What causes stringhalt in horses?

Question

I have a horse that I think has stringhalt. What causes it?

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Answer ( 1 )

  1. Stringhalt is a neurological disorder that affects horses. The cause of stringhalt has been unknown for many years, but recent research points to improper functioning of the peripheral nerves as the main cause.

    The symptoms and appearance of stringhalt can be separated into two groups:

    (1) those related to delayed, incomplete and less powerful muscular contractions and

    (2) those related to spasticity. Muscle movements affected by stringhalt are slower, weaker and unevenly distributed. There may also be jerky motions being produced from muscles other than those experiencing compromised motor control from the disease. Symptoms typically include ataxia or lack of coordination or balance which can ultimately impede movement in any direction – forwards, backwards or sideways.

    The first visible sign of stringhalt that some people may notice is an up and down motion of the horses’ tails while walking. Horses suffering stringhalt also exhibit constant splaying of the forelegs at trot, referred to as “a wide action”. This happens because stringhalt affects muscles on one side of the body more severely than those on the other.

    There are many possible causes for stringhalt in horses, but most cases have no known origin or specific cause. A variety of conditions can lead to stringing behaviour, with peripheral nerve damage being key among them. Any condition that damages a horse’s nerves may produce stringhalt-like symptoms. However, there are many diseases that affect peripheral nerves that do not cause stringhalt.

    One of the more common causes of stringhalt in horses is Vitamin E deficiency, which can lower the nerve threshold and increase susceptibility to damage in sensory nerves. This is especially true in times of stress, when Vitamin E levels are already lowered in most animals. However, stringhalt-like symptoms may also be seen during times of heavy activity or exercise, even if a horse has adequate levels of Vitamin E.

    In cases where stringhalt originates from acute injury or infection, it typically disappears within a few days or weeks after the initiating event clears up. In some cases the condition comes back several months later. In other cases stringhalt-like symptoms associated with peripheral nerve damage appear suddenly, but then disappear again.

    Spastic stringhalt is generally viewed as being caused by damage to smooth muscle cells, which are found in different areas of the body. Like peripheral sensory nerves, smooth muscle tissue can be damaged by toxins or infections but also may be laid low by dietary deficiencies. The spasms associated with stringhalt are believed to originate from muscles that contract without control or coordination due to this damage.

    The good news is stringhalt is rarely life-threatening for horses and does not lead to any further complications once it has cleared up on its own. However, stringhalt often causes self-mutilation because affected horses constantly bump into fences or other objects while walking. Stringhalt should therefore only be diagnosed if symptoms are present for more than two weeks.

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