Headshaking

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    This article has been edited and approved by Karen Coumbe MRCVS, H&H’s veterinary advisor since 1991.
  • The horse repeatedly tossing the head vertically or rubbing its nose on a foreleg are typical signs of the condition known as headshaking in horses. This frustrating and painful syndrome can have a significant impact on the horse’s welfare.

    Back in the 1980s, headshaking was assumed to be bad behaviour but is now known to be a distressing and debilitating medical condition.

    Headshaking is found in 4.5% of the UK horse population, and one in five diagnosed horses do it at rest, while the remainder only headshake when ridden or lunged. It is reported to be more common in geldings than mares and stallions, and although it can appear at any age, it often first occurs between the ages of six and 12.

    If a horse cannot be ridden due to this condition, or it’s clearly in pain when not ridden, then retirement or euthanasia may have to be considered. Since the 1980s a range of treatment options have been developed that can help many horses, but they do not work in all affected equines.

    Headshaking in horses [1,564 words]: Causes | Management | Diagnosis | Treatment | Current research | Prognosis

    Why do horses headshake?

    There is a range of potential reasons for a horse to shake its head. Some cases are caused by allergies, sinusitis, dental pain, and a number of other conditions. These all need to be ruled out as part of the clinical investigations into the cause of the condition.