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Possible neurological issue
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Maggie165
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Joined: Mon Jul 25th, 2016
Location: Canada
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 Posted: Fri May 24th, 2019 01:54 pm
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My soon to be 15 year old gelding suddenly last week began circling (small circles) after having fed him. We were unable to stop him and when we put him out of the barn, he continued to circle, even circling into other members of the herd who became angry with him. This stopped his circling but he began to spook at other horses, the hay pile etc. We approached him to halter him but he spooked at us approaching from the left but tolerated the haltering from the right. At that point we removed him from the herd and put him into a small corralled area. Believing that he perhaps was colicking, we began to walk and trot him in hand. His gait was uncoordinated especially in the hindquarters but he was responsive and willing. When we took the halter off, he was no longer circling. We called our vet at that time who suggested that he was having spasmodic colic and that he would likely continue to improve. He did improve and eventually we released him back into the herd. Not long after, another horse gave him a double barrel kick into his flank whereupon he began to limp. Having seen that and knowing his previous difficulties that day, we decided to bring him into the barn for the night. He is normally on outside turnout. The next morning, he seemed to be in good spirits and not suffering too much from the kick. We turned him out into the herd and after watching him for a while left for the day. The barn owner texted us about 3pm and advised us that he was circling again. When we arrived shortly after, we saw that he was again having difficulties walking in coordination and circling repeatedly. When we approached him, we stopped about 10 feet away and called him. He nickered but couldn't seem to find us, looking in every direction. My daughter approached him and let him sniff her hand and he visibly relaxed. We removed him from the herd again to the smaller corral whereupon my daughter began to walk and trot him. He continued to uncoordinated and began to lag behind so we took the halter off. He noticed some of the herd standing at the gate and went over to greet them. He walked straight INTO the gate! causing great alarm to both the other horses and himself and nearly lost his balance in his hindquarters. We called the vet again and she immediately thought that he had a neurological issue and that we should take him to the University of Guelph Large Animal Clinic to have an assessment. We live in a rural area that is rather remote. We took him to the UofG the next day (3 hours away) and they have cleared him of EHV1 and likely of arthritis in the neck. The spinal tap that they did is being sent to Kentucky and we will know the result of EPM. That still leaves the possibility of a head trauma. Dante is current with all his shots and he is eating, drinking and voiding satisfactorily. He receives unlimited hay throughout the day and one feeding of hi-fat, hi-fibre chunks with 1/2 cup of ground flaxseed and a tbsp of tumeric mixed in the chunks. He is not on grass yet as it has been very wet since the winter melt and the pasture is not ready. Yesterday, he seemed to have improved somewhat but his gait was still off. However, the barn owner stated that when there was excitement in the herd, his ability to run from one end of the corral to the other was perfect. He is very alert and wants to re-join the herd. Dante is our pet and we are very worried about him.

Maggie165
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Joined: Mon Jul 25th, 2016
Location: Canada
Posts: 2
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 Posted: Sat May 25th, 2019 08:29 pm
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The events that I have related to you happened on Tuesday, May21 and Wed., May 22. It is now the 25th. Dante is in a separate paddock where I have been hoping he can rest his injured leg. However, he is even more alert to the herd movements than usual and runs along the fence when they wander a little farther from his paddock. He is not acting injured at all. However, he is resting the affected leg whenever he stands still and frequently lifts this leg as though he is threatening to kick. Yesterday, when we walked with him, as he was climbing a small hill, his affected leg was bending in a weird fashion (bowing out). I am telling you all of this because it seems as though the symptoms of neurological problems appear to have disappeared. Does that mean he is out of the woods neurologically? Is it possible that he had the horse equivalent of a human concussion? Our vet has now prescribed Previcox to alleviate any inflammation he might be having.

DrDeb
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Joined: Fri Mar 30th, 2007
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 Posted: Sun May 26th, 2019 08:05 am
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Maggie, there is something toxic in your feed. The tipoff is the head-butting, blindness, uncoordination, and circling, which are induced by the horse being poisoned.

The first culprit to check would be moldy corn; this is a form of aflatoxin, an extremely poisonous neurotoxin. The other likely culprit would be ergot, which might be growing on several types of grasses common in Canadian hay (i.e. Paspalum or Dallis Grass, Phalaris, common barn-grass, or even brome grass); and also oats and/or oat hay, as well as rye, can have ergot.

Ergot looks like little hard black capsules, a little smaller than peppercorns. Moldy corn will have black, red, or orangeish "staining".

There are other possibilities as well. You can learn about all of them by going to our main website at http://www.equinestudies.org, click on "Bookstore", and then purchase a copy of "Poison Plants in the Pasture: A Horse Owner's Guide."

Beyond that, and much more urgently, your vet can follow up on this from there much better than I can from here. You need to immediately check ALL sources of your horse's feed. If other horses on your place are unaffected, then you need to reason out what the affected horse might have eaten that the other horses did not eat.

His leg was not injured at all, I think; rather the lameness or affected gait is being caused, like the head-butting and circling, by the neurotoxin.

You're lucky he's still alive and functioning but I would be EXTREMELY cautious in handling this horse for the next month or so and I definitely would not consider him safe to ride. Besides their other effects, neurotoxins commonly cause horses to be "irrational" and hyper-reactive -- not safe rides and not safe to handle.

Talk to your vet about this, pay for whatever tests of your hay and grain are necessary, and pay for bloodwork to look for alkaloid toxins in his bloodstream and/or liver panel to check whether his metabolism is normal.

Write back to let us know what the tests indicated and what the vet said. -- Dr. Deb

saffire_100
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Joined: Thu Jan 24th, 2008
Location: High River, Alberta Canada
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 Posted: Tue May 28th, 2019 03:54 pm
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We have a boarder horse that has neurological symptoms that come and go in severity. We had her tested for EPM, West Nile and another neurological virus that I can't remember the name of. She was negative. It is not feed related as we are meticulous on our weed control and the horse eats the same food as 10 other horses. The vet conclusion (without more testing as the horse is retired) was that it was most likely either a stroke or a narrow spot in the spinal column that is causing a restriction.

ETA: she did not have symptoms of blindness or head butting. Just the ataxia and circling.

Last edited on Tue May 28th, 2019 03:55 pm by saffire_100

DrDeb
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 Posted: Tue May 28th, 2019 06:05 pm
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Saffire, that's helpful to know. I suggested moldy corn poisoning and ergot because they are actually still even in this day and age fairly common and yet many younger vets don't have them on their radar. But there are literally dozens of possibilities, including your suggestion. Another possibility is a staph infection of the inner ear, which in horses is encased in a bony "bulla" or capsule. Infection of this area, as well as physical trauma to it which may occur secondary to the horse pulling back hard when tied, or from very rough restriction by holding the tongue, are known to cause the helpless circling along with head-pressing. Horses (as well as sheep and cattle) head-press when they have a splitting headache. So do I!

What Maggie really needs is an older, more experienced vet who specializes in equine practice and who can perform a very thorough neurological workup, both on-farm and possibly in clinic. This can get expensive, so there's a judgement call to be made. It sounds to me like Maggie is rather new to the horse hobby and boards her horse at a public barn; also that the animal is not being expected to perform above the level of trail riding for a beginner type rider. As I mentioned, if it's a toxin she is lucky he is still alive, and she'll be even luckier if he is still rideable after this incident.

I did not ask her about her horse's vaccination status but if she did not have him immunized against West Nile, well, that's just begging for trouble, so we hope that she does maintain her horse on a regular schedule for that and that the barn where she boards absolutely requires it. -- Dr. Deb


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