Help for Lyme Disease in Horses

Written by Joyce Harman, DVM

Lyme is constantly on my mind here in Virginia as spring begins and I start finding ticks. Every year we learn more about it, yet I keep hearing the same information: the ticks have to be on for 24-48 hours (reality–just have to bite) and that Lyme does not exist in my area (guess what–now birds have been shown to carry it and they fly a long way). So it's important to stay Lyme-aware and keep up with the latest information. Here is a quick rundown of Lyme facts. Be safe out there and enjoy the spring weather.

The organism

  • The Lyme spirochete (Borrelia burgdorferi) is a corkscrew-shaped bacteria
  • The life cycle involves various tick species involved depending on the location
  • Hosts include many small mammals: white-footed mouse (northeast) to the chipmunk, hedgehog, squirrels and rats, along with humans and dogs
  • Birds are identified now as carriers, and they travel far, spreading Lyme
  • Fleas, spiders, mosquitoes, and mites are also possible parts of the life cycle, though the available research has not defined their exact role
  • The tiny nymph stage ticks are the source of most infections while the adult tick, which is a little larger and easier to see, may be less important but still potentially infective
  • It’s outer surface protein adapts to the hosts own immune system

 Symptoms and diagnosis

  • Most common sign subtle variable lameness or arthritis
  • Other signs: anterior uveitis, neurologic signs, low grade fever, sensitivity to touch, lameness, weight loss, tremors, neck pain, lethargy and laminitis
  • Almost always usually some degree of behavior change, from depressed to violently spooky
  • Laboratory diagnosis can be inconclusive, but can be helpful


  • No magic bullet in treating chronic LD cases. Best is a combination, with emphasis on the immune system
  • Antibiotics can be useful especially in a freshly diagnosed horse
  • Western or Chinese herbal preparations can be effective for immune and pathogen treatment and for prevention
  • Herbal and antibiotic therapy should be rotated at least monthly to avoid resistance
  • Probiotics are an absolute necessity and should continue to be fed for many months after antibiotic therapy is finished
  • Vitamin C for the immune system and the collagen (4-6 grams twice a day)
  • Noni fruit leather is an herb that supports the immune system and has excellent anti-inflammatory properties
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: anti-inflammatory, support the immune system–whole flaxseed, hemp or Chia seeds, or Omega 3 oils
  • Medicinal mushrooms support the immune system
  • Joint supplements are important include glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, glycosaminoglycans, herbal preparations
  • Hemp with cannabinoids (CBD) in oil or powder form support the immune system, support healthy joint function  
  • Homeopathics can be used based on symptoms
  • Acupuncture is excellent for pain control, immune stimulation


  • Avoid stress or support the horse with adaptogenic herbs during stress
  • Use care with immune system stress, including vaccination
  • Topical essential oils and various insect repellant sprays need to be applied frequently
  • Slippery sprays (Tick-Slick) keeps ticks from biting
  • Long term immune and stress support prevent recurrences and help healing


Joy, Ticks-Off can be applied around the sheath and udder areas safely. The concentrate is on sale here:

Harmany Equine April 13, 2021

Thanks for the info, Dr. Harman. Is the Tick-Slick ok to use around the sheath and udder areas? That’s where my horses are most attacked by ticks.

Joy Fowler April 13, 2021

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