Treating Your Horse for Lyme: 4 Things You Should Know

Doxy and probiotics
The main treatment for Lyme is Doxycycline. Freedom is on an 8 week course. That’s longer than used to be prescribed. To protect his gut bacteria, he also gets a probiotic.

So, it’s official. Freedom has Lyme disease. The second round of blood tests were positive both for the SNAP test and the Cornell Multiplex. He’s symptoms indicated Lyme but it’s always nice to know you are treating something.  As we embark on his treatment, I thought I’d share with you some of the things I’ve learned about treating Lyme.

  1. The treatment protocol is now 6-8 weeks of Doxycycline. Freedom was treated for Lyme once before, back in 2011. At that time the recommendation was 4-6 weeks. And I can remember when the treatment protocol was just 30 days. The good news is that he completely recovered last time.
  2. Positive is positive. The magnitude of the titer does not correlate with how your horse feels. So, even though your horse may have a relatively low titer, he may feel terrible.
  3. Keep your horse moving. My vet told me to keep him active (he is on 24/7 turnout which helps).
  4. Treatment goes beyond antibiotics. Whenever you treat your horse with Doxy, you should supplement with a probiotic because antibiotics kill the beneficial gut bacteria. In addition to that, many vets recommend supportive care that includes:
    1. Omega 3 supplements, which have anti-inflammatory properties and support the immune system (Freedom gets flax seed),
    2. Vitamin E  to protect against muscle damage and the improve immune response. Natural vitamin E is has greater bioavailability, so look for products with d-alpha-tocopherol, not dl-alpha-tocopherol. Freedom tested deficient for Vitamin E awhile back, so he always gets it, but I’ve upped his supplementation while he’s being treated.
    3. Lots of forage to help avoid gastrointestinal problems. I’m a big proponent of lots of hay. I also mix his Doxy into soaked alfalfa cubes and grain to make sure he eats it all.
    4. A joint supplement: Since Lyme often manifests itself as joint soreness, feeding a joint supplement can help. Freedom gets Corta-Flx liquid.

Would love to hear of other treatments that people have used successfully!

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Zelda’s April Fools Day Colic

Zelda post colic
Last night Zelda was colicky. There’s nothing sadder than a 1400 pound horse that wants to crawl into your lap because their stomach hurts. Luckily she felt much better today.

Yesterday we had an April Fools Day snow storm. The kind of  “gotchya” that New England throws at its residents every few years just to test our dedication to living here. It snowed all day. Wet, heavy snow. Temperatures hovered around 30 degrees. April Fool’s Day!

But my not-so-funny April Fool’s Day wasn’t over.

When I went to feed the horses dinner, I knew something was wrong because Zelda wasn’t at the gate waiting for her food. And she didn’t come galloping up from the bottom of the field when I whistled. You have to know Zelda to understand that meals are very, very important to her.

I could see her standing down by the run in shed. Just by the way she was standing — all stretched out — I knew she hurt. I sloshed through ankle deep mud and snow and led her into the barn.  Her head was low, her eyes were dull and she was shivering under her very wet blanket. She wasn’t wet under the blanket, but she was cold. She passed right by the open door to the hay storage and didn’t try to snatch a bite. Not good.

First thing I did was put a warm, dry blanket on her. The second, was to call the vet. I was able to take her temperature — 101.4 — but unable to find a pulse to check her heart rate. I decided that either my hands were frozen or she was already dead. It shouldn’t be that hard to find the pulse on an animal that size, but I now have a stethoscope on order.

Thank goodness for Banamine. It’s one of those drugs that is so important to have on hand. After a dose of Banamine and Milk of Magnesia, I walked for for awhile, hoping that she’d pass manure. Of course, I hadn’t dressed warmly enough when I went to the barn. I’d intended to feed and then have dinner with my husband in town. Instead we spent 2 hours at the barn and ate take out pizza in the aisle, waiting for Zelda to perk up.

And she did. By the time I left she was looking better and getting hungry. She had good gut sounds, but no manure. Why is that horses poop all the time when you don’t want them to but never when you really, really want them to?

