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Horses CAN have seizures

From: Erin

My Mother and I ride at a barn in the eastern Toronto region. There is a pony in the barn that has suffered from the following symptoms



Falling Over


Eyes rolled back in here head


She has suffered from these symptoms on 2 separate occasions within the same week. She is an older pony in her late teens/early twenties. By the time the

vet arrived yesterday (45 min after the call) all the symptoms had subsided and he said that it was impossible for the pony to have suffered a seizure.

The girl that witnessed the second attack said that the pony started

convulsing and seizing while standing in her box, she fell against the door and when the girl opened the door to see what was happening she fell out into the aisle and then was very disoriented and would not go back into her stall, but willingly went into another horses stall.

The girl was confused by what the vet said because she knows what she saw was the pony have a seizure. We told the girl we would see what information we could find in our books at home and on the net, but we have come up empty handed on both fronts. If you have any idea as to what would cause the pony to have the aforementioned symptoms, the information would be greatly appreciated and it would help ease the girls mind about the situation.

Thank you for your time and effort from a fellow horse lover


Hi Erin! I'm so sorry to hear about this pony. Yes, it does sound very much like a seizure, and yes, horses and ponies CAN be subject to seizures.

Sadly, they're a common sign when certain diseases are present.

It's possible that the attending veterinarian didn't understand what was being asked, or it's possible that s/he meant to say that the pony didn't seem to be having a seizure at the moment when s/he saw the pony. I can't think why anyone would say that a seizure would be impossible, especially in an elderly pony, but I do know that many veterinarians, even equine specialists, may not have had the opportunity to see seizures in horses. A veterinarian practicing in an area where all horses are routinely vaccinated against encephalitis, for instance, might never see the seizures that occur when horses are NOT vaccinated.

I would strongly suggest that you or the pony's owner get a second opinion, preferably from an equine specialist with, a good deal of experience in equine geriatrics. You might also suggest that the pony's owner contact some of the veterinary teaching hospitals at major universities in Canada and in the US. At these hospitals, veterinarians see so many different horses that they are more likely to have some experience with problems such as seizures.

I've personally seen a few horses that had seizures, and in all of those cases, there was no clear diagnosis, just a recognition by the area veterinarians that "yes, the horse has seizures". Two of the horses were put down and found, on necropsy, to have tumours that were probably causing the seizures. The third horse was retired (it was too dangerous to continue to ride him) and turned out by his owner, and I don't know the end of his story. My veterinarian is very good and has been in practice for many, many years, and hasn't seen many cases either -- yet. I say "yet" because there seems to be a connection between EPM and certain types of seizures, so I expect that a lot of equine veterinarians will become more familiar with seizures as time goes by.

Seizures can be dangerous to the horses that experience them, and to the people who handle those horses -- if someone is cleaning a horse's foot, say, or grooming it, when the convulsions begin, it's possible for that person to receive a kick in the head or even to find that the horse has fallen and that the person is now underneath a convulsing horse. That is NOT a good place to be. It's also not good, legally speaking, to be the owner of such a horse in such circumstances, particularly if another person sustains an injury and someone asks the very awkward question, "Has this ever happened before?"

Please talk to the pony's owner and let her know that she needs more medical advice, and that the pony should not be ridden in the meantime, and that anyone handling the pony should be aware of the possibility of a seizure, and should be very careful.

So, there are some things to think about:

1) yes, horses can and do have seizures 2) horses that have seizures can be very dangerous, either because of their out-of-control movements, or because of a sudden change in attitude and behaviour that may accompany the seizures 3) it's not a good idea to ride horses that have seizures 4) if your vet couldn't diagnose the problem that does NOT mean that s/he is a bad vet! Many very good vets can work their entire lifetimes without encountering a horse with seizures, and so most vets are simply not familiar with the phenomenon. Don't "write off" your vet just because s/he doesn't know about seizures in equines.

5) there ARE places where you can find out more about seizures and possibly get some medical suggestions or advice, or at least the names of people whom your veterinarian could ask for advice. The Veterinary School at the University of Kentucky may be able to help you, and they've done some research into EPM-related seizures. The Veterinary School at the University of California- Davis, has, I believe, been studying narcolepsy in horses, so that would be another likely source of good, cutting-edge information on seizures. So would Auburn University, where seizures are listed as part of the equine medicine curriculum.

Get as much information as you can, and when you find someone who can help, tell that person everything you know about the pony and its management.

Don't leave ANYTHING out. If nothing else, at least you might be able to eliminate certain possible causes: the consumption of toxic plants or contaminated feed, for instance, can cause symptoms that you and I and quite possibly our vets would have trouble distinguishing from those caused by something quite different like a brain tumour.

In any case, you need good medical information and advice, so that everyone can do whatever is best for the pony and also stay safe!

Please let me know how it comes out.


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