Lyme Disease in Dairy Cattle

Sandra L. Bushmich, MS, DVM, Associate Professor of Pathobiology, University of Connecticut  
1998 Lyme Disease Conference, NY

In this talk we will summarize findings on bovine Lyme borreliosis gleaned from several studies, some of which are in progress. Lyme disease has been reported in dairy cattle (Post et al. 1986, Wells et. al. 1993, Burgess et al. 1986, Bushmich 1992). The most prevalent clinical sign is lameness; erythematous skin rash has also been described. Serologic diagnosis is hampered by cross reactivity with other flagellated flora, as well as a high level of subclinical infection. 

Our laboratory has conducted several studies to help define this disease in cattle. Our initial study involved experimental infection of neonatal calves with Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb) culture. Infected calves developed a positive serological response to Bb erythematous skin rash at the injection site from which Bb were cultured, and shed live Bb in the urine. Aside from the skin rash, they were clinically normal. 

Bb were detected (by culture and/or PCR) in urine of all 4 infected calves, as well as synovial fluid from one calf and blood from another. Necropsy cultures from infected calves were positive for Bb in spleen and synovial tissue of one calf, and kidney and bladder of another. Control calves were negative serologically and by culture/PCR. 

A later detailed case study involves a mature Holstein cow with initial clinical sign of severe lameness. Western blot demonstrated Bb specific antibodies, and skin biopsy was Bb culture and PCR positive. Physical examination revealed no other cause of lameness. The cow responded well to a short course of oxytetracycline treatment, then became lame again. This cow was then moved to a research facility and treated with alternating penicillin and oxytetracycline for over 50 days. 

Although she improved clinically and returned to the herd, she became severely lame again 2 months later and was euthanised. Bb was found in synovial tissue, lymph node, bladder and uterus at necropsy. Studies of natural Bb infection in bred Holstein heifers are presented as a separate poster presentation. Preliminary results of experimental infection of bred dairy heifers with Bb infected and non-infected control Ixodes scapularis ticks will also be presented.

SPECIAL NOTE: A tick-borne coinfection, Bartonella, has been detected in 89% beef cattle tested from Oklahoma and 17% of dairy cattle from California.  Recently, a study by the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University reported finding one or more species of bartonella in 82.4% of cattle they tested.

Vet Rec. 2000 Apr 22;146(17):497-9.

Diagnosis of Lyme disease in two cows by the detection of Borrelia burgdorferi DNA.


Clinic of Veterinary Surgery, University of Zurich, Switzerland.


Two cows from different herds in a district of Switzerland known to harbour ixodid ticks had erythematous lesions on the hairless skin of the udder, were in poor general condition with a poor appetite and decreased milk production, and had a stiff gait and swollen joints. Borrelia burgdorferi sensu strictu DNA was detected in samples of synovial fluid and milk from one of the cows and Borrelia afzelii DNA was detected in synovial fluid from the other by means of a real-time PCR.

Comp Immunol Microbiol Infect Dis. 2011 Mar;34(2):179-87. Epub 2010 Dec 30.

Bartonella and Babesia infections in cattle and their ticks in Taiwan.


Department of Population Health and Reproduction, School of Veterinary Medicine, 1 Shields Avenue, University of California Davis, CA 95616, USA.


Bartonella and Babesia infections and the association with cattle breed and age as well as tick species infesting selectedcattle herds in Taiwan were investigated. Blood samples were collected from 518 dairy cows and 59 beef cattle on 14 farms and 415 ticks were collected from these animals or in a field. Bartonella and Babesia species were isolated and/or detected in the cattle blood samples and from a selected subset (n=254) of the ticks either by culture or DNA extraction, PCR testing and DNA sequence analysis. Bartonella bovis was isolated from a dairy cow and was detected in 25 (42.4%) beef cattle and 40 (15.7%) tick DNA samples. This is the first isolation of B. bovis from cattle in Asia and detection of a wide variety of Bartonella species in Rhipicephalus microplus. Babesia spp. were detected only on one farm from dairycows either infected by Babesia bovis (n=10, 1.9%) or B. bigemina (n=3, 0.6%).

Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Vet Microbiol. 2009 Mar 30;135(3-4):308-12. Epub 2008 Sep 21.

PCR detection of Bartonella bovis and Bartonella henselae in the blood of beef cattle.


Intracellular Pathogens Research Laboratory, Center for Comparative Medicine and Translational Research, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27606, United States.


