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 cows infected 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

Am J Vet Res. 1994 Sep;55(9):1228-31.

Seroepidemiologic survey of Borrelia burgdorferi exposure of dairy cattle in Wisconsin.

Author information

Department of Pathobiological Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin, Madison 53706-1102.


An ELISA, using purified flagellin of Borrelia burgdorferi as the solid-phase antigen, was used to measure antibody concentrations to B burgdorferi in dairy cattle in Wisconsin. 

Serum obtained from 5,060 cows in 160 randomly selected herds in the state were tested. Serum from an additional 2,600 cattle in Barron County, Wis, a county with a high annual incidence of B burgdorferi infections in human beings, was also tested. 

Only 7% of the cows that were tested, but 66% of the herds that were tested, were seropositive for B burgdorferi. 

Sixteen percent of the herds had a prevalence of > or = 15% seropositive cows, whereas 50% of the herds had a prevalence of 1 to 14% seropositive cows. 

Seropositive herds were concentrated in the west-central part of Wisconsin. An association existed between the geographic location of seropositive herds and counties in which B burgdorferi infection of human beings was acquired (P < 0.05) as well as the geographic location of seropositive herds and the geographic distribution of Ixodes scapularis (P < 0.05). 

Barron County, in which B burgdorferi infection is endemic, had a significantly (P < 0.05) higher percentage of seropositive cows (17%) than did the state of Wisconsin (7%).

[Indexed for MEDLINE] 

Cornell Vet. 1992 Jul;82(3):253-74.

Lyme borreliosis in cattle and horses: a review of the literature.

Author information

Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine and Surgery, College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University, Pullman 99164-6610.


A complete search of the literature concerning Lyme borreliosis as it relates to horses and cattle was done. The epidemiology, pathogenesis, immunological response to the disease, diagnosis and treatment are discussed. 

A review of clinical cases in horses and cattle is presented. Clinical signs of Lyme borreliosis in horses include: chronic weight loss, sporadic lameness, laminitis, low grade fever, swollen joints, muscle tenderness, and anterior uveitis. 

In addition to those clinical signs, neurological signs such as depression, behavioral changes, dysphagia, head tilt and encephalitis can be seen in chronic cases. 

Borreliosis occurs in cattle, usually as a herd problem. In acute Lyme borreliosis, cattle often will show a fever, stiffness, swollen joints, and decreased milk production. Chronic weight loss, laminitis and abortion are also possible outcomes of borreliosis in cattle

Diagnosis of clinical Lyme borreliosis is difficult and depends upon recognition of clinical signs, a history of possible exposure, and identification of the spirochete in the affected animal. 

Since the spirochete is very difficult to culture, confirmation of B. burgdorferi infection often relies on serologic testing. Subclinical seropositive animals do occur, thus confusing the diagnosis. An approach to treatment of cattle and horses with Lyme borreliosis is outlined.

[Indexed for MEDLINE] 
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Int J Food Microbiol. 1991 Dec;14(3-4):247-60.

Borrelia burgdorferi: another cause of foodborne illness?

Author information

Department of Food Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison 53706.

Borrelia burgdorferi was identified as the etiological agent of Lyme disease in 1982. This Gram-negative spirochete is classified in the order Spirochaetales and the family Spirochaetaceae. The pathogen is fastidious, microaerophilic, mesophilic and metabolises glucose through the Embden-Meyerhof pathway. 

A generation time of 11 to 12 h at 37 degrees C in Barbour-Stoenner-Kelly medium has been reported. Lyme disease, named after Lymein Connecticut, is distributed globally. It is the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the United States, where the incidence is highest in the eastern and midwestern states. Since establishment of national surveillance in 1982, there has been a nine-fold increase in the number of cases reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. 

The deer tick of the genus Ixodes is the primary vector of Lyme borreliosis. The tick may become infected with B. burgdorferi, by feeding on an infected host, at any point in its 2-year life cycle which involves larval, nymphal and adult stages. The infection rate in deer ticks may be as high as 40% in endemic areas. The primary vertebrate reservoirs for Ixodes are the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) and the white-tailed deer (Odocopileus virginianus). 

Dairy cattle and other food animals can be infected with B. burgdorferi and hence some raw foods of animal origin might be contaminated with the pathogen. Recent findings indicate that the pathogen may be transmitted orally to laboratory animals, without an arthropod vector. Thus, the possibility exists that Lyme disease can be a food infection. In humans, the symptoms of Lyme disease, which manifest themselves days to years after the onset of infection, may involve the skin, cardiac, nervous and/or muscular systems, and so misdiagnosis can occur.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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]

J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1987 Dec 1;191(11):1468-70.

Arthritis and systemic disease caused by Borrelia burgdorferi infection in a cow.

Author information

Department of Medical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin, Madison 53706.


Infection with Borrelia burgdorferi caused arthritis, myocarditis, glomerulonephritis, and pneumonitis in a cow. Spirochetes were detected by use of immunofluorescent staining in liver and lung specimens and were isolated from the liver. 

The carpal, stifle, and tarsal joints had marked synovial proliferation, and synovial fluid obtained from these joints had high antibody titers against B burgdorferi. The cow was from an area of Wisconsin that is not endemic for borreliosis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]