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Scientific and Equine Consultant

What are the most effective treatments for headshaking in horses?

Headshaking is a distressing condition for both horses and their owners. Whilst dysfunction of the trigeminal nerve is believed to be central to headshaking, there is no universally accepted effective treatment.

In order to try and understand which treatments are effective for headshaking, we undertook a survey of treatments used by 130 owners of horses affected by headshaking. The results of this study were presented at the 60th meeting of the American Association of Equine Practitioners in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA in December 2014.

Nose nets, face masks, and magnesium supplementation were the most efficacious non-medical therapies for treatment of headshaking. Of the pharmacological treatments, cyproheptadine, corticosteroids, and melatonin resulted in greatest improvement. Each of these treatments resulted in improvement in approximately 50% of headshaking horses. This study can be used to guide owners in the management of idiopathic headshaking. Owner-reported responses to treatment in 130 headshaking horses suggest that nose nets, face masks, and magnesium supplementation are the most efficacious non-medical therapeutic options. Adverse effects such as facial irritation were reported in 1⁄3 of horses with nose nets. Cyproheptadine, corticosteroids, and melatonin were the most successful pharmaceutical treatments in this study; however, the number of horses using these therapies was low and, therefore, these results should be interpreted with caution. Of these pharmaceutical drugs, only melatonin is without significant adverse effects or allowed in competition horses. Veterinary diagnosis of idiopathic headshaking is advised before commencing any treatments. Further investigation of the pathophysiological mechanism underlying the aberrant trigeminal nerve activity in headshaking horses is warranted in order to develop more successful therapeutic options.

Owner-Reported Response to Treatment of 130 Headshaking Horses

Kirstie Pickles, BVMS, MSc, PhD, CertEIM, DECEIM; Monica Aleman, MVZ Cert, PhD, DACVIM†; David J. Marlin, BSc(Hons), PhD; Vicki J. Adams, BSc, DVM, MSc, PhD, MRCVS; and John Madigan, DVM, MS, DACVIM, DACAW*

AAEP PROCEEDINGS (2014) Vol 60 176-183

The FULL PAPER is available here: 57095979-Owner Response to Treatment of Headshaking – Aleman AAEP 2014

Date: February 02, 2015