Last Updated on July 20, 2022
If your horse starts to show some unusual behaviors or odd movements, sudden neurological symptoms in horses are a distinct possibility. But what are sudden neurological symptoms in horses? Let’s find out!
What Are Sudden Neurological Symptoms In Horses?
There is a huge range of sudden neurological symptoms in horses, and it is important that we recognize them when they occur. Some of these symptoms may be quite subtle, while others can be significant and very distressing to watch.
Sudden neurological symptoms in horses occur because there is damage to the nervous system. The nervous system is the control center for the body – the nerves control movement and many other bodily functions.
The nervous system of a horse is split into two parts. The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord and sends and receives signals from the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system extends across the whole body, taking instructions from the central nervous system to the body tissues.
When either of these systems is damaged, the body will not be able to function normally. Damage to the peripheral nervous system normally results in localized neurological symptoms, such as abnormal movement in a limb or paralysis of just one part of the body. Central nervous system defects will cause neurological symptoms that may manifest in many different parts of the body.
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Common Neurological Symptoms In Horses
- Muscle tremors
- Numbness or loss of skin sensation
- Lack of coordination
- Behavioral changes
- Weakness or abnormal gait in one or more legs
- Clumsy movement
- Loss of bladder control
- Poor balance
- Hyperactive reflexes, e.g. an increased response to quiet noises
- Unusual head movements
- Reduced sense of smell
- Pacing or circling
- Partial or complete blindness
- Inability to recognize familiar people, objects, or horses
Some of these sudden neurological symptoms in horses may be quite mild at first, and not all horses will show all symptoms. The range of symptoms shown will depend on the cause of the problem and the part of the central nervous system that is affected. Many nervous system disorders start with a mild abnormality such as the horse tripping over more than normal.
Assessment Of Sudden Neurological Symptoms In Horses
If you suspect that your horse has any neurological symptoms, it is vital to call your veterinarian immediately. Some neurological diseases in horses can progress quite quickly, so a prompt examination and diagnosis are vital. Your veterinarian will carry out a full neurological examination of your horse and other diagnostic tests to establish the cause of the neurological symptoms.
For horses that are still able to walk, the initial neurological examination will be quite extensive. Your veterinarian will carry out a range of tests, which involve the horse moving in different ways. The aim is to determine if the horse has full neurological control over his body, or if there is weakness or damage to the nerves in one or more areas.
A full neurological examination in horses will normally include:
- Pressure applied over the back and pelvis
- Assessment of tail and anal tone
- Skin sensation test along either side of the spine
- Bending of the neck sideways and downwards to assess mobility
- Leg placement tests, where the front legs are crossed over
- Tail pull as the horse is being walked
- Walking the horse in tight circles to assess foot placement
- Leading the horse up and down inclines, sometimes with the head elevated
- Walking the horse backward to check for toe dragging
If the horse is recumbent or is too wobbly to walk safely, a neurological examination can be difficult. It is vital that the safety of the horse and handlers is maintained at all times, as horses with poor balance can be very dangerous. Do not attempt to move a horse that is showing severe neurological symptoms.
There are many causes of sudden neurological symptoms in horses, and this examination is just the first step in a long diagnostic process. The neurological examination can help to pinpoint the location of the neurological problem, by identifying the body parts that are affected. This can then signpost the veterinarian towards the most appropriate diagnostic tests to carry out, such as radiographs or blood tests.
So, as we have learned, sudden neurological symptoms in horses can occur for a variety of reasons. Some of these symptoms may be quite subtle, while others can be significant and very distressing to watch. Your veterinarian will carry out a full neurological examination of your horse and other diagnostic tests to establish the cause of the neurological symptoms.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about sudden neurological symptoms in horses! Has your horse suffered from a complex neurological disease in the past? Or perhaps you’re worried about some neurological symptoms in your horse or pony? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
What Can Cause Sudden Neurological Problems In Horses?
Some of the most common neurological problems in horses are caused by infectious diseases such as equine herpesvirus type 1 (EHV-1), equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM), and West Nile virus. In younger horses, the most common cause of neurological disease is Wobbler's syndrome, caused by abnormal development of the cervical vertebrae.
What Is The Most Common Neurological Symptom In Horses?
The first sign that most horse owners recognize when their horse has a neurological problem is changes to the gait and movement. The horse may stumble and trip, and appear unbalanced and uncoordinated.
Can Neurological Symptoms Come And Go In Horses?
A horse with a mechanical neurological problem, such as Wobbler's syndrome, may have fluctuating symptoms during the initial phase of the disease. These symptoms may be mild at first, and may not be obvious all of the time.
What Are The Signs Of Nerve Damage In Horses?
Horses with nerve damage will have clinical signs that show damage to the nervous system. These can include wobbly movement, loss of balance, and stumbling. You may also notice that the horse has no skin sensation over certain parts of the body.
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