Finally the vet said she could have a very soupy mixture of soaked alfalfa cubes. Zelda wasn’t thrilled. It’s not her favorite food. But she was hungry and she slurped them down. At least it got some warm water into her.

A midnight trip back to the barn showed a much improved Zelda. She came trotting up from the bottom of the field when she heard me coming, and nickered for food. Almost back to normal.

Today, she was chasing Curly away from her hay and acting fine. It was 53 degrees and sunny. It felt like a different season. Luckily, a better season.

Colic weather — the vast shifting of temperatures — makes horses more prone to colic because they may drink less, move less and eat less. Zelda had been fine at noon when she had some lunch, but some time during the six hours before dinner, something went wrong. I make it a practice when I feed in the winter to always add warm water and soaked cubes to their meals, but I guess that wasn’t enough. I’m just very glad that she responded so well to treatment.

 

Cautiously Optimistic

Glowing in the sun
Maybe, just maybe we’ve got a solution.

Of course, right after we started treating Freedom for Lyme, winter returned with a vengeance. The temperatures dropped from low 60s to less than 10 degrees overnight and then we got about a foot of snow.

I was able to get two short rides in, and they’ve left me feeling very hopeful. His back is still tight, but he’s no longer flinching away from touch or striking out when you try to groom him. He is more like himself under saddle — no more head flipping, no more hollowed back. Not sucking back. The second day I rode, I trotted him over a small pole and he willingly landed on his left lead . . . and held it. No anxiety, no hopping.

It’s so nice to have my horse back. I just hope he stays.

The tricky thing with the treatment is that many horses feel better when you put them on doxy. Since it’s an anti-inflammatory as well as an antibiotic, it’s possible that the drug is fixing something that we didn’t know was wrong. However, I previously tried giving him bute and that had no effect at all.

Fingers crossed that when the snow finally melts that he is still feeling better.

Race Horses and SI Issues

Buying an Ex-racehorse
This is a very interesting article that talks about some of the issues that ex-racehorses can face. Not all injuries are career ending, but racing certainly takes its toll. This is a great read for someone interested in OTTBs. Read the article by clicking on the photo.
Freedom when I first got him
When I first got Freedom he had no muscle. Look at that skinny neck! He didn’t thrive in his first non-racing home which is why he ended up at my barn.

Freedom has been remarkably sound over the 12 years that I’ve owned him. Yes, I brought him home in early 2005, thinking that I would foster him for just a few months. He was a skinny, nervous horse that didn’t have much idea of how to be a riding horse.

Freedom came off the track with an apical sesamoid fracture that had been rehabbed. However, it turns out that SI pain is pretty typical for racehorses.

This problem really is the number one [issue], as every ex-racehorse has damage to the ligaments in this area.

Here is Freedom's CANTER listing. He looked a lot more like himself here.
Here is Freedom’s CANTER listing. He looked a lot more like himself — in better weight and muscled up.

The fact that Freedom showed no SI problems until last year is impressive. As a TB he’s officially now 19 and it’s very possible that he’s having some other joint pain as well. Overall he’s quite a balanced horse who has managed to use his body correctly and keep himself sound. He had 28 starts as a racehorse, retiring when he was six.

We haven’t given up. In between the snowflakes I’m still working on conditioning for both mind and body, waiting until the footing is good enough for the next lameness exam and hoping he’ll feel better in the spring.

Needle-phobics look away!

SI Injection
Freedom received his SI injections yesterday. That needle was 8″ long!

On Monday Freedom had his SI joints injected. If you have a phobia of needles this is not a procedure that you want to watch. The needle the vet used was 8″ long! The vets used ultrasound to guide the placement of the needle. He had both sides injected (the right was much more sensitive than the left, hence his reluctance to pick up/hold the left lead canter).

Mesotherapy
After the injection, he received mesotherapy to relax the sore muscles in his back.

The second part of his treatment was mesotherapy. This involves injecting the vet’s “secret sauce” using small needles that penetrate shallowly into the interdermal layer of the skin that stimulates the mesoderm (the middle layer of the skin). Mesotherapy is a more recent addition to treatments here in the US but has been used extensively in France for more than 30 years. Mesotherapy helps stop the pain spasm cycle, so for a horse like Freedom, who had pain from the SI joint, it can help relax the muscles in conjunction with the joint injection.

