What is Brain and Spinal Cord Infection?
In the horse, the spinal cord and the brain are within the central nervous system. The brain has three sections, which include the brainstem, the cerebrum, and the cerebellum. Each of these sections plays a role in the horse’s life functions, such as movement, control, decision making on the conscious level, and all other important life functions that the horse must be able to do to live.
The spinal cord corresponds to the bones within the spine, or vertebrae. It is divided up into areas from the neck to the tail and is protected by cerebrospinal fluid and meninges, or tissue. All of the nerves that encompass the horse’s body makes up the peripheral nervous system.
There are many brain and spinal cord infections that can occur in horses. These neurological disorders can negatively affect your horse with a variety of symptoms. Degenerative diseases of the horse include myeloencephalopathy and motor neuron disease. Brain and spinal cord infections also include inflammatory diseases that are infectious, such as anemia, herpes myeloencephalopathy, fungal diseases, parasitic diseases, and protozoal diseases.
There are other disorders marked by poisoning and toxicity that affect the brain and spinal cord as well. Due to the number of these infections that can occur in horses, all diagnoses are unique, as are the treatment options.
Brain and spinal cord infections in horses occur when a variety of different types of triggers cause the brain and spinal cord to function abnormally. There are a variety of different types of brain and spinal cord conditions that can affect horses.
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Symptoms of Brain and Spinal Cord Infection in Horses
Symptoms of brain and spinal cord infections or conditions in horses will vary depending on the specific condition or infection your horse may have. Symptoms may include:
- Irregular movement of limbs
- Irregular placement of feet
- Voluntary movement that becomes erratic
- Changes in gait
- Lameness, sometimes inconsistent
- Bobbing of the head
- Frequent falling
- Irregular posture
- Irregular holding of the neck or tail
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty chewing
- Drooping eyelid
- Drooping lip
- Inconsistencies with sight
- Over reactive hearing
- A neurological change in appearance
There are many types of brain and spinal cord infections or conditions in horses. Each of the conditions or infections have different treatment methods. Types include:
- Delayed organophosphate intoxication
- Equine degenerative myeloencephalopathy
- Motor neuron disease
- Equine infectious anemia
- Equine herpesvirus-1 myeloencephalopathy
- Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis
- Verminous myelitis and encephalitis
- Fungal diseases
Causes of Brain and Spinal Cord Infection in Horses
There are a variety of causes for spinal and brain injuries in horses. This depends on the type of condition your horse has. Possible causes include:
- Diets very low in Vitamin E
- Fungal infections
- Parasitic infections
- Protozoal infections
- Bacterial infections
- Ingestion of large amounts of Sorghum or Johnson Grass
- Contact with pesticides or insecticides
Diagnosis of Brain and Spinal Cord Infection in Horses
If your horse is exhibiting the above symptoms, or if you become concerned with any other behavioral changes, contact your veterinarian very soon. Your veterinarian will begin to assess your horse by coming to your site or by checking on him in her clinic.
A physical examination will be conducted by your medical professional. She may take blood work, urinalysis, and any other tests to check for neurological issues. In addition to lab tests, your veterinarian will assess your horse’s physical stance and other abilities. She will do a variety of tests to check for issues of concern, such as limb tests, motor skill assessments, specific balance assessments, push tests, strength and weakness assessments, and walking and gait activities. There is a large variety of tests your veterinarian may perform to thoroughly check your companion. Coordination testing will also be completed by your trained professional. With these assessments, your veterinarian will be able to gather an immense amount of information about your horse, and will be able to determine if there are any issues with his brain and spinal cord.
Your veterinarian will also check actions controlled by the cranial nerves, such as his sense of smell, taste, touch, hearing, and sight. Other cranial nerve tests will be performed such as the response of various nerve impulses in the face, tongue, and other parts of the body.
The veterinarian will also conduct radiographs, a CAT scan, an MRI, and compression testing on the spinal cord. These thorough examinations, as well as understanding the breed and the health history of the horse will also help the veterinarian identify the specific brain and spinal cord infection or condition.
Treatment of Brain and Spinal Cord Infection in Horses
If your horse is suffering from spinal cord or brain infections, your veterinarian will determine the proper mode of treatment, and this will depend on the type of infection. Treatment methods may include:
Degenerative Disease Treatments
Vitamin E supplements may be given to your horse to help restore the low levels of vitamin E in the blood. Supportive therapy, such as physical therapy may be also recommended by your veterinarian.
Inflammatory and Infectious Disease Treatments
For equine infectious anemia, unfortunately, there is no treatment. The veterinarian will recommend euthanasia. For equine herpesvirus-1, the veterinarian may recommend therapy and supportive care if the condition is mild. The antiviral medication known as acyclovir may be considered by your veterinarian, although this medication continues to be researched and the effectiveness is unknown at this time.
In cases of fungal infections, the treatment will depend upon the type of fungus. Certain fungal infections may respond to fluconazole, however, this depends upon the severity. Other fungal infections are very difficult to treat and the prognosis is unknown.
Treatments for Poisoning and Toxic Disorders
In treating poisoning and toxic disorders that have contributed to your horse’s brain and spinal cord infections, treatment depends on the type of poisoning and toxicity that your horse is experiencing. In severe cases, the prognosis is very poor.
Recovery of Brain and Spinal Cord Infection in Horses
If your horse is suffering from brain and spinal cord infections, the prognosis will significantly vary. Some horses succumb to the infections and some heal over time with proper treatment. Once your veterinarian discusses with you the treatment options, if any are available, you will be able to make the decision to try the treatment or put the horse down. Unfortunately, brain and spinal cord infections are very hard to treat, but this depends on your horse and his condition.
Your veterinarian will be very honest with you about your horse’s prognosis and whether he feels that any treatment will be productive. If the spinal and brain infection is caught very early, the horse has a higher rate of survival.