If your horse is displaying erratic movements, odd postures, and behaviors that are not normal for them, it may be a sign that they are suffering from a neurologic disorder. Equine neurological disorders are typically caused by an infection or a malformation in the spinal column.
Common neurological disorders in horses include, but are not limited to
- Botulism: An infection caused by bacteria that can be found in poorly stored or moist fodder that produces a toxin when consumed, leading to an inability to swallow, hold the head up, and muscle weakness.
- Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM): Protozoal parasites attack the central nervous system resulting in muscle weakness, a lack of coordination, a change in gait, and sporadic lameness.
- Equine Motor Neuron Disease (EMND): A disease associated with Vitamin E deficiency that causes sweating, weakness, muscle twitches, and restlessness.
- Lyme Disease: A tick-borne illness that causes joint pain, incoordination, fever, and depression.
- Rabies: A highly infectious, life-threatening disease that can be carried by skunks, raccoons, and bats that can cause convulsions, loss of appetite, incoordination, paralysis, and head-pressing
- Tetanus: Also known as Lockjaw, a disease caused by a toxin that is typically introduced to the body via a wound. Symptoms include muscle spasms, a tense “grinning” face, third eyelid prolapse, and a stiff gait.
- Wobbler Syndrome: A narrowing in the cervical vertebrae that causes incoordination.
- West Nile Virus: A mosquito-borne illness that causes inflammation of the nervous system, leading to fever, weakness, hyper-excitability, and an inability to swallow.
Symptoms of Neurologic Disorders
Symptoms of a neurological disorder in your horse can vary depending on the cause, but the most common symptoms include:
- Abnormal posture like the inability to keep limbs aligned, asymmetrical neck and head positioning, or a distorted spine contour.
- Abnormal behavior like becoming unresponsive, or overly reactive to stimuli like sound.
- Stumbling or incoordination
- Muscular weakness
If your horse is displaying worrying symptom, reach out to your veterinarian for an exam. The sooner a diagnosis is made, the sooner your horse can be treated.
Testing For Neurologic Disorders
To test your horse for a suspected neurological disorder, we will perform a thorough neurological physical examination. We will:
- Assess the horse’s muscular strength: Pulling on the horse’s tail or pushing their side should be resisted and they should not easily move or lose balance.
- Assess the horse’s coordination: The horse is led to check for stability and leg placement.
- Conduct a foot placement test: The horse’s leg is placed in front of the opposite leg and is watched for how long and if the horse moves it back to a normal position.
For a more in-depth examination, we use the following methods to diagnose your horse:
- Radiographs and CAT scans to locate trauma, tumors, and check for compression on the spinal cord.
- Blood tests to test for antibodies related to infections like tetanus and
- Spinal taps to examine spinal fluid to rule identify parasites, or viral or bacterial infection.
Once a diagnosis is made, we will work with you to discuss a treatment plan.