A closer look: Collapse in Horses
Collapse is uncommon, and may be caused by a number of underlying conditions. Some, such as certain neurological conditions, may be life-threatening. Falling horses also pose a risk to those around them, and if a horse has collapsed they are unsafe to ride until examined by a veterinarian. Emergency medical attention is always indicated.
Collapse does not vary in presentation beyond the duration of an episode, which does not always equate to severity. Any advanced disease may result in collapse as it progresses towards end of life. Since horses can not survive for long periods of lying down, and because it is associated with severe and advanced disease, collapse is always an emergency.
Horses that have recently collapsed are not safe to ride until cleared by a veterinarian. Human handlers should take additional precautions around a horse at risk of collapse, as a falling horse can crush and severely injure handlers and other nearby animals.
Testing and diagnosis
Veterinarians usually see a horse after they have collapsed. Providing them with details of the episode assists in diagnosis. Items to note if possible during the episode include
- When collapse happened
- How long it lasted
- Recent changes in horse’s management or routine
- Frequency of episodes if there have been more than one
- Level of consciousness during an episode
- Physical exam
- Neurological exam
- Diagnostic imaging, including X-rays of the head
- Specific testing for infectious agents such as viruses
Treatment depends on the underlying cause.