Give Nutritional Support to Horses With Lyme Disease

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Lyme disease can cause physical problems in horses, but there are things you can do to help nutritionally support those horses with Lyme disease. Kentucky Equine Research's Bryan Waldridge, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, and Kathleen Crandell, PhD, talk about what you can do.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is usually treated with tetracycline antibiotics. Clinical signs of Lyme disease can be vague and include lameness in multiple legs, enlarged joints, fever, and behavioral changes. The diagnosis of Lyme disease can be difficult and involves testing for high antibody levels against B. burgdorferi. Nutritional support aims to promote the immune response, reduce inflammation and offset possible adverse gastrointestinal effects from antibiotics.

The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids have been detailed extensively. Boosting immunity is just one advantage of supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, so this seems a natural choice for an immune-suppressed horse. Another advantage is a reduction in inflammatory responses. In fact, omega-3 fatty acids reduce arthritic pain and can potentially reduce the dose of anti-inflammatories used for joint pain. Select an omega-3 product that has been derived from fish oil, as these contain direct sources of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), two long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. For maximal palatability, marine-derived products such as fish oil should be deodorized and flavored. Check with the manufacturer to be sure the product has undergone these processes. One such product is EO-3, manufactured by Kentucky Equine Research.

A well-known immune-boosting nutrient is vitamin E. Lyme disease also has been recognized as a possible cause of neurologic dysfunction in horses, such as muscle loss, unsteady gait, and facial nerve paralysis. Vitamin E is recommended for equine neurologic disease for its anti-inflammatory properties. Not all vitamin E supplements are the same, so look for a natural vitamin E product (d-alpha-tocopherol, not dl-alpha-tocopherol). In a trial conducted at KER, bioavailability was greatest with a natural vitamin E product that used a process known as nanodispersion to better deliver the nutrient throughout the body. Natural water-soluble forms of vitamin E have been shown to significantly increase alpha-tocopherol concentration in the cerebrospinal fluid. One natural, water-soluble source of vitamin E available in the marketplace is Nano-E, also available from KER. Selenium is often discussed hand in hand with vitamin E because it, too, is essential for proper immune function.

It is very important to keep horses eating and avoid gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea, whenever horses receive antibiotics. Yeasts and probiotics help keep the hindgut in optimal working order. Horses treated with any antibiotic should be observed for inappetence or loose manure; if either of these occur, discontinue antibiotics and call your veterinarian. Forage should be available at all times and, when possible, horses on antibiotics should be allowed to graze at pasture or in paddocks.

Arthritis, lameness, and swollen joints can be signs of Lyme disease. To bolster joint health, supplements that supply a synergistic blend of glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate provide broad-spectrum support. Hyaluronic acid supplements can also be helpful for improving lubrication of the joint, decreasing joint inflammation, and increasing the comfort of the horse.

Other useful nutrients or additives include vitamin C, alpha-lipoic acid, magnesium, and possibly B vitamins. Each horse should be treated as an individual, certainly from a nutritional point of view, but also from a medical standpoint. A strong working relationship with your veterinarian and a nutritionist will help you determine what is best for your horse.