Sunday, January 13, 2008

Lyme disease: Watch out for weight loss!

Every time I look at this picture of Harvey (age 10) I cringe. We didn't know it at the time, but he had Lyme disease. Yes, I knew he'd lost weight, but he had just moved to Pennsylvania from North Carolina, and I thought it was due to the move. The barn manager had increased his feed, but he was not gaining weight. Looking back I can't believe a) he was allowed to get this gaunt and b) I was still riding him. As a new, apparently clueless first-time horse owner, I needed a kick in the butt. Fortunately, I got it from a friend who laid it on the line--GET THE VET. The vet must have had good intuition, because she suggested we test him for Lyme disease. I was skeptical, but agreed to the test. When the results came back, I learned that he had highest Lyme/Elisa titer that Cornell had ever recorded. He was put on antibiotics for nearly a month.

Weight loss is not a classic symptom for Lyme, but Lyme symptoms are a real mixed bag. Common signs are as varied as joint pain, fever, lameness, eye problems, neurological problems, and stiff neck. As with any unusual or troubling changes in your horse's condition or behavior, it's probably best to consult with your vet. If Lyme Disease goes unchecked, a horse's condition can become life-threatening -- founder and permanent nerve damage are among the possibilities. Lyme disease is especially prevalent in the Northeast -- maybe the move to PA was (indirectly) the cause of Harv's weight loss after all.

Here is Harvey now, at age 20 -- you can see that he has reached "epic proportions" and is nicely rounded. Like Scarlet O'Hara, after the Lyme incident I vowed, "God as my witness he'll never go hungry again!" In this picture, he is probably more at risk for founder than anything else. I have him tested every few years, just to be safe, but his levels are low. A few resources are listed below.


Equine Lyme Disease: Antibiotic treatment... (Cornell U)

Lyme Disease info (Iowa State U)

Is there a ticking time bomb under your saddle?

Equine Lyme Disease

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