A closer look: Involuntary Eye Movement (Nystagmus) in Horses
Involuntary eye movement is a very rare symptom in horses, but it is indicative of brain injury or disorder and requires rapid intervention as some of the associated conditions are life-threatening. Horses with nystagmus are a fall risk and potential bite risk and should not be handled outside of a veterinary care position. Due to the risk of rabies as a cause, horses with nystagmus need to be handled with caution.
Nystagmus is a sign of nervous system disease or injury.
Nystagmus is rare in horses. Any horse at risk of nervous system disease or injury may have an increased risk of developing this symptom. The symptom indicates a serious neurological problem and requires prompt veterinary attention.
Testing and diagnosis
After a physical examination and medical history additional diagnostics to investigate nystagmus include
- Neurologic examination
- Cerebrospinal fluid examination (spinal tap)
- Blood work
- Skull X rays
Treatment varies depending on the root cause but can include:
- Symptomatic management
- Palliative care
Nystagmus is not often mistaken for other symptoms, but it can be mistaken for normal eye movement. If the eyes are moving slightly while the horse is moving its head, this is likely to be normal behavior. Nystagmus is when the eyes rapidly and involuntarily move and often is best identified when the head is still.
Nystagmus is associated with other nervous system symptoms.