Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Eye is Making Abnormal Rapid & Jerky Movements

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

  • If the horse seems to be in distress.
  • If you notice apparent wobbliness or weakness, in addition to this sign.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) in the resting horse indicate fever (Temp >101F/38.3C) or heart rate greater than 48 BPM.

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

  • If you consider this a chronic and relatively mild problem that is not changing rapidly.
  • If the horse seems to be moving freely, and has a normal appetite and attitude.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

When a horse moves its head around, their brain and inner ear control eye movement. This is known as normal or physiologic nystagmus. When this system is damaged, inappropriate or jerking movements of the eye are known as pathologic nystagmus. These abnormal movements can be seen when the horse’s head is still.

Abnormal nystagmus is rare in horses and is most likely associated with brain damage, recovery from anesthesia, or middle ear dysfunction. Nystagmus is most often seen in horses that are suffering from severe brain injury, as can occur after a horse rears over backwards and lands on their poll. In most cases, horses with obvious pathologic nystagmus are lying on the ground or are in danger of falling to the ground.

WHAT TO DO

Due to the potential severity of the condition causing this observation, call your vet immediately and do not attempt to handle the horse any more than absolutely necessary.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet will perform a complete physical and neurologic examination to detect other abnormalities that may give clues to the condition. Blood tests and head x-rays may be helpful in some cases.

NOTE: This observation is associated with Rabies, which is very rare in horses but does occur. As a precaution, wear gloves when handling a horse exhibiting this sign.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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