Although an organism primarily associated with non-clinical bacteremia in domestic cattle and wild ruminants, Bartonellabovis was recently defined as a cause of bovine endocarditis. The purpose of this study was to develop a B. bovis species-specific PCR assay that could be used to confirm the molecular prevalence of Bartonella spp. infection. Blood samples from 142 cattle were tested by conventional PCR targeting the Bartonella 16S-23S intergenic spacer (ITS) region. Overall,Bartonella DNA was detected in 82.4% (117/142) of the cattle using either Bartonella genus primers or B. bovis species-specific primers. Based upon size, 115 of the 117 Bartonella genus ITS PCR amplicons were consistent with B. bovis infection, which was confirmed by PCR using B. bovis species-specific primers and by sequencing three randomly selected, appropriately sized Bartonella genus PCR amplicons. By DNA sequencing, Bartonella henselae was confirmed as the two remaining amplicons, showing sequence similarity to B. henselae URBHLIE 9 (AF312496) and B. henselae Houston 1 (NC_005956), respectively. Following pre-enrichment blood culture of 12 samples in Bartonella alpha Proteobacteria growth medium (BAPGM) B. henselae infection was found in another three cows. Four of the five cowsinfected with B. henselae were co-infected with B. bovis. To our knowledge this study describes the first detection of B. henselae in any large ruminant species in the world and supports the need for further investigation of prevalence and pathogenic potential of B. henselae and B. bovis in cattle.

J Clin Microbiol. 2001 Mar;39(3):879-82.

Infection with Bartonella weissii and detection of Nanobacterium antigens in a North Carolina beef herd.


Departments of Clinical Sciences and Farm Animal Health and Resource Management, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27606, USA.


Very recently, Bartonella organisms have been isolated from large ruminants (deer, elk, and dairy and beef cattle) located in the United States and in France. In this study, we report the serologic, microbiologic, and molecular findings related to the isolation of a Bartonella species in North Carolina beef cattle and the detection of nanobacterial antigen using a commercially available enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Between August 1998 and September 1999, blood was collected from 38 cattle ranging in age from 1 month to 6.5 years. After a 1-month incubation period, a Bartonella sp. was isolated on a 5% rabbit blood agar plate from three of six EDTA blood samples. PCR amplification of the 16S rRNA gene from all three isolates resulted in a DNA sequence that was 100% identical to that of B. weissii 16S rRNA (GenBank no. AF199502). By IFA testing, 36 of 38 cattle had antibodies (> or =1:64) to Bartonella weissii (bovine origin) antigens. Nanobacterial antigen was detected in 22 of 22 serum samples. We conclude that infection with an organism similar or closely related to B. weissii can occur in North Carolina cattle and that although their actual existence is still controversial Nanobacterium antigens were detected with a commercially available test kit. The epidemiology, vector biology, and potential pathogenicity of these organisms in cattle deserve future consideration.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE] 
Free PMC Article

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1988;539:235-43.

Borrelia burgdorferi infection in Wisconsin horses and cows.


Blood samples from Wisconsin horses and cows suspected of having clinical disease due to Borrelia burgdorferi infection were submitted by veterinary practitioners. 

All serum, milk, colostrum, and synovial samples were tested for B. burgdorferi antibodies by immunofluorescence. Whole blood, milk, colostrum, and synovial fluid samples were cultured for B. burgdorferi

Records were kept on the clinical signs of antibody-positive animals, date of sample, and location of the animal by county. Of the samples tested for antibodies 282/430 cow sera, 118/190 horse sera, 5/10 cow synovial fluids, 3/6 horse synovial fluids, 2/3 cow colostrums, 0/44 cow milk samples and 1 aborted fetus serum were antibody positive at a titer of 1:128 or greater. 

Of samples cultured 7/156 cow bloods, 2/35 horse bloods, 1/14 cow synovial fluids, 0/4 synovial fluids, 1/3 cow colostrums, 0/44 cow milk, and 2/10 cow urine samples were B. burgdorferi culture positive. For both cows and horses October and May were the two peak months for the number of antibody-positive samples. 

The most frequent clinical signs in antibody-positive horses and cows were lameness and swollen joints, but many also had stiffness, laminitis, abortions, and fevers. Not all antibody-positive animals showed clinical signs. 

These findings show that B. burgdorferi infection occurs in horses and cows and can cause clinical illness in some but not all animals. Infection in cows and horses occurs most frequently 1 month after the emergence of adult I. dammini. 

Because spirochetes could be isolated from blood, synovial fluid, colostrum, and urine, these animals could be important in providing an infected blood meal for ticks and bringing B. burgdorferi in direct contact with humans.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]