Treating Seasonal Headshaking with Eye Drops

Horses that shake their heads in an unexpected, intermittent, potentially violent, and apparently involuntary way are not only frustrating, but widely deemed unsafe for the rider or handler.

Horses suffering from seasonal headshaking can display either a vertical or horizontal movement. They might flip their noses as if an insect was up the nose, or strike at their face. These behaviors appear worse in sunny weather.

In the new report, "Treatment of seasonal headshaking in three horses with sodium cromoglycate eye drops," British veterinarians explained that an underlying cause of headshaking is only identified in a fraction of horses. To date, headshaking remains a poorly understood phenomenon and treatments, such as steroid therapy, have been met with limited success.

In horses with excessive tearing and photophobia (a sensitivity or aversion to light), sodium cromoglycate eye drops (one drop per eye four times per day) appears to markedly decrease the incidence of headshaking.

Based on these findings, the authors suggested that in some horses headshaking might be indicative of a generalized rhinitis related to an allergic condition.

Dennis Brooks, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVO, a professor of Ophthalmology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine, commented on this report.

"Headshaking is a terrible disease for afflicted horses and their owners," emphasized Brooks. "This is a relatively inexpensive option to try and may help some horses."

In the United States, sodium cromoglygate eyedrops are available through veterinarians (known as Opticrom, it's a cromolyn sodium ophthalmic solution; a clear, sterile solution intended for topical ophthalmic use that functions as a mast cell stabilizer).

In addition, Brooks relayed that pulsed oral dexamethasone therapy is another option for some headshaking horses.

The short communication was published in the September 6th edition of The Veterinary Record.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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