EQUUS - - Medical Front -

New re­search from the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia– Davis sug­gests that nose nets and fly masks may help re­duce head­shak­ing in horses.

Tooth pain, ear in­fec­tion or other in­jury or dis­ease can cause a horse to re­peat­edly toss his head or flip his nose back and forth. Usu­ally, how­ever, this be­hav­ior re­sults from in­creased sen­si­tiv­ity of the trigem­i­nal nerve, which runs along the face. In trigem­i­nal-me­di­ated head­shak­ing (pre­vi­ously called idio­pathic head­shak­ing) the horse flips his nose, snorts and rubs his muzzle in re­sponse to rain­drops, bright light, wind and other stim­uli that other horses would find in­nocu­ous. Pain in the trigem­i­nal nerve is sus­pected to play a role, but the ex­act path­way has yet to be iden­ti­fied.

Treat­ments, there­fore, fo­cus on sim­ply re­liev­ing or de­creas­ing the signs, and find­ing the right one for a horse can in­volve much trial and er­ror. “While there are a plethora of anec­do­tal ob­ser­va­tions, there is lit­tle pub­lished ev­i­dence about what does or doesn’t work in the treat­ment of head­shak­ing horses,” says Kirstie Pickles, BVMS, PhD, DipECEIM.

To learn which treat­ments yield the best re­sults, Pickles and her team con­ducted an on­line sur­vey of 130 own­ers of horses with head­shak­ing. In ad­di­tion to gath­er­ing de­mo­graphic in­for­ma­tion and de­scrip­tions of spe­cific head­shak­ing be­hav­iors, the sur­vey asked own­ers if they had tried any of 11 dif­fer­ent treat­ments. If they had, they were then asked if a pos­i­tive re­sponse had been ob­served, rang­ing from some im­prove­ment to com­plete res­o­lu­tion. Own­ers were also asked to re­port any neg­a­tive ef­fects.

The re­sults of the sur­veys showed that fly masks and nose nets, which are at­tached at the nose­band and cover the up­per lip and jaw or the en­tire muzzle, were con­sid­ered the most ef­fec­tive non­med­i­cal treat­ments by the horse own­ers. Eighty-six per­cent of the re­spon­dents said they had tried nose nets, with 53 per­cent of them re­port­ing a pos­i­tive out­come. Of those, six horses com­pletely stopped head­shak­ing with the nose net. Neg­a­tive side ef­fects, pri­mar­ily ir­ri­ta­tion from the net rub­bing the muzzle, were re­ported by 29 per­cent of the own­ers.

Among the 64 per­cent of re­spon­dents who used fly masks to con­trol head­shak­ing, 53 per­cent re­ported a pos­i­tive out­come, with a com­plete ces­sa­tion in three horses. Twenty-two per­cent of own­ers re­ported in­creased spook­ing, wors­en­ing of the head­shak­ing or other neg­a­tive side ef­fects re­lated to the fly mask.

Re­spon­dents also re­ported that fly-con­trol mea­sures, such as the ap­pli­ca­tion of fly spray, re­duced head­shak­ing---21 per­cent of own­ers re­ported a pos­i­tive re­sult.

Nine per­cent of own­ers re­ported us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of the hor­mone me­la­tonin and mag­ne­sium, with a pos­i­tive out­come in 55 per­cent of those cases, but no horses had com­plete res­o­lu­tion. Ad­verse ef­fects, seen in 36 per­cent of the horses, in­cluded weight gain, lethargy and non-shed­ding of the hair coat.

Pickles says that own­ers can best uti­lize this in­for­ma­tion in a dis­cus­sion with their vet­eri­nar­ian about the best ap­proach for their par­tic­u­lar horse. “Usu­ally phys­i­cal meth­ods, such as nose nets, are tried first as they are pretty ef­fec­tive, cheap, and have rel­a­tively few dele­te­ri­ous side ef­fects.”

Eighty-six per­cent of the re­spon­dents said they had tried nose nets, with 53 per­cent of them re­port­ing a pos­i­tive out­come.

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