Did it work? I’ll find out in a few days. He needs to have five days off before I can start him back with a light hack. Stay tuned!

And the lameness is . . .

Freedom has been diagnosed with arthritis in his sacroiliac joint
Freedom has been diagnosed with arthritis in his sacroiliac joints which will require injections.

After ruling out a number of causes, Freedom has been diagnosed with pain in his sacroiliac joint. If you’re not familiar with the joint, it attaches the pelvis to the

SI joints
The SI joints (right and left) are located at the horse’s croup and are engaged during cantering.

vertebral column and it transfers the stresses of the hind limbs as they push off the ground, through to the spine and body to support the weight of the horse’s torso (http://www.equestrianlife.com.au/horsecare/Understanding-the-sacroiliac-joint).

Sacroiliac problems in horses can be difficult to diagnose because they are often intermittent and don’t display as a “typical” lameness that can be seen at all gaits. Common signs are loss of performance, loss of propulsion, and difficulty with the canter.

That describes what’s been going on with Freedom to a “T”.  When I thought about it, the days when he’s felt very sound are the ones were we did very little canter work.

In fact, with 20/20 hindsight, I suspect that this problem started last fall when he had the abscess from hell. He had issues with the canter then but I chalked them up to the huge abscess . . . then he got ridden lightly through the winter and spring (very little cantering) and he felt mostly fine.

The vet explained that it is not uncommon among former race horses as they have wear and tear on the joint from galloping — and Freedom is 18.

The next step is to have his SI joints injected (he is much sorer on the right side than the left). This will involve a trip to the clinic and the use of a very long needle (see the video below). The vet says they generally see a very good response to this type of injection so I”m optimistic that he’ll be feeling back to normal soon.

The cribbing post

cribbing post
Since Freedom will always be a cribber, I’m trying to direct him toward a “target” cribbing post. You can tell that cribbing releases endorphins. He looks pretty blissed out.

Freedom is a confirmed cribber. He came to me as a cribber and even with 24 hour turnout, free choice hay, lots of grass and a cribbing collar, he will crib.

Over the past few months he’s pulled a few posts out of the fence line and generally made a nuisance of himself. As an experiment, the owners of the barn installed his own personal cribbing post, a post where he can’t cause any damage to the rest of the fence.

Of course, convincing him to use it? You’ve heard the story about leading a horse to water? To make it more appealing, I’ve been installing electric fencing to keep him off the actual fence line. Finally, when he had his collar off this week, he honed in on that target fence. Look at the expression on his face! If he were a human, he’d be a chain smoker.

You might ask why I’m not trying to completely stop his cribbing. The problem is that this type of OCD behavior won’t just go away . . . it will be replaced by something else. Let’s face it, for whatever reason (most likely a strong genetic predisposition) Freedom needs an outlet. With a cribbing collar he doesn’t crib to the point of obsession — he’s not one of those horses that would rather crib than eat — and as long as he doesn’t bring down the fencing he can go wild.

Thank Goodness for Banamine

 

 

Freedom Feeling Better
Freedom is feeling back to normal

Freedom is feeling better now but on Sunday, he gave me a bit of a scare.

I’d taken Zelda out for a ride. He looked fine when I arrived; he’d galloped up to the fence and begged for some extra hay. But, when I got back, he was just not right. You know what I mean — you come out to the pasture and your horse is standing funny or has an odd expression on his face, or is just not looking like himself.

In Freedom’s case, he was standing with his back to me, slightly tucked up and his tail was held to one side. I pulled him out of the paddock and he started to clench his tail down hard.

He didn’t look colic-y, but he didn’t look right either.

A quick call to the vet confirmed my suspicion that Banamine was required. My vet also suggested some milk of magnesia, as Freedom’s muscles were very tight.

Thankfully, he responded well and twenty minutes later, he looked noticeably better.

I’m still not sure what made him feel off — my guess was the big temperature swing we had here. It was 93 on Saturday and just 61 degrees on Sunday. It’s possible he also ran a bit when Zelda and I were out, although he wasn’t hot when I got back.

I’m just glad his body language was so clear and direct — and that I had Banamine on hand.