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October 18, 2011

Lyme Disease in horses – Treatment and Prevention

by DePaolo Equine Concepts

Lyme Disease is a tick-borne illness caused by the spirochete B burgdorferi. Lyme Disease can be divided into early disease (stage 1, EM), disseminated infection (stage 2), and late disease (stage 3, persistent infection). The first stage involves the skin, followed by stages 2 and 3, which often affect the skin, joints, CNS, and heart. However, any of the stages may fail to appear or may overlap with one another.

When identified in the early stages of the infection, most cases of Lyme disease respond favorably to antibiotics. Tretracycline and doxycycline are the recommended treatment protocols.  Many veterinarians prescribe oral medications, but there is evidence to suggest that intravenous delivery of antibiotics greatly improves the recovery rate.  Veterinarians will typically prescribe secondary anti-inflammatories such as banamine or bute to ease symptoms in affected horses.  There is some risk of laminits caused by the death of the organisms and horses should be monitored during treatment for sore feet.

While many horses show marked improvement just a few days into treatment, the infection is often stubborn to eradicate and a thirty day treatment program is typical.  Some horses will relapse and require a secondary course of antibiotics.  It is unclear whether eradication of the bacteria corrects all symptoms in each case.  Many horses appear to have continuing arthritic and neurological symptoms post treatment.  Horses that are not diagnosed in the early stages are much more likely to have persistent symptoms.[5]

Alternative treatment protocols in addition to antibiotic therapy focus on boosting the horse’s natural immune system.  Omega-3 Fatty acids cause body-wide reductions in inflammatory responses. Since much of the discomfort associated with the infection if from immune-response reactions, re-harmonizing the immune inflammation is essential.  It is recommended that an Omega-3 product derived from fish oil be used.  Natural vitamin E and selenium can be used to disperse and deliver nutrients more effectively.

Hindgut therapy is recommended post-anti-biotic therapy as well.  There are many digestive and hind gut treatment options available. DePaolo Equine Concepts, Inc. recommends Excel™.

Since Lyme disease adversely affects the functioning of both the thyroid and adrenal glands, ABC’s Lyme Disease Supplement containing a selected amino acid profile, herbs, and other nutrients can assist the functions of Endocrine System.  For a more comprehensive treatment to boost the immune system and combat all infectious organisms, we recommend the DePaolo Equine Concept’s Neurologic Kit.



There is currently no viable vaccination available for horses.  Prevention is therefore primarily conducted in the form of tick control.


  • Use fly repellants containing permethrins, especially during tick season
  • Groom horses thoroughly daily, giving special care to the base of the mane and tail, the belly, throat latch and ears. Blacklegged ticks are often so small that they are difficult to see without close attention.  If a tick is located, use tweezers and grasp the tick close to the skin before pulling gently up to remove it.
  • Remove tall grass, brush, and over-hanging limbs from pasture spaces.
  • Remove wood piles from horse areas
  • Control the rodent population to help break the infection cycle
  • Immune protection in recovered horses is thought to last less than a year, so titer-testing can be of assistance in maintaining the health of recovered horses.

To read our other post on Lyme Disease, please visit Lyme Disease in horses – Symptoms and Diagnosis.

[4] Lyme Disease in Horses requires Health Treatment.1/25/2011, Elaine Pascoe.Ticked Off. Practical Horseman, sept.2010

[5] Lyme Disease in Horses requires Health Treatment.1/25/2011, Elaine Pascoe.Ticked Off. Practical Horseman, sept.2010

[6]Equstrian. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Lyme Disease. September 2010

[7] L.A. Pomeroy. Help for Lyme Disease in Horses. Holistic Horse

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