Headshaking in horses; causes, diagnosis and treatment.
October 14, 2020
Whilst it’s a common condition in horses, because the clinical signs are not all that specific headshaking can be difficult to diagnose and treat.
If you think your horse is beginning to show signs of headshaking please contact our equine vets.
Here’s what the equine vets at Garston Vets know:
- It’s normally a sudden onset condition that becomes worse over time.
- Although in the vast majority of cases the cause is unknown, vets now think that the principal cause is facial pain.
- It can be triggered and exacerbated by intermittent or seasonal factors including bright sunlight, wind, rain, noise, pollen or dust.
- Affected horses are typically middle-aged, with geldings more frequently affected than mares.
- We can’t cure headshaking but we can manage it, when we have identified the triggers.
Diagnosis for Headshaking
We may undertake diagnostic tests to rule out known causes. However, as there is no reliable diagnostic test for the specific cause of headshaking, once identifiable diseases are ruled out, we tend to diagnose the condition as idiopathic (cause unknown). We do this based on the presence of characteristic clinical signs including;
- Excessive face rubbing.
- High or low head carriage.
- Involuntary, sharp movements of the head.
- Snorting (sometimes coupled with nasal discharge) or nostril clamping.
- Distracted behaviours like striking out at the face during exercise.
Treatments for Headshaking
A number of treatments are available, all aimed at minimising the trigger factors that affect your horse. From nose nets and face masks to tinted contact lenses and various drug based treatments. Whilst these won’t cure the problem, they will minimise the clinical signs to a certain level.
What’s important is that when the condition first appears you call us so we can rule out disease, assess the causes of the now idiopathic condition and plan a relief strategy for your horse.