What are Seizures?
Once the seizure is over, your horse will gradually resume normal behavior. They may seem to be dazed and exhibit some signs of depression that could last several minutes to several hours.
Primary or idiopathic epilepsy is rare in horses. This is when there are recurrent seizures that are related to brain inflammation or a head trauma.
Seizures in horses are the same as in humans, abnormal behavioral or motor activity coming from the brain results from a dysfunction within the frontal cortex. This sudden and uncontrolled brain activity involves a small area within the horse’s brain and may trigger a partial or a full seizure.
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Symptoms of Seizures in Horses
Should you witness any of these symptoms or think that your horse may be experiencing a seizure, call your veterinarian immediately for an emergency call. Be sure to note everything that your horse does while experiencing the seizure or possible seizure, this will help your veterinarian when diagnosing the episode. It may be scary to watch your horse while they are seizing, but do not leave them alone and keep all people and animals away from your horse.
Your horse will generally become unconscious. This will cause them to collapse. Try and make sure that they do not hurt themselves when they collapse and keep objects out of the way in case they flail their legs or head. Milder seizures may only cause them to stumble around, but not fall. Other symptoms to watch for include:
- Trembling or shaking
- Ears or tail twitching
- Eyes glazing over
- Abnormal licking or chewing
- Jaw clenching
- Profuse sweating
- Eyes rolling up
- Muscles of the legs or body jerking or tensing
- Paddling of the legs
- Bladder control loss
- Bowel control loss
- Gradual return to normal behavior
Causes of Seizures in Horses
The exact cause of seizures in horses is unknown, but there may be underlying health conditions that cause a horse to seize, such as infections, parasitic worm infestation or tumors. Trauma has also been linked to seizures. Exposure to toxins or metabolic changes can cause seizures.
Foals that have experienced seizures could have low glucose levels or there could have been a lack of oxygen during the birthing process. Many times, foals that have seizures, tend to outgrow them or they do not recur.
Researchers are currently exploring a genetic link between Arabians and Paso Finos, as both breeds have a higher incident rate of seizures.
Diagnosis of Seizures in Horses
Your veterinarian will most likely not witness the seizure or seizure like behavior. Therefore, it can be very difficult to properly diagnose. Filming the seizure if possible can be of great help to the veterinarian. Diagnostic testing is available, but it can be extremely time consuming and expensive. These tests are essential in determining the underlying cause of the seizure.
Your horse may need to be hospitalized for a few days to be monitored and have the appropriate testing done. Your veterinarian may suggest blood tests that can indicate conditions that may lead to seizures. As well, ruling out illnesses will be an important part of the diagnostic process. Once the cause of the seizure has been identified, your veterinarian will be able to set an appropriate treatment plan.
Treatment of Seizures in Horses
The treatment plan for your horse will be designed to help control the seizures. The seizures may never be cured, but with certain medications they can be controlled.
There are two types of medications on the market that will help control seizures in horses. Diazepam or better known as Valium, and Phenobarbital are prescribed to control seizures. Be sure to give any medications prescribed by your veterinarian as directed and do not take your horse off any medications without first consulting your veterinarian.
Treatment of the underlying cause of seizures will vary depending on the condition. Your veterinarian will discuss all treatment options for your horse and help you decide on the best possible treatment plan to make your horse comfortable.
A horse that has suffered a seizure should not be ridden or expected to complete work until the cause of the seizure has been identified and properly treated.
Recovery of Seizures in Horses
There are no ways to prevent seizures in horses. Managing your horse’s care is essential in maintaining your horse’s quality of life. After the seizure, your horse will return to normal activities. They may experience slight depression following a seizure.
Speak with your veterinarian regarding long term management and care of your horse as well as the expected prognosis following diagnosing the underlying cause of the seizures. Your veterinarian may need to adjust your horse’s medication as your horse becomes accustomed to the medication or the dosage amount.
Ensure that your horse’s stall and pasture are free of items that can cause harm in the event that they collapse during a seizure. Injuries from falling onto objects or flailing their legs into objects are a great concern.