Nothing disrupts the joy of foal ownership like the observation of potential problems: A disinterest in nursing, a depressed attitude, strange mannerisms, or seizures could mean a foal is suffering from some serious neurologic problems. During a presentation at the 2011 Western Veterinary Conference, held Feb. 20-24 in Las Vegas, Nev., Mary Rose Paradis, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, an associate professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, in North Grafton, Mass., discussed some of the common problems that neurologic foals exhibit along with diagnostic methods and treatments.

Besides the common signs of depression and seizures, the resting foal might thrash his legs at seemingly random times, or he might make paddling motions with his legs as he walks; the foal might display back muscle spasms (known as opisthotonos, seen in the foal as hypertension/arching of the back to one side) or show extensor muscle rigidity; or he might overheat (hyperthermia), she added.

Neurologic Exams in Foals

"The most common neurologic presenting complaints in the newborn foal are changes in normal behavior, lack of suckle, depression, and seizures," Paradis explained.

A neurologic examinations of a foal differ from those performed on adult horses, Paradis said, and it might yield slightly different results:

  • The cranial nerve examination, which involves determining response to quick hand movement toward the eye (whether he flinches), is probably not as useful as it is in