What are Facial Paralysis?
Damage to the facial nerve in horses is relatively common. It can be from trauma, from degenerative nerve disease, or even from being in lateral recumbency for too long. The severity of his paralysis will determine his prognosis of a full recovery. In many cases, prognosis is good to fair, but in others it can be very poor. If your horse is diagnosed with facial paralysis, there are multiple therapies you can begin immediately to combat the permanence of the paralysis. Laser therapy, massage, and heat application therapy can all be used in conjunction with one another with the end goal being loss of paralysis and back to full facial function.
Facial paralysis can occur after a traumatic experience or can be due to a chronic disease. If you notice your horse’s face is uneven or seems to be drooping, call your veterinarian.
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Symptoms of Facial Paralysis in Horses
Symptoms of facial paralysis may include:
- Loss of movement of the eyelids, ears, lips, and nostrils
- Loss of tone of facial muscles
- Eyelids do not close
- Eyeball may retract into the orbit
- Third eyelid will elevate if orbit retracts
- Excessive tear production if unable to blink
- Lower or higher carriage of the affected ear
- Lips may hang loosely
- Fluid and food may fall from mouth
- Excessive drooling
- Affected nostril unable to dilate on inspiration
- Muscles feel firm and inflexible
There is acute paralysis, meaning it can occur without warning or immediately after an injury, or chronic, which are conditions that develop slowly over time and get progressively worse. There are also different regions of the face the paralysis can affect. Paralysis of the facial nerve, also known as cranial nerve VII, can affect a large majority of the face. There can also be facial nerve paralysis with peripheral damage of the surrounding areas.
Causes of Facial Paralysis in Horses
There are multiple events that can cause facial paralysis in your horse. Trauma or injury to the side of the face is one of the most common causes. Another cause could be from his halter being too tight. If your horse is suffering from degenerative nerve disease it could eventually affect his facial nerves in addition to other nerves throughout the body.
Diagnosis of Facial Paralysis in Horses
If your horse is experiencing unilateral facial paralysis, it will be apparent by his clinical symptoms alone. If he is experiencing bilateral paralysis, it may be a little more difficult to notice just by appearance alone. Upon further examination and palpation of the facial muscles, she will be able to notice symptoms of paralysis.
The veterinarian may also want to take a radiograph of your horse’s skull to check for any other underlying trauma. Checking for any type of breakage or bone bruising may affect his recovery period. A complete physical exam will also help her evaluate your horse for any other problems he may be suffering from.
Routine blood work will be recommended just as a precaution to ensure everything else in the body is functioning properly. She will want to ensure there is no infection anywhere and that his red blood cell production is within normal limits.
Some veterinarians are able to use electromyography to determine the location of the injury to the nerve and the severity of it. If you want further diagnostics and advanced imaging, the veterinarian may recommend you go to a specialist for an MRI.
Treatment of Facial Paralysis in Horses
When it comes to treating facial paralysis in your horse, there are multiple therapies you can employ. Massage therapy can be utilized to get good blood flow to the area and applying heat to the muscles in the affected area for 15 minute intervals throughout the day can also help.
Photobiomodulation can also be used; it is what is known as light laser therapy. Running the laser over the affected area for specific increments of time can increase blood flow to the area, stimulate cell reproduction, and help with nerve regeneration. Corticosteroids, DMSO, and other medications may be prescribed in addition to the therapies.
Recovery of Facial Paralysis in Horses
Prognosis depends on the severity and chronicity of the paralysis. Aggressive therapy is recommended as soon as your horse is diagnosed with facial paralysis. If there has been no improvement after 6 months of therapy, prognosis of recovery is poor. If the nostrils are affected, he may need reconstructive surgery in order to breathe properly and easily. If his lips are affected, you will need to get him a deep dish for drinking and make his food a soft mash like substance so it is easier for him to grab with his mouth.
Facial Paralysis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
my horses bottom lip hangs in the right corner and she got in a accident with my old trainer and pulled to hard on her halter and ever since her lip has been almost like it has nerve damage and since its winter its been getting worse what can i do to help?
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We recently had a fire and my horses stall was on fire as she was in it, we got her out safe but we had to board her at a neighbors horse for a while and one day the lady had messaged me saying her lip was swollen, but now the swelling is gone and my horses lip looks paralyzed along with her ear her eye is still working fine but her lip hangs and her ear droops lower than the other and she drools while she eats. I’m not sure what I should do to help her out.
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