Neurological signs in horses
- Quick reminder – just call the vet if you are ever in doubt. Like really, step away from Dr. Google and make the call. Many neurological signs in horses get worse over time, and get harder to manage over time, and get more expensive over time. But you need to know what to look for.
- Keep in mind – many of these signs also reflect other things that could be going on, like an overdue Farrier visit, a sore back or other lameness, or even a foreign object lodged somewhere. These are also excellent reasons to call the vet.
So as you go about your day-to-day grooming and riding, you may notice some of these neurological signs in horses. Or they may be signs of OTHER things.
- Stumbling. When you are riding, this becomes a safety issue. It’s a problem at the walk, and most definitely a problem at trot and canter if you are in the saddle.
- Dragging toes. Over time, you and your Farrier will notice definite wear on the hooves. You might also see drag marks in the footing instead of hoof prints.
- Any abnormal gait. You might feel this one before you see it.
- Ataxia. This means no movement control, and it can happen in varying degrees.
- Limited range of motion. You might see this in a neck or hind leg.
- Trouble swallowing, breathing, peeing, pooping. Basically, trouble with inputs and outputs.
- Facial paralysis, head tilts, generally weird postures.
- Strange foot placement. Maybe your horse stands with one leg out to the side and keeps it there.
As part of a total neurological exam, your vet will do some tests at the walk to check for balance and response. His tail will remain attached. Hopefully.
Neurological issues in horses stem from a variety of reasons, some you can help to prevent, others might be totally out of your control.
- Diseases caused by mosquitos, such as West Nile and EEE/WEE can be protected with vaccines. More on these horrid bugs and the bad things they transmit can be read about here.
- Rabies, carried by warm-blooded creatures, can also be vaccinated for.
- EHV-1, which can become neurological, doesn’t have a specific vaccine yet, but it’s indicated that some other vaccines (rhino) can boost immunity. It’s also vitally important to keep your horse away from others at horse shows.
- Don’t forget about Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM), caused by protozoa in opossum poop which finds its way into feed and water.
- There’s also wobbler’s syndrome, caused by vertebrae issues in the neck. This may, or may not, be helped with surgery.
- Horses can also have fractures or injuries that damage nerves, or traumas to the head which can cause neurological issues. A horse that flips over or the horse that smacks his head in a trailer is a great example.
A neurological exam for a horse is head to toe, including eyes.
The take-home message is DON’T PANIC. Do call the vet. Do pay attention to your horse daily. Do notice where he puts his feet and how he puts them down. Don’t ignore lameness. Don’t assume something huge and drastic is the end of the world, it could be totally minor. Don’t assume something totally minor can be ignored, either.
Has your horse ever had a neurological issue?