Folks, this is a long post, but a very important one. Please read it all ... Lyme Disease is a painful and progressive disease that can, and will cause irreparable damage to the whole body ... So many horses are being trained for behavioral issues when really they may just be suffering with Lyme.What are the symptoms?
Saturday I attended the final installment of Diane Sept's winter "Equine Discussion Group," always informative, productive and enlightening. This week Diane had a guest speaker, Jeanne Starr, an AHA certified barefoot trimmer owner of Feet First Natural Hoofcare and Whole Horse Homeopathy and overall equine wellness coach who promotes "the whole horse approach." She's also been studying and promoting the homeopathic way of living and caring for horses and other animals. One of her topics as guest speaker was Lyme Disease, and as I listened I knew I had to share some of the discussion here.
The Lyme problem is spreading farther and farther and the effects on people, pets and horses can be very bad, and even life threatening. Bold statement, but friends, sadly it's true. We'll focus here on Lyme and horses.
So what are the symptoms of Lyme Disease? ... Remember Lyme causes pain. Many horses are open about their pain and let you know they are hurting. Others are more stoic and internalize it, dealing with it on their own level, turning inward. For the open communicative horses you'll see a change in their behavior such as spooking in ways that surprise you. They may become grouchy, excited, begin bucking when asked for the canter, become cinchy, develop a sensitivity to being brushed or touched. They may develop an unexplained lameness or stiffness, or begin tripping. They may not be eager to great you anymore. They may exhibit foot tenderness from regular use or after a trim ... The more stoic horses will appear lethargic, tired, have a lack energy and/or are unwilling to move about. Many horses actually become depressed. Some folks say their horses suddenly become "stubborn." They are not stubborn or lazy, they simply hurt. And they hurt all over! A lot ... If you see any signs of behavioral change, or even suspect your horse is in pain, please test. You owe it to your horse. And treat aggressively.
Lyme was first discovered by Dr. Allen Steere in Lyme, Connecticut, in 1975 hence the name, and today according to some experts nearly every horse in the New England area is affected, and many carry the subclinical, or even clinic conditions for years. Lyme disease has spread all the way to Florida, and it's not just an East Coast thing anymore, it's in Kentucky and recently been reported in Texas. Lyme is a tick born disease and was originally believed to be carried mainly by the common Deer Tick, but leading researchers reported almost a decade ago that 85% of all tick species were carrying the disease. Today, Lyme disease is the most prevalent tick-borne illness in the United States.
Lyme disease is a disease of inflammation resulting in pain and discomfort. It enters via the blood and quickly moves into soft tissues, burrowing its way into organs and eventually into the central nervous system and brain. It is a progressive disease that can, and will cause irreparable damage to the whole body. And studies have shown that long standing, chronic Lyme can cause arthritic changes to joints.
"Lyme is the one thing we can test for, treat and manage. So why not?" Jeanne said. "Cornell University’s Lyme Multiplex test is easy and affordable. Currently it is the most accurate test available. This test is finally catching nearly all the chronically infected horses." She went on to explain that all tests are just a snapshot in time and all have the potential for false negatives. "It just depends on where the spirochetes are hiding at the time you pull blood. And remember, a horse has roughly 34 liters of blood and we are pulling a very small sample."
With the help of a few local licensed veterinarians, Jeanne has drawn and tested hundreds of horses in Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania and reports that at a rough estimate 75 – 85 % turn up positive. And that was before we had the Cornell Multiplex test! ... She recommends if you suspect Lyme, please test. And if you get a negative result but see symptoms, you can always request that your veterinarian treat to see if there is any improvement in your horse. At the very least, retest in 1 month.
There are many variations of treatments and your veterinarian will be able to advise you. Be sure to retest about 6 months after the last treatment to make sure that your treatment was effective and produced a drop in titer levels. Once positive, Jeanne also recommends that you have your horse tested for titer levels once a year, preferably in the spring before riding season starts. In Jeanne's experience she has found that aggressive treatment is needed. The more chronic the disease the longer the treatment will need to be.
There are also Homeopathic remedies that show promise, and you should seek the counsel of a qualified Homeopathic consultant to pursue these remedies effectively. Jeanne’s homeopathic consultant and teacher, Rob Bannan, LCH, LCCH is a wealth of knowledge for those of you seeking more information homeopathic healing. He can be reached at http://www.innerhealthworks.com/ .
I will share the story of my own mare, Kessy … She had days of moodiness, unwillingness, even displayed clear signs of anger, and a little spooking. Then other days she was absolutely perfect. I suspected Lyme – for a year! … But because she had many more "perfect days" than "bad days" I continually talked myself out of it. Foolishly I blamed it on her cycles. Finally I tested her. The results came back from Cornell that she was "chronic" with very high numbers. We treated her with 100 Doxycycline pills a day for 8 weeks. We saw changes within a week in her willingness, carriage and demeanor.
We will be testing her again today as a matter of fact. It's been 5 months since her last treatment, and sorry to say, but about a month ago I began to see questionable behavior. We'll be pulling blood this afternoon and I will begin treatments even before I have the results from Cornell. Jeanne explains that in her experience it's quite common to see the symptoms reappear. Especially in horses as chronic as Kessy had been. Diane, Jeanne and my vet all suspect Kessy came to me with Lyme 33 months ago. When treating a chronic horse Jeanne has found often that there will be immediate noticeable results, only to have some symptoms return in a few months, or sooner. She suspects two things, the obvious is re-infection as ticks are everywhere, but often during treatment the spirochetes find a way to hide from the antibiotics. This is where alternative healing modalities from immune boosting nutrition to acupuncture and homeopathy give the horse a true fighting advantage.
Remember too, it is very important to care for the overall health of your horse during treatment. Feeding good quality probiotics (not the ones full of sugar) keeps the gut strong and maintains both the number and quality of the immune cells produced there. In fact the healthier the gut, the stronger the immune system.
Lyme is not going away anytime soon so be vigilant in your observations and care. If for any reason you suspect Lyme, test and treat. Even if your test comes back negative suggest to your veterinarian you want to treat anyway, and watch for the changes in your horse's health and attitude, which will reveal the truth. So many horses are being trained for behavioral issues when really they may just be suffering with Lyme. Also, consider a Lyme test part of your pre-purchase exam when buying a horse. It is often much more revealing than a set of xrays.
Another thing Jeanne has found in her practice is there seems to be a link between Lyme and Insulin Resistant (IR) horses. Lyme is an inflammatory disease which attacks and weakens the immune system and opens the door to all sorts of metabolic chaos as well as other disease states. Many well-respected researchers now believe that there is an immune component to IR. Which came first, Lyme or IR, that’s the question. In any case, Jeanne recommends that any horse with a metabolic disorder be tested for Lyme disease as well. She has found that on more than several occasions with her IR horse clients, Lyme disease was a possible trigger. And when treated effectively and in conjunction with a low None Structured Carbohydrate (NSC) diet, (http://ecirhorse.org/) often results in a quick return to wellness. “It’s always about treating the Whole Horse!”
Feel free to contact Jeanne at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry