A University of Bristol study claims a new treatment offers hope for horses suffering from headshaking.

Headshaking is thought to affect between 10,000 and 20,000 horses in the UK.

In the study, led by the university’s vet school, academics used percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (PENS) therapy – developed by Algotec Research and Development – to treat the symptoms of the syndrome, which is thought to affect between 10,000 and 20,000 horses in the UK.

Working with the neurology team at Southmead Hospital Bristol, the team aimed to find out whether PENS is a safe, effective and sustainable treatment for the management of trigeminal-mediated headshaking (TMH) in horses.

Seven horses diagnosed with TMH were recruited to the trial, and all procedures were carried out in sedated horses with a needle-prick sized area of skin desensitised with local anaesthetic. A disposable PENS probe was placed just beneath the skin adjacent to the nerve under ultrasonographic guidance. The nerve was then stimulated for 25 minutes before the probe was removed and the process was repeated on the other side. Three or four treatments were used during the protocol, with treatments being repeated when signs of headshaking recurred.

All horses tolerated the procedure well, according to academics. Three horses developed a haematoma at the site on one occasion and two had increased clinical signs for up to three days following first treatment. Six horses responded well after the first treatment and returned to ridden work at the same level before headshaking began. Five horses continued to respond to further treatment.

Veronica Roberts, senior clinical fellow in equine medicine at the University of Bristol, who led the study, said: “Although further work is required, including increasing the number of cases and refining the treatment procedures, the study shows that PENS therapy should be the first-line treatment for trigeminal-mediated headshakers, which have failed to respond to conservative treatment, such as nose-nets.”

The study is published in Equine Veterinary Journal (EVJ). Visit the EVJ website for more information.

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