Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Noticeably Wobbly or Weak

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 you feel the problem is severe or has come on suddenly.
  • 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 results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

Wobbliness or apparent unsteadiness (ataxia) is a classic sign of a neurologic problem. It often appears worse in the hind limbs because the nerve pathways in the spinal cord are longer and more vulnerable than those to the front limbs.

However, many other advanced or severe disease processes can cause a horse to appear as if it is about to fall down, including spinal and brain injury, major blood loss or end-stage shock. Signs associated with abdominal pain (colic) can also be confused with weakness, wobbliness or fainting. Horses that are in colic pain crouch, tremble, get up and down and can appear unstable on their feet.

WHAT TO DO

Regardless, if a horse seems severely wobbly or weak, contact your vet immediately. Personal safety is very important. Horses can suddenly fall on a handler or pin them against a wall. Leave the horse alone in a bedded and secure stall and keep them calm until your vet arrives. If the incoordination is less severe, then you may be able to carefully evaluate your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) and share your findings and concerns with your vet.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet will seek to determine the nature of the problem causing the incoordination with diagnostics and recommend appropriate treatment.

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

Identify or Rule-Out Possible CausesDIAGNOSES

West Nile Virus, WNV
Brain, Traumatic Injury, Concussion & Brain Swelling
Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis, EPM
Shock, Circulatory Shutdown
Equine Herpes Myeloencephalitis, EHM
Cervical Vertebral Malformation, CVM
Older Horse Ataxia & Weakness
Sedation Effects
Eastern, Western & Venezuelan Equine Encephalomyelitis
Neuroaxonal Dystrophy, NAD
Endotoxemia, Endotoxic Shock
Internal Hemorrhage, Bleeding Internally
Blood Loss or Acute Hemorrhage, Generally
Botulism
Colic, Undiagnosed Conditions Causing
Fracture of Neck Vertebrae
Ear Tick Infestation
Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis, HYPP
Ryegrass or Dallis Grass Staggers
Hypoglycemia, Low Blood Sugar
Locoweed Toxicity
Fracture of Skull, Involving Sinus or Bone
Fracture of Skull, Not Involving Sinus
Meningo-Encephalitis, Meningitis
Neurologic Conditions, Generally
Ruptured Stomach or Intestine
Plant or Weed Toxicity, Generally
Organosphosphate Toxicity
Post-Anesthetic Neuropathy, Myopathy or Myoneuropathy
Acute Systemic Disease, Generally
Equine Herpesvirus 1 & 4, Rhinopneumonitis
Monensin Toxicity
Horsetail or Bracken Fern Toxicity
Moldy Corn Toxicity
Infectious Myelitis
Hendra Virus, HeV
Lead Poisoning
Amitraz Toxicity
Seasonal Pasture Myopathy
Rabies
Poisoning by Cardiotoxic Plants, Generally
Equine Granulocytic Ehrlichiosis, EGE
Ergot Toxicity
Equine Infectious Anemia, EIA
Marijuana Toxicity
Paspalum Staggers
Fracture of Hip, Pelvis
Under-Nutrition
Cauda Equina Neuritis
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, ARDS
Dourine
Equine Motor Neuron Disease, EMND
Poison Hemlock or Water Hemlock Toxicity
Trypanosomiasis, Surra, Mal de Caderas
Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia
Onion Toxicity
Nitrate Toxicity From Plants or Fertilizer
Blue Green Algae Toxicity
Glanders
Japanese Encephalitis
Phenothiazine Toxicity
Johnson or Sudan Grass Toxicity
Borna Disease
Cerebellar Abiotrophy, CA
Arsenic Toxicity
Selenium Toxicity
Conditions Affecting Red Blood Cells, Generally
Neurotoxic Snakebite, Coral Snake, Cobra
Leptospirosis
Hypothyroidism
Nitrate Toxicity From Plants or Fertilizer
Liver Failure, Generally
Neck Conditions, Generally
Stinging Nettle, Skin Irritation
Multiple Myeloma
Tularemia
Von Willebrand's Disease, Bleeding Disorder
Lyme Disease, Borreliosis
Clotting Factor Deficiency, Coagulation Problem
Besnoitia, Besnoitiosis
Equine Chagas Disease
Equine Grass Sickness
Cyanide Toxicity from Plants

POSSIBLE TREATMENTS or TherapiesTo Lessen or Resolve the Sign

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

RELATED REFERENCES

Bathe AP. An unusual manifestation of nettle rash in three horses. Vet Rec 1994;1;134(1):11-12.

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