to Lyme Disease. Because it can take over a day for the tick to transmit the disease, a daily grooming or inspection will help find them before they can do damage. Ticks that arenít full of blood are hard to see - like a little black seed with legs. So check carefully where they are most likely to lodge: throatlatch, underside of the belly, the hairless area under the tail and the head. Use a tick puller to encourage the tick to let go. You donít want to leave a piece of tick in the horse. Once the tick is free of the horse, crush it. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to protect horses against Lyme Disease.

If you make a connection between the appearance of ticks and unusual behavior of your horse, be sure to tell your veterinarian promptly. A blood test can confirm the presence of the Lyme Disease bacteria - but false negatives are a possibility. Antibiotics can cure many cases of Lyme Disease, but there is a chance of problems being caused by the bacteria dying off. Even if the horse does appear to recover, there is a chance that the symptoms will recur and itís uncertain if this is because more ticks have passed on the bacteria, or the bacteria are not killed with the first round of drugs and start multiplying again. So a horse with Lyme Disease needs to be watched carefully for some time following treatment.

The ticks that carry Lyme Disease are spreading in both Canada and the U.S., some believe as a result of climate change. If you live in a high risk area, a tick puller should be part of your grooming toolkit.
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