Den Hoek

Lyme disease in horses and dogs

tick, lyme disease, mites

Read more about this in the Phytonics interview with small animal veterinarian Mallika Kokke and equine veterinarian Eric Laarakker.

Lyme disease in horses and dogs, in conversation with veterinarians Eric Laarakker and Mallika Kokke

Lyme disease as a result of a tick bite has unfortunately become widely known in recent years. It is an increasingly well-known phenomenon not only in humans, but also in horses, dogs and to a lesser extent in cats. Lyme disease is one of the diseases that is transmitted by a tick. The disease symptoms are often vague and can vary greatly, Lyme disease is therefore also known as Chameleon among the diseases. Detecting Lyme is therefore often very difficult. In certain regions of the Netherlands, especially the wooded areas, there are many infected ticks nowadays.

What is Lyme?

Holistisch veterinarian Mallika Kokke) explains exactly what Lyme is: “Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium: Borrelia burgdorfi. This bacterium can be found in the saliva of an infected tick, among other things. But nowadays we know that mosquitoes, fleas and lice can also transmit this bacteria. The longer a tick is stuck in a body, the greater the chance of infection. Because ticks are often not noticed or noticed too late, the symptoms are also recognized and discovered late when it is already a chronic problem. The absence of an Erythema Migrans after a tick bite (the well-known red circle) does not mean that there is no infection, you often do not even see this because of the fur in animals.”

The chameleon among the diseases

Eric Laarakker , veterinarian and owner of Holistic practice Den Hoek, explains: “Borrelia is very good at disguising and hiding. Lyme disease is therefore the chameleon among the diseases, which makes detecting it extremely difficult. Red spots and rings that can occur after an infection do not always occur or are not always visible and are therefore not proof of infection. Red circles are even rare in animals.

With the help of a blood test, the horse’s antibodies against Borrelia (Lyme) can be measured. The antibodies against Borrelia are not produced immediately.

Therefore, the disease can often only be detected after 3 to 8 weeks and in some cases not at all, because antibodies are not always produced.
However, this test cannot show whether the horse has had recent contact with the disease and the symptoms are caused by Lyme disease. They may have had contact with Borrelia and thus have antibodies in their blood without showing any symptoms. An acute infection can be detected when no antibodies were found on the first blood draw and antibodies were found on the second blood draw.

Tests are also being developed in which the presence of Borrelia itself can be demonstrated. This requires, for example, a biopsy of the skin at the tick bite or of a joint. The sensitivity of this test is not yet well known in the horse. The diagnosis is only certain when it is known that the horse has been infected with ticks, the horse shows (multiple) symptoms, the test is positive, other disorders are excluded and the horse responds well to the treatment. If the blood test is negative, that does not mean that there is no contamination, because it can be false negative and we see that a lot in practice!”


The clinical manifestations of the disease are associated with non-specific symptoms in both humans and animals. The following symptoms can be seen: varying lameness, stiff thick joints, fever, tender muscles, chronic weight loss, lethargy, behavioral changes and neurological signs. The complaints can be very diverse.
Mallika: “I see a lot of animals, especially dogs, with Lyme. It is precisely the diverse symptoms that sometimes make the diagnosis difficult. Too often the focus is on a specific complaint and more extensive research shows that there are even more complaints and that the underlying problem is Lyme.”

Eric: “Yes, this is also the case with the horses. For example, I regularly see horses that are labeled “atactic” in the regular circuit and that’s it. My experience is that Lyme likes to “settle” in the lower back in horses. Because of the neurological symptoms it gives you indeed get an atactic picture. Some horses with Lyme can be recognized almost immediately, slightly underweight, lean muscling, a tucked up belly, floppy tail tone, and a slightly sunken “point of the butt”. Often animals are also depressed, anxious or aggressive.

What to do with a tick bite

Prevention is better than cure. It is therefore very important to check animals carefully when they have been in a place with a lot of ticks, such as in a forest or a place with high grass. If the ticks are removed immediately (within 24 hours), the risk of infection is much smaller.

When the tick has been removed, it can be sent for examination (link is external) to determine which tick it is and which infection the tick may be carrying. It is also important to remember the location of the tick, as this may be important for further investigation.

If the ticks have been present on an animal for a longer period of time, it may be wise to take blood for storage. Should the animal become ill, it is possible to compare the blood taken immediately after the bite with the blood at the time of the illness. If the antibodies have risen sharply, then the acute infection can be detected.

Diagnosis and treatment

Eric: “As stated before, it is very difficult to diagnose by means of blood tests. In our practice we work with the Lecher antenna. This is an (energetic) measuring method to detect a possible Lyme infection.

It is important to start treating not only Lyme, but also the damage to the rest of the body. The animals often become ill from the so-called autoimmune reaction. The immune system does not react as it should. Experience shows that Lyme can remain dormant in the body for years. You can compare it to a cold sore in humans in that respect. This is caused by a herpes virus which is also dormant in your body. With a weak and reduced resistance, it can rear its head again.”

Mallika: “Like all other disorders, we treat Lyme with a comprehensive approach. An adequate treatment has been shown to be a combination of an energetic treatment, increasing the resistance, support with natural medication and possibly additional supplements. Animals that have had Lyme benefit from a preventive check once or twice a year.”

Source: Phytonics
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