Seizures in Horses

What causes seizures, and is there anything I can do to prevent them from happening?

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Q. I’m interested in purchasing a horse which has a history of seizures. What could they be caused by, are there different forms, and is there anything I can do to prevent them from happening again?

A. First of all, you would need a veterinarian’s assessment of the horse and the predisposition to seizures. The history of the individual horse is extremely important. A horse, like any other animal, can have a true or a false seizure. For example, a dog with an ear infection can be put on a table, and the animal might fall over, presenting what looks like a seizure. Horses with an inner ear infection can look the same, with possibly a loss of balance, while retaining their normal strength. Narcolepsy, characterized by uncontrolled episodes of sleep and loss of muscle tone (cataplexy), can look like a seizure as well. The horse appears as if it is passing out and falling down. A true seizure deals with electrical activity within the cerebral cortex of the brain.

The problem with diagnosing seizures is that a veterinarian usually isn’t examining the horse while it is having a seizure. It is rare that the veterinarian actually sees the seizures, and this usually happens only if the onsets are frequent or perpetual.

The causes of seizures are quite varied. Horses do get epilepsy. Some seizures are a metabolic reaction, characterized by convulsions, which are of a short duration. The horse needs oxygen and glucose to conduct electrical activity in the brain correctly. Neither is stored in the brain. The horse might be hypoglycemic (low blood glucose), resulting in a seizure

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The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care is an equine publication providing the latest news and information on the health, care, welfare, and management of all equids.

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