Nervous System Diseases

Like people, horses have a nervous system that controls their limbs and other functions. When a horse nervous system is affected by a disease, there are many problems that can develop. While some of the conditions are worse than others, most of them can be treated. Knowing about the diseases out there and what the signs are can make sure your horse stays healthy and productive for many years to come.

The Many Types of Nervous System Diseases

Inflammation of the brain, also called encephalitis, meningitis and cerebritis, affects the membranes and nerve matter. Sometimes, it affects them both at the same time. Encephalitis is when the brain and its membranes are inflamed. When only the membranes are affected, it”s called meningitis. If only the brain substance is affected, it”s cerebritis.

Some of the causes of these diseases are exposure to extreme heat and cold, injuries to the brain, overwork, poisons in the food and tumors.

Another threat to horse health is congestion of the brain. Basically, this is when blood accumulates in the vessels. There are both active and passive types of this disease, both can be caused by several things. Being overworked is one cause. Artificial stimulates are also a factor. Collars that don”t fit right, tumors and hypertrophy in the left ventricle are also causes. Horses that are overweight and have short, thick necks are most likely to come down with this disease.

Sunstroke, heat stroke and heat exhaustion are also a problem for horses. These horse diseases are probably some of the easiest to protect against. They are caused by exposing the animal to extreme heat and humidity. Horses that are worked too hard and are not provided with enough shade and water also come down with these.

Hydrocephalus is another horse health concern. While usually found in younger horses, any horse can come down with it. Basically, it”s when a lot of fluid collects around or in the brain. This is usually a congenital disease and is found alongside enlarged skulls. This is one of the most serious diseases, since it usually fatal and can”t be cured.

Paralysis, or palsy, is when muscle contractions are weakened or stop all together. The complete form is when a horse”s motion and sensibility are affected. When only one of these happens, it”s called incomplete. When only one part of the body is affected, it is called local. This can be caused by almost any brain or spinal disease/injury as well as pressure being put on a nerve.

Other nervous system diseases include tumors and spinal congestion.

Preventing Horse Nervous System Diseases

Knowing how to prevent problems and how to spot them are important in maintaining horse health. Prevention is, of course, always the best defense. Horses can be protected by giving them quality feed and water. Try to keep your horse calm as much as possible and try not to work them too hard. Try to avoid any situation where the horse can be injured. Manure and dust have also been known to cause some of these diseases, so try to keep their stables as keep as possible.

Sometimes, no matter how careful you are about maintaining horse health, things happen. That”s why it”s helpful to know what to look for, so problems can be treated quickly. If your horse has difficulty swallowing or chewing, there may be a problem. Rigid and stiff movements, spasms and an elevated tail that doesn”t move are other symptoms.

Also be on the look out for high fevers, staggering, loss of sensitivity, incontinence, falling, the tongue hanging out of the side of the mouth and dullness/stupidity. If you notice these, or any other odd symptoms, it”s best to talk to your vet to get a diagnosis and treatment plan.


Trumbower, M.R, V.S.; et al (2007). Diseases of the Nervous System. Retrieved March 8, 2008, from The Project Gutenbery Web site: