Quickly identifying stroke symptoms in a horse can save the life of the animal. A horse, which may appear to be in perfect health, can rapidly slip into a state of stroke with little warning. Many strokes are caused by a brain hemorrhage, which left untreated, can cause death.
What Is a Stroke?
An equine stroke is also referred to as a cerebrovascular accident. This neurological injury is acute and takes effect of the animal's body almost immediately. This condition occurs when the blood flow to the brain is ceased, or interrupted. A rapid loss of brain function occurs because of the disturbance. This condition is often referred to as an arterial disorder (major arteries are impacted), but also can be a venous condition (disruption in the blood flow of a major vein).
First Signs of a Stroke
The section of the horse's brain that is affected by the decreased blood flow doesn't receive enough oxygen. A chemical breakdown in the brain cells occurs, damaging the cell function, and the healthy cells begin to die. Impaired bodily function is immediately visible, and if not treated quickly, the horse will die. Examples of impaired bodily function would include loss of balance, release of the bowels, and the loss of ability to stand or hold up the head.
Flailing of the limbs and thrashing about are the most noticeable signs of a stroke in a horse. The horse's limbs will often appear swollen. When in this state, the horse will bump into walls, and have trouble standing or sustaining an upright position. If stroke symptoms are visible, a veterinarian should be called immediately.
Less Visible Signs of Potential Distress in Horses
Horses also often exhibit a quickened respiration rate when slipping into a stroke. The animals routinely take four to sixteen breaths per minute, and a significant increase is an early warning sign of stroke. Increased respiration is common during exercise, but should return to normal shortly after the physical activity is completed. Dehydration and a temperature of over 103 degrees F are additional signs of stroke danger in horses.
Treating a Horse After a Stroke
When a horse receives emergency care quickly, it is possible for it to recover. Drugs to treat a stroke in a horse are available, but not always effective. When the stroke damage is too severe, the animal will still show signs of loss of balance and mobility. After 2 weeks on medication, a horse should exhibit signs of returning to normality. Should the horse not improve, the veterinarian will most likely recommend putting the horse down, ending the suffering of the animal.