Understanding Neurological Issues in Equines

black and white horse next to another similarly patterned horse in a paddock looking towards the front

Like humans, neurological issues can be a concerning and complex condition in equines. These disorders can affect horses of all ages and breeds, causing a range of symptoms that may impact their overall health and physical performance on the trails or fields of your barn. Understanding the causes, recognizing the symptoms, and implementing appropriate management strategies are crucial in providing the best care for your horse, who may be confronting a neurological issue. At Equine Medical and Surgical Associates, we dedicate our expertise, time, and services, so you can focus your energy on building you and your horse’s relationship rather than worrying about their health. We urge you to explore the common neurological disorders in equines, their potential causes, and their healing approaches. With your insightfulness and dedication to neurological improvement, your beloved horse will return to the trails in no time!

Common Neurological Disorders:

  1. Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM):
    EPM is a neurological disease caused by a protozoal parasite. It affects the central nervous system, leading to various symptoms, including incoordination, weakness, and muscle atrophy.
  2. Equine Herpesvirus (EHV-1):
    EHV-1 is a viral infection that can result in neurological symptoms, such as loss of coordination, limb weakness, and difficulty urinating. It can also cause respiratory and reproductive issues in horses.
  3. Wobbler Syndrome:
    Wobbler Syndrome, or cervical vertebral instability, is characterized by compression of the spinal cord in the neck region. It often leads to gait abnormalities, stumbling, and lack of coordination.

Causes and Risk Factors:

full view of a flaxen white horse in a wheat field trotting towards the right
  1. Infectious Agents:
    Like EPM and EHV-1, neurological issues can result from infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. These can affect the nervous system directly or indirectly, leading to inflammation and damage.
  2. Trauma and Injury:
    Head trauma, spinal injuries, or accidents can cause neurological symptoms in horses. Falls, kicks, or accidents during transportation can result in nerve damage or spinal cord compression.
  3. Genetic Predisposition:
    Certain breeds may have a higher risk of developing neurological issues due to genetic factors. Conditions such as cerebellar abiotrophy or hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP) are examples of genetically influenced disorders.

Recognizing Symptoms:

As a rider or owner of a horse, it is vital to take note of any change in behavior or physicality. Remember that you know your horse better than anyone! Be sure to talk to an equine medical professional if you see any of these symptoms that may be a result of an underlying neurological issue:

white horse in a green field with its head down walking towards the front
  1. Altered Gait and Coordination:
    Abnormal gait, stumbling, weakness, or lack of coordination are common signs of neurological issues. Horses may have a stiff or wobbly gait, and their movements may appear uncoordinated.
  2. Muscle Atrophy:
    Neurological conditions can lead to muscle wasting or atrophy. The affected muscles may appear smaller or show signs of weakness.
  3. Changes in Behavior and Sensitivity:
    Horses with neurological issues may display behavioral changes such as depression, altered responsiveness, or heightened sensitivity to touch or sound.

Management and Treatment:

  1. Veterinary Examination and Diagnosis:
    If you suspect your horse has a neurological issue, please consult with a veterinarian experienced in equine neurology. They will perform a thorough examination, including neurological tests, to diagnose the specific condition.
  2. Medication and Supportive Care:
    Treatment options may vary depending on the underlying cause. In some cases, medications to reduce inflammation or manage symptoms may be prescribed. If you are in a bind, a supplement rich in Vitamin E can function as a biological antioxidant that maintains and improves neuromuscular function. Our product, Health-E, is the ONLY Vitamin E-certified safe supplement for horses with certain neurological disorders due to its low sugar, starch, and fructans, accelerating the rate of your horse's healing process. Talk to your barn’s veterinarian to see if this vitamin is the right supplement for your equine’s needs! Supportive care, including proper nutrition, pain management, and physical therapy, may also be recommended.
  3. Environmental Adaptations:
    Modifications to the horse's environment can help manage neurological symptoms. Providing a safe and low-stress environment, including appropriate footing and supportive bedding, can reduce the risk of falls and injuries.
health-e horse maximum strength vitamin e supplement by equine medical and surgical associates

Neurological issues can significantly impact a horse's mental well-being and physical performance. Early recognition of symptoms and prompt veterinary intervention are crucial for proper diagnosis and management. At Equine Medical and Surgical Associates, we want the best for you and your horse. With 32 years of experience, our veterinarian, Dr. Reilly, works tirelessly to ensure you and your horse can enjoy your special time together. If you see any of these symptoms in your horse or have questions about equine neurological conditions, contact us today! Your horse will thank you.