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Betsy Carter’s Horse Scene: Procedure may help with head shaking

VETERINARIANS around the world are studying the debilitating illness in horses called head shaking. It continues to baffle the scientific community, but the latest research shows hope.

The head shaking syndrome in horses, which can be a subtle nod or a violent up-and-down shaking, is believed to be caused by the same pain that causes trigeminal neuralgia in humans.

Vets at the University at Bristol’s School of Veterinary Medicine at Liverpool have tried a new surgical procedure called caudal compression of the infraorbital nerve. Platinum coils are placed into nerve ends within the canals to relieve pain. This surgery is considered 50 percent successful.

Veronica Roberts, a clinical fellow at the Equine Medical School in Liverpool, is working with Seth Love, professor of neurology in the School of Clinical Science. Love works in this same area of study as it concerns people’s pain, which is focal demyelination of the nerve thought to cause trigeminal neuralgia.

The results of the surgery were published in this month’s Equine Veterinary Journal and evaluated the long-term success of the caudal compression of the infraorbital nerve. Of the 58 horses who had the surgery, only nine had recurring symptoms, from 9 to 30 months after the surgery. The 58 horses were between 1 and 17 years old and were ridden in a variety of disciplines.

Eventually, 30 horses returned to rubbing their noses. Four horses whose head shaking symptoms returned were eventually euthanized.

Vets are continuing to study head shaking to discover a less-invasive procedure to stop the pain and the resulting head shaking.

Betsy Carter can be reached at The Free Lance–Star, 616 Amelia St., Fredericksburg, VA 22401; or by fax at 540/373-8455.