Last Updated on February 24, 2022
Equine Motor Neuron Disease (EMND) is a disease that affects the nervous system of horses, causing muscular weakness. This is a difficult condition to manage and is luckily relatively rare in horses. Let’s find out everything you need to know about EMND in horses!
What Are The Signs Of Equine Motor Neuron Disease?
When a horse first succumbs to EMND, the clinical signs can be quite subtle. The horse owner or carer may initially notice that the horse is losing weight, even after the amount of feed has been increased.
As the disease progresses, the muscles of the horse will weaken. The horse will develop muscle atrophy – this means the muscles are slowly shrinking, giving the appearance that the horse is too thin. The owner may also notice muscle twitching, and the horse may be sweaty even in cool conditions.
One of the most unusual signs of EMND is the way it affects the stance of the horse. Horses with this condition often stand with their feet placed close together under the body, with the head lowered and tail raised.
If left untreated, the horse will become weaker and eventually unable to stand up. It may need assistance to stand up after lying down, or be unable to stand unaided for long periods of time.
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What Causes Equine Motor Neuron Disease?
EMND is a relatively new condition in horses, and not much is known about it at this stage. There does appear to be a consistent link between horses diagnosed with EMND also being deficient in vitamin E.
Most horses that contract EMND are housed in a single location for more than 18 months, or horses that have limited access to pasture. Horses fed mainly on concentrate grain and poor-quality hay appear to be more susceptible to EMND.
Researchers have found that certain breeds of horses are at a higher risk of EMND, particularly Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds. The age of the horse can also be a factor, with horses aged 16 having the highest risk of getting EMND.
How Is Equine Motor Neuron Disease Diagnosed?
A diagnosis of EMND is not always straightforward, and your veterinarian may want to carry out tests to rule out other similar disorders first. Tests for EMND are normally carried out if the horse has clear clinical signs of the disease.
Initial blood tests will be taken to check for levels of Vitamin E, as well as two different muscle enzymes. A definitive diagnosis for EMND can be reached by taking a muscle biopsy, normally from muscle above the horse’s tail.
In some cases of EMND, it is common to find high levels of copper in the spinal cord, and raised iron levels in the liver. These tests are not straightforward, and will only be carried out if a clear diagnosis is not reached.
How Is Equine Motor Neuron Disease Treated?
As this disease is thought to be linked to a lack of vitamin E in the diet, the first line of treatment is to adjust the vitamin E level in the horse’s daily food intake. If the horse is able to be turned out to graze, the most natural and beneficial source of vitamin E is fresh grass.
However, many horses with EMND are too wobbly and weak to be turned out in a paddock to graze. In this situation, it is likely that your veterinarian will advise you to give your horse a vitamin E supplement in his feed. It is important that this is the natural form of vitamin E and not the synthetic alternative.
During the treatment period, your veterinarian will take periodic blood tests to check vitamin E levels. This will allow you to adjust the amount of additional vitamin E you are giving in the feed. In some cases, an antioxidant treatment such as DMSO or corticosteroids may be prescribed.
As well as giving a good-quality vitamin E supplement, the horse should be given the best quality forage available. It is not safe to ride a horse with EMND, as they will be too weak to carry the weight of a rider.
If the horse has severe EMND, it may well be wobbly and need to lie down regularly. In this situation, you will need to provide safe and comfortable accommodation for the horse, preferably a large stable with a deep bed. It is important that any objects that the horse may injure itself on, such as feed buckets, are removed or made as safe as possible.
So, as we have learned, Equine Motor Neuron Disease is a condition that causes weakness of the muscles in horses. The cause of this disorder is not fully known, although it is thought to be linked to a deficiency in vitamin E. A horse with EMND is not safe to ride, as it can become wobbly and stumble.
We’d love to hear your questions about EMND! Are you worried that your horse might have this problematic condition? Or perhaps you’ve come across a different type of treatment for EMND? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
What Is Equine Motor Neuron Disease?
Equine Motor Neuron Disease is a condition that affects the central nervous system of older horses. It affects the nerve supply to the muscles of the horse, causing muscle wastage and weakness.
What Are The Four Types Of Motor Neuron Disorders?
Horses only have one type of motor neuron disorder, unlike humans who can suffer from one of four different types. Equine Motor Neuron Disease in horses is a relatively newly-discovered disorder, so it may well transpire that there is more than one type as research progresses.
What Are The Symptoms Of Motor Neuron Disease?
To start with, the symptoms of motor neuron disease in horses are very mild. You might notice that your horse is losing weight, despite eating a lot of feed. Other symptoms include an elevated heart rate, twitching muscles, sweating, and muscular weakness.
What Is The Survival Rate Of Motor Neurone Disease?
The prognosis for a horse with motor neuron disease is not good. There is no known cure for this disorder, but some horses will improve with treatment. Many horses will not make a long-term improvement, and may need to be euthanized.
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE