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Equine Health Resource

Neurologic Exam

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Horses exhibiting signs or abnormalities that may indicate injury or disease of the nervous system should have a neurologic exam. This exam is performed by a vet to assess the function and health of the brain, spinal cord, nerves and muscles, in hopes of ruling out neurologic diseases as a potential diagnosis.

Generally, the neurologic exam begins with a careful history and an examination of the horse at rest. This includes examining the horse’s behavior. It is typically followed with examination of a variety of normal body functions and reflexes that require specific elements of the nervous system be intact. If the body functions, movement and reflexes are normal, a problem with the integrity or function of these specific areas is ruled out.

An evaluation in movement is then conducted to see if the horse is having trouble with balance, limb crossing, foot placement, or foot dragging – all of which are indicative of a neurologic problem. Depending on how symptomatic a horse is, adjustments are made during the exam for safety of the handlers. Other diagnostic tests are then used to try to define the disease process that affects the area.

A limited neurologic evaluation is often part of a pre-purchase exam.

Reasons to UseRelated Observations

Noticeably Wobbly or Weak
Obvious Stumbling or Tripping, Even when Not Under Saddle
Stumbling, Seems Uncoordinated Under Saddle
Seizures or Convulsions (in Adult)
Sudden Collapse or Apparent Loss of Consciousness
Unconscious, Lying Down & Not Responsive
Head or Brain Trauma, Blow to Head
Abnormal Foot or Limb Placement, at Rest
Eyelid is Drooping or Eye is Closed
Hindquarters Seem to Fall Away or Collapse while Ridden
Wound to Face or Head with Obvious Broken Bone, Fracture Involved
Hind Hooves, Toes Worn Off or Toe Dragging
Crab Walking or Uneven Tracking
Localized Muscle Loss in an Area
Stands with Hind Limbs Crossed
Hind-End Leans or Falls to One Side, One Hind Limb Seems Weak
Circling Compulsively in One Direction
Lip Quivering, Lip Flapping, Strange Movement of Lips
High-Stepping Gait of One or Both Hind Limbs
Hind Hoof Swings Outward at Walk or Trot
Cannot Chew, Chewing Abnormally
Bleeding from Ear
Tail appears Fractured or Broken
Abnormal Movement or Twitching of Lips
Head in Corner or Against Wall, Head Pressing
Head Tilted or Cocked to Side
Tongue Sticking or Hanging Out
Eye is Making Abnormal Rapid & Jerky Movements
Knuckling Over or Rolling Over on a Fetlock
Disjointed Feeling Under Saddle
Sweating, Anywhere on Body in Local Areas or Patches
Fearful, Flighty or Spooky Under Saddle
Leads, Trouble Maintaining or Changing
Tail is Limp or Does Not Move
Cannot Seem to Get Up, Lying Down, Seems Aware
Rigid, Stiff Limbs or Legs
Limb Folds or Collapses when Bearing Weight
Wound to Head or Face
Ear Drooping or Cocked
Pupil, One Larger than Other
Stands with Front Limbs Crossed
Abrasion or Scrape on Head or Face
Pink Membrane of Third Eyelid is Covering Eye(s)
Struggles to Rise, Gets up with Difficulty
Hoof-Limb Contact, Foot Interfering or Overreaching
Leaning Against Stall Wall or Fence
Front Limbs Spread, Wide Stance
Seems Dazed or Confused
Swelling on Poll or Neck behind Skull
Kicks Out with a Hind Limb Under Saddle
Drowsy, Seems to Fall Asleep on Feet, Could Even Collapse
Drooping Lip, Face or Muzzle
Change in Personality, Strange Behavior
Eyeballs Seem to be Pointing Different Directions
Staring Into Space, Seems Unresponsive
Hind Limb, Short-Strided on One or Both Limbs
Straining to Pass Manure (in Adult)
Ticks Found on Horse
Drainage from Ear Canal, Excessive Secretion
Incontinence, Urine Dribbling or Dripping
Pupils Seem Large or Dilated
Urine Stream Slow or Weak
Cannot Swallow, Difficulty Swallowing
Reluctant to Move in the Dark or into Dark Places
Sick Horse Hyper-Reactive to Loud Sound or Sudden Movement
Lying Down More Than Normal, or Getting Up & Down
Compulsive, Forceful Walking, Driving Forward when Led
Hesitant to Walk Up or Down Hill
Lying Down & Paddling
Tail Raised or Held Off to One Side

Benefits

A neurologic exam provides a wealth of information about the health of the nervous system, and helps vets determine the normal or abnormal function of particular anatomy of the neurologic system.

Limitations

While the neurologic exam plays a fundamental role in defining the problem location within the nervous system, it is of almost no value in determining the nature of the problem.

The examination is, by its nature, highly subjective. Neurologic exams are not all created equal. The effectiveness of the exam is dependent to a great degree on examiner's experience, thoroughness and interest in performing this exam.

Helpful Outside ResourcesCredible Equine Health Information on the Internet

QUESTIONS TO ASK MY VET

  • What do you suspect the problem is?
  • How will this exam help to confirm or disprove your suspicion?
  • Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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