When it goes wrong

Your Horse (UK) - - Your Horse's Care -


The CNS is well pro­tected, sur­rounded by mul­ti­ple lay­ers of tis­sue (the meninges), fluid (cere­brospinal fluid) and bones. “When dam­age does hap­pen,” says Leti­cia, “it can trig­ger an in­flam­ma­tory re­sponse, haem­or­rhage or lack of blood supply (is­chemia), which can com­pro­mise the ner­vous func­tion. “Clin­i­cal signs vary, depend­ing on where the dam­age is. Ab­nor­mal be­hav­iour, de­pres­sion, sud­den blind­ness, an ab­nor­mal po­si­tion of the head, prob­lems with bal­ance, con­vul­sions or asym­me­tries in the face are nor­mally re­lated to is­sues of the brain, stem cell or cra­nial nerves.” Gen­er­ally, very se­vere le­sions on the CNS will knock your horse to the floor. He will be un­able to get up and may not sur­vive. “Be­cause of this, you should get your vet to check your horse af­ter a se­vere trauma, es­pe­cially if he’s been in­volved in a traf­fic ac­ci­dent, if he falls in the trailer, falls onto his back while rear­ing or hits his head se­verely,” ad­vises Leti­cia. “Some­times the con­se­quences don’t ap­pear im­me­di­ately and changes are not seen un­til a few hours later.”

Plants and tox­ins

Some plants, if eaten, can dam­age the ner­vous sys­tem by re­leas­ing tox­ins in the blood­stream that reach the ner­vous tis­sue. Some get to other ar­eas first, such as the in­tes­tine or the liver, then af­fect the ner­vous sys­tem later. Sorghum, clover and peren­nial rye­grass are just some ex­am­ples of plants that can cause neu­ro­log­i­cal al­ter­ations. “Make sure your fields are clear of poi­sonous plants. Take mea­sures to avoid cross-con­tam­i­na­tion from neigh­bour­ing fields and check your for­age is good qual­ity and not mouldy, as this can also re­lease tox­ins,” says Leti­cia.


Lack of oxy­gen can dam­age the neu­rons. “Horses are prey an­i­mals so, when a foal is born, his ner­vous sys­tem is al­most fully de­vel­oped in or­der for him to be able to es­cape dan­ger,” ex­plains Leti­cia. “Some new­born foals suf­fer from hy­poxia dur­ing birth, which will slow re­ac­tion to stim­uli.” Th­ese foals are called dum­mies and re­quire in­ten­sive vet­eri­nary care to sur­vive. So, if you have a foal and he is not stand­ing up and suck­ling from his mother within four to six hours, call your vet.


Some breeds — Thor­ough­breds and Warm­bloods for in­stance — are prone to suf­fer­ing from com­pres­sion on the spinal cord, usu­ally in the neck. This is due to joints be­tween some ver­te­brae be­ing looser than nor­mal, also known as cer­vi­cal in­sta­bil­ity. This can pinch the spinal cord, re­sult­ing in loss of co-or­di­na­tion, which is why it’s called wob­blers. XLVets Equine is a com­mu­nity of in­de­pen­dently owned prac­tices that work to­gether to achieve the high­est stan­dards of vet­eri­nary care. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit xlvets.co.uk.

Some plants, such as clover, can cause liver dam­age

Wob­blers can make your horse un­steady ▼

If your foal is slow to stand and suckle, call your vet

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