Headshaking Supplement Efficacy Tested

Researchers found a feed supplement designed to combat headshaking provided little relief to affected horses.
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Sure, many horse owners add feed supplements to their horses’ diets to help maintain joints, hooves, and hair coats. But what about to stifle headshaking? Researchers at the University of Liverpool in England recently tested the efficacy of a feed supplement designed to alleviate this behavior in a trial involving 32 horses previously diagnosed with chronic, idiopathic (with no discernible cause) headshaking.

Study horses consumed the supplement for four weeks, followed by a placebo for four weeks, with a two-week interval between the two treatments. The researchers videotaped the horses at rest and at exercise at the outset of the study, after the first treatment, and after the second treatment. Two veterinarians assessed the headshaking recordings using a ranked scale in a blinded, randomized setup. Owners also completed a ranked questionnaire assessing their horses’ headshaking throughout the treatment course.

After reviewing the videos, the team concluded that there were no significant differences in headshaking when the horses received the supplement and when they consumed the placebo. Likewise, owners scored headshaking signs similarly whether the horse was on the supplement or on the placebo. Researchers concluded this supplement provided no benefit towards alleviating headshaking.

“There was no effect detectable in any of the horses treated with the placebo or the test material when assessed by a panel of experienced veterinarians,” noted study author Derek Knottenbelt, OBE, BVM &S, DVM, Dipl. ECEIM, MRCVS. “The findings are only significant insofar as they emphasize the importance of testing claims made by anyone in terms of treatment for any disease. The fact is that claims can be made when there is no medical implication, but the number of companies which subject themselves to this kind of trial on an open forum is extremely low

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Freelance journalist Natalie DeFee Mendik is a multiple American Horse Publications editorial and graphics awards winner specializing in equestrian media. She holds an MA in English from Colorado State University and an International Federation of Journalists’ International press card, and is a member of the International Alliance of Equestrian Journalists. With over three decades of horse experience, Natalie’s main equine interests are dressage and vaulting. Having lived and ridden in England, Switzerland, and various parts of the United States, Natalie currently resides in Colorado with her husband and two girls.

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