Treating Freedom: A New Diagnosis

Tick on Freedom
Freedom is being treated for Lyme. In New England the ticks are already out. I’ve pulled several off Freedom in the past two weeks. I’m so glad that I clipped him because they are easier to find.

Readers of my blog will remember that last fall Freedom was diagnosed with arthritis in his Sacro Iliac joints. He had his SI joints injected and I hoped that he would feel better soon. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Massage helped a bit but he still refused to hold his left lead canter. I put him in light work designed to strengthen his hind end. Lots of hill work, pole work and transitions. It hasn’t made a difference, but I marked it down to the fact that the weather and footing have made it difficult to keep him in regular work.

The one thing that’s been obvious to me that he’s uncomfortable. He’s never liked to be touched or groomed that much, but recently he’s been downright cranky. I give my massage therapist a lot of credit for her perseverance because he can be quite intimidating!

Last week, since we had several days of good weather, he had another lameness exam. This time with a vet who has known Freedom for a long time. The first thing he mentioned was how much Freedom’s behavior had changed. Freedom has always been twitchy but on Thursday, he could barely stand to be touched. It was obvious that his back was sore but he was so reactive that it was difficult for the vet to make a diagnosis.

Part of the lameness exam involved evaluating him on the lunge line and under saddle. The good news was that he’s not lame — there is no mechanical issue. at the walk and trot he feels quite sound in both directions.

But here’s the most interesting part:  the vet gave him some light sedation (we were having gusts of wind up to 35 mph) and as a result of its muscle relaxing and anti-anxiety properties, he willingly picked up his left lead canter and held it! He is more uncomfortable to the left, but physically, he is capable of cantering and cantering sound.

Based on the examination, the vet thinks he might have Lyme. Last year, before the injections, he was tested. The SNAP test, which shows exposure, came back positive — hardly surprising in New England where ticks are everywhere. The Cornell Multiplex test was negative. The Cornell test is supposed to be more accurate for distinguishing between the early and chronic stages of Lyme infection. It may be that the disease had not progressed enough at the time when we pulled blood for Freedom to have produced significant antibodies. It may be that he has a low titer but is still suffering from Lyme. It appears that the magnitude of the titer does not correspond to the disease. There are also reports that some horses are symptomatic without testing positive.

Freedom most definitely has symptoms that could be attributed to Lyme: intermittent stiffness/lameness, a sore back, behavioral changes, resentment of touch or pressure and muscle tenderness. It’s hard to know but my vet said that his behavioral changes might be the biggest tip off.

While waiting for the new tests results to come back, we have started treating him with Doxycycline. I’m supposed to keep him in light work, but right after the diagnosis we had record-breaking cold and the promise of a foot of snow on Tuesday, so I can’t really say whether there has been an real improvement yet. And of course, since doxy is an anti-inflammatory, it may make him feel better even if it isn’t Lyme.

Fingers crossed that he starts feeling better soon.


4 thoughts on “Treating Freedom: A New Diagnosis

  1. Fingers crossed! We have a lot of Lyme down here too- it’s really pretty nasty. Doxy can be a miracle worker tho. While I’m not sure it’s recommended to do this, I know some ppl who will simply opt to do a doxy course even without a diagnosis when there’s some sort of mystery ailment/lameness with the horse. Good luck!

    1. The tricky part about treating with doxy is that it is an anti-inflammatory. So, depending on what’s wrong with a horse, it could make them feel better, even if it isn’t Lyme or one of the other nasty tick diseases. I will say that Freedom didn’t respond at all to Bute, so it’s not just pain. I really hope this helps because I want him to feel better.

  2. Lyme is one of the scariest diseases in my opinion. It can wreak havoc and you may never know. Since it’s not officially a disease recognized by the CDC, there are few treatment options. I’m concerned for this summer in NC, since we had such a mild winter, I suspect the bugs and ticks will be everywhere and worse than last summer. There’s nothing quite like being ill without a diagnosis. I hope the doxy helps Freedom feel better!

    1. On NPR I heard that this summer they are expecting a Lyme epidemic in New England based on the mouse population in the fall and the mild winter we’ve had. I am really not looking forward to that! I spray the horses with Frontline or use Deep Woods Off but it’s almost impossible to eliminate their exposure to ticks, especially since they live outside.

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