Evaluating Neurological Issues in Horses
Many neurologic diseases can cause your horse to exhibit a noticeable change in its movement.
Our Mount Vernon veterinary team has the training that helps us diagnose neurologic diseases. We can further evaluate neurologic status with a complete neurological examination.
From there we can recommend further diagnostics such as radiographs of the neck, head, and spine, collection of spinal fluid, blood work, and viral testing.
What is the purpose of a neurological exam?
A neurological exam is an evaluation of behavior, head posture, and movement, as well as cranial nerves, that is performed in order to determine if there is evidence of brain or cranial nerve disease.
Symptoms of neurological problems in horses include seizures, abnormal behavior, abnormal gait, facial paralysis and more. If you suspect your horse is suffering from a neurological issue, contact us to book an assessment.
What to Expect
Below are some of the things our vets will test on your horse:
- General Assessment
Your veterinarian observes your horse's mental status and behavior. Are they alert or lethargic? Standing or lying on the ground? Wandering, circling, or showing other odd behaviors or postures?
- Basic Reflexes
This part of the exam starts at the head with tests of the cranial nerves, which are involved in functions like hearing, vision, swallowing and facial sensation, and muscle control. If you are testing for vision, the vet quickly moves a hand toward your horse's eye to trigger the menace reflex; your horse should blink and even jerk away.
Along your horse's neck and back on each side of their spine, your vet uses a ballpoint pen or similar object to touch your horse's skin. A light but firm touch should trigger the panniculus reflex, the skin twitches seen when your horse is shooing away a fly. Lack of a reaction in any area suggests a problem with the nerves that supply that region. At the hind end, the vet checks muscle tone by lifting the tail. A limp tail may be a sign of a spinal cord problem. When his anus is gently stimulated, it should pucker and your horse should clamp his tail.
- Maneuvers In Hand
These tests show if your horse has control of its limbs and knows where its feet are. The vet watches as your horse is backed and turned in very tight circles in both directions to see how they place their feet. A normal horse keeps the same rhythm and steps under its body, while a horse with a neurologic problem may interfere, take confused steps, swing a hind leg wide, or pivot on one leg.
- Lead On A Slope
Your vet may ask to see your horse led up and down a slope to watch for stumbling, dragging of toes, or showing other gait abnormalities. Repeating this test with your horse's head raised sometimes makes the signs more evident.
- Tail Pull
This helps your vet assess your horse's balance, strength, and reaction time. As a handler leads your horse forward, your vet grasps his tail and pulls it firmly to the side. A normal horse will resist the pull. A horse with a neurologic problem may be tipped off balance. The test is repeated on the other side.
- Foot Placement
These tests help determine your horse's awareness of its limb position. Your vet takes each foot in turn and places it over its opposite number—left front over the right front, right front over the left front, and the same behind. A normal horse will immediately put each foot back where it belongs, but a horse with a neurologic problem may leave one or more feet out of place for a time.
Types of Neurological Disorders
Here are a few common neurological disorders that this exam looks for:
- Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM)
- Equine Motor Neuron Disease (EMND)
- Lyme Disease
- Wobbler Syndrome
- West Nile Virus