What are Neurological Virus?
Neurological conditions are not always easy to understand or diagnose. Veterinarians often find it a challenge to recognize and define the neurological signs seen in their equine patients. Symptoms like ataxia, abnormal stance, weakness, and unusual demeanor will be assessed as conditions are ruled out in order to narrow down the list of potential diagnoses.
There are many viruses that can affect your horse’s neurological function. Some of the most common and most dreaded neurological conditions include equine herpesvirus types 1 (EHV-1), neuroaxonal dystrophy (NAD), West Nile virus, or equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM).
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Symptoms of Neurological Virus in Horses
Symptoms can vary in each case but may include:
- Abnormal behavior
- Dragging his toes
- Stumbling while trotting
- Steps awkwardly
- Abnormal gait
- May sway back and forth when walking
- Facial paralysis
- Head pressing
Causes of Neurological Virus in Horses
Neurologic viruses disrupt a horse’s normal brain flow along the spinal cord that then connects to the muscles. When the nerves do not get a proper signal from the brain and the nerves do not signal back where the limbs are, it can cause Incoordination and abnormal gait. There are many disorders that can disrupt the signal of the brain. Depending which condition your horse contracted, it could be transferred by a mosquito, protozoan, or some other type of microorganism.
Diagnosis of Neurological Virus in Horses
The veterinarian will begin by collecting a history from you. She will want to know any and all details of your horse’s behavior, when his symptoms started, and for how long they have been affecting him. She will also need to know what his diet consists of, any known genetic information, and his breed for connection to related predisposed illnesses.
After collecting a thorough history, the veterinarian will perform her physical exam. She will go over every body part and every aspect to ensure there is not a non-neurological issue causing your horse’s symptoms. She will compare his left versus his right side to check for differences in muscle tone, reaction time, and sensitivity. She will also check the range of motion of his neck to check for injury to the neck or spinal cord.
Next, the veterinary professional will try to localize the area of the neurological lesion. She will slowly make her way down your horse’s spine checking for the panniculus reflex, the same type of muscle twitch you see if he is being pestered by a fly. If there is a region that is lacking the panniculus reflex, it is indicative of nerve supply issue. She will also check his muscle tone by lifting the tail and stimulating his anus. A limp tail can indicate a problem with the spinal cord and when his anus is stimulated, it should pucker and clamp his tail.
She will go through a series of more neurological tests to see where he is at on the reflex scale. She will check his proprioception, balance, and reflexes.
Blood will need to be taken in order to run diagnostic tests. It can be tested for antibodies within the blood in order to verify what the body is trying to fight. Spinal fluid may also be taken and tested for antibodies. A complete blood count and chemistry panel may also be run in order to rule out any type of organ failure or other possible cause of his symptoms.
Treatment of Neurological Virus in Horses
Once your horse is diagnosed properly, treatment can begin. Medications will likely be sent home to be given for weeks or maybe even months. Some medications come in paste form, liquid, or even as a pellet.
Rest in a safe environment will be a very important part of your horse’s recovery process. Supportive therapies can be administered but there is no guarantee it will help your horse.
Photobiomodulation, also known as laser light therapy, can stimulate cell reproduction of the damaged nerve region. Nerves take a very long time to heal but the light therapy can increase recovery time. It also stimulates blood flow to the area, provides an analgesic, and promotes overall healing.
Prevention is the best form of treatment when it comes to neurological viruses. Keep your stable clean, put precautions in place to get rid of mosquitoes, keep objects and food sanitary, and vaccinate your horse against any possible neurological virus.
Recovery of Neurological Virus in Horses
If you do not seek treatment for your horse, he will only get worse. Even with treatment, there is no guarantee your horse will recover. The severity of the nerve damage will play a major role in his recovery. The longer your horse goes untreated, the more guarded his prognosis of recovery becomes.