Skip to Main Content

Understanding Seizures in Horses & Their Causes

Seizures can be unexpected and frightening for a horse owner. Having information about this medical condition can help you best prepare for it. Here, our Ocala equine vets share the causes of seizures in horses and how they will be diagnosed and treated.

Seizures in Horses

While it is rare for horses to experience seizures, when they do happen, they are often caused by physical or neurological distress. There are two main types of seizures: generalized and partial (localized).

When a horse suffers from a generalized seizure, it means that the entirety of their body is affected. During an episode, they may defecate or urinate, be unable to stand or move their legs and have difficulty breathing. 

In a partial or localized seizure, your horse may experience uncontrollable muscle movement limited to parts of the body, such as the face or the leg.

Unfortunately, the violent movement of the horse during a seizure can be dangerous for nearby people or animals. If your horse is having a seizure you should refrain from attempting to restrain it. Instead, you should contact your equine veterinarian right away for emergency care.

What causes seizures in horses?

Seizures in horses may be caused by the following:

  • Chronic Liver Disease
  • Chronic Kidney Disease
  • Cancer
  • Brain Tumors
  • Brain Abscesses
  • Meningitis
  • Drug Reactions
  • Sepsis (Septicemia) in Foals
  • Equine Encephalitis Viruses (Spread by Mosquitoes)
  • Hemlock Poisoning
  • Jimsonweed Poisoning
  • Skull Fractures
  • Head Injuries
  • Equine Epilepsy

What are the risk factors for seizures in horses?

Certain factors may contribute to the occurrence of seizures in horses. These can include metabolic or toxic extracranial causes along with intracranial causes like trauma, benign or cancerous growths or even inherited conditions.

Mares and foals may experience seizures due to elevated estrogen levels. Some horse breeds may have an increased risk of developing epilepsy, which leads to seizures. These breeds include Arabians (suspected familial inheritance), some ponies and Paso Finos.

What tests will be performed when diagnosing seizures?

Some of the diagnostic tests and technology that may be used to diagnose seizures in horses include:

  • Physical Examination
  • Neurological Examination
  • Diagnostic Imaging (Including X-rays of the Skull)
  • Bloodwork
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid Analysis (spinal tap)
  • Electrical Encephalogram (EEG)
  • Urinalysis

How are horses treated for seizures?

The main course of action to treat and prevent seizures in horses will be to address the underlying condition.  Unfortunately, when it comes to epilepsy there is no cure, only management. Some of the medications that are often used to control convulsions that occur during seizures are diazepam and phenobarbitone.

Management of Seizures in Horses

While it may seem strange, many horses will get up and behave as though nothing happened once the seizure has concluded. While there is no specific way to prevent seizures, you can create a safe environment free of dangerous objects in the event that a seizure occurs.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding equine animals, or professional advice regarding equine regulations. For the diagnosis of your animal's condition and help to navigate regulations governing the care and transportation of equine animals please contact your vet.

Has your horse experienced a seizure or any other type of serious medical issue? Contact our equine vets at Florida Equine Veterinary Associates today.

New Patients Welcome

Florida Equine Veterinary Associates is passionate about the health of sport and performance horses. Get in touch today to book your equine athelete's first appointment.

Contact Us

(352) 620-2966 Contact