What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Equine Epilepsy?

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While true epilepsy is rare in horses, equines do experience seizures. It's scary to witness an horse going through a seizure, and it's always a veterinary emergency. Since the odds are good that your horse's seizure will be over by the time the veterinarian arrives, try to have the presence of mind to take a video of the episode with your phone so that you can show the vet what happened.

Seizure Causes

The most common cause of seizures in horses is head trauma. Other conditions causing seizures include:

Rabies, a disease deadly to all animals -- and virtually all people -- can also cause seizures. Foals may have seizures because of low blood sugar or oxygen deprivation. Horses suffering from late-stage liver or kidney disease may experience seizures.

Seizure Symptoms

Seizures may be mild and easily missed, or quite dramatic. Horses experiencing a seizure may shake and collapse. Once the seizure is over, most horses resume acting normally. Other symptoms include:

  • eye rolling
  • loss of bowel or bladder control
  • leg flailing
  • odd licking or chewing behavior
  • twitching in the jaw and face 

Tip

  • If your horse displays frequent signs of a seizure, move him to a stall or paddock with few hazardous items. While he needs a water bucket or trough, you might want to remove pails or feeders hanging on the walls or fence board/rails and feed him from a rubber ground feeder, removing it after each meal.

Types of Epilepsy

Epileptic seizures are classified in three different forms:

  • Acquired epilepsy, generally the result of a head injury, may appear shortly after the incident or weeks later.
  • Inherited epilepsy occurs only in Arabian foals about the time of weaning. Fortunately, most foals outgrow the condition.
  • Idiopathic epilepsy, the most common type, has no obvious cause. 

Warning

  • True epilepsy, or recurring seizures, occurs primarily in Arabians and Paso Finos, along with ponies.

Diagnosing and Treating Equine Epilepsy

If your horse has frequent seizures, your vet might take a sample of spinal fluid to look for inflammation or disease, along with blood sampling and urinalysis. She'll X-ray your horse's skull looking for evidence of injury, and perform an electroencephalography to analyze brain activity. If your horse is sent to an equine hospital, rather than seen by a vet working out in the field, he may undergo magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography scans for diagnostic purposes.

Your vet will treat the underlying condition causing the seizures. If it is indeed epilepsy, she may prescribe diazepam -- marketed under the trade name Valium -- or phenobarbital for seizure control.

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