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Does This Sound Like a Horse Developing Photic Head Shaking Syndrome?

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  • Does This Sound Like a Horse Developing Photic Head Shaking Syndrome?

    I have a 9 year old pinto Saddlebred gelding who was a product of our breeding program (we are no longer breeding horses due to the economy). He is a very easy going gelding, used for western trail riding currently, although he hasn't been ridden this year due to my current bad work schedule.

    His symptoms began last summer when, for at least 3 days, maybe 4, he flung his head and seemed highly agitated, rubbing his nose on fences and a little off his feed, not wanting to graze at all although he would eat his grain and hay. Before I could get my vet out, the symptoms went away completely and I figured he had been stung by something.

    Fast forward to this year - a week ago he began displaying all of the same symptoms, but was much more agitated, to the point of trying to run away from the problem in the pasture. He is normally very laid back and quiet. I did call my vet out and we decided to treat conservatively as an allergy with Hydroxyzine twice a day in his feed. I brought him in and stalled him, and within an hour of coming inside, he was much better. For two days, I've kept him stalled and on the Hydroxyzine, but was seeing no sign of the previous symptoms, so yesterday afternoon decided to turn him out in a back paddock instead of the pasture he was in. He no sooner took two steps out of the stall when he immediately went into violent head flinging mode and agitation. I went ahead and put him out, he ran a little bit and then immediately started rubbing his nose on the fence, on the ground and on his knees in between bouts of head flinging, then hung his head in the corner of the paddock and refused to graze.

    He has had a tiny amount of clear sinus drainage, but no snorting or sneezing at all; just the violent head flinging, nose rubbing and acting miserable once out of the stall. I am totally unfamiliar with Photic Head Shaking other than reading about it so I'm asking those who may have experience in this to tell me if this sounds like he may be developing it.

    Sorry so long...
    Susan N.

    Don't get confused between my personality & my attitude. My personality is who I am, my attitude depends on who you are.

  • #2
    Yes, it does. The fact that the problem has appeared at the same time of year is a big clue.
    www.littlebullrun@aol.com See Little Bull Run's stallions at:
    "Argosy" - YouTube and "Boleem" - YouTube
    Boleem @ 1993 National Dressage Symposium - YouTube


    • #3
      Everything you describe sounds exactly like headshaking to me. My gelding started last spring but I think his is more related to allergies/pollen and is also exercise induced more than photic. We tried Hydroxyzine first and it didn't seem like it was doing anything so we switched to Cyproheptadine. He coliced within a week so I stopped the med and then the symptoms just went away so I haven't really tried anything else other than adding magnesium to his feed (Quiessence). Not sure if that helps either though - we've tried to lunge him a few times and the tics started so we've just let him be for now.

      We did diagnostics to rule out a "physical" problem (sinusitis, guttural pouch infection, tooth or issue, took x-rays of his skull, allergy testing, etc.) but more often than not you don't get an answer of that sort. There's lots of good information online but it looks like it takes a ton of trial and error to find out what, if anything, will work for your horse. Good luck!!
      It's not about the color of the ribbon but the quality of the ride. Having said that, I'd like the blue one please!


      • #4
        Yes. It does sound photic. Have you tried putting him out at night? It would be helpful to see that it isn't an allergy, but strictly the light that sets him off.
        If it is photic, a really dark fly mask (Guardian makes one), or tinted contact lenses may help him.
        As Peter, Paul, and Mary say, a dragon lives forever.


        • Original Poster

          Thank you so much for the replies. My vet did actually start to put him on Cyproheptadine, but in the long run we decided to start very conservative before going to more expensive drugs that might still not work. After all I've been reading about Photic HSS, I was really afraid that was where it was going with him. I actually left him out last night, but couldn't go out and check to see him til this morning due to a little fall accident I had myself last night - I don't have horse accidents - I have house accidents. (I'm fine today, just sore). I'm going to try it again tonight.

          Crownedragon - a dark fly mask will be my next plan of action as well.

          Thanks again - three out of the three replies that all agree lets me know I'm probably on the right track (sadly).
          Susan N.

          Don't get confused between my personality & my attitude. My personality is who I am, my attitude depends on who you are.


          • #6
            Don't get discouraged just yet. My horse was misdiagnosed as having HSS when in fact what I think he had/has is allergies. His problems went away/greatly diminished when we moved from the barn he was at when it manifested. I would run an allergy test on your horse. If you can pinpoint the problem, maybe you can remove it.

            I did own an actual photic headshaker once, and owning him was one of the things that made me question the diagnosis in my current horse. It just was not the same.


            • #7
              Photic is only one type of headshaking. Try keeping him in a dark space in the barn and turnout after dark. Allergies can cause it as can many other things. It is a puzzle.
              McDowell Racing Stables

              Home Away From Home


              • #8
                I found a change in temps like a sudden rise in them will trigger head shaking in mine but he is under a dose of one tablet am with grain and one tablet at night of Chlor-Trimeton Allergy Relief, 4 Hour Tabletsallergy relief for people I get the generic version via walmart 100 pills for 2.97 has worked wonders for him. If for any reason he gets that tick give him a early dose or another pill with his grain early. Max 3 tablets a day. There is a HS Group on Yahoo a good read.


                • Original Poster

                  Thanks FineAlready and Laurierace - I'm not ruling the other types out, just felt that sunlight might be the culprit for him since his stall is shaded, but the hallway he walks out into has bright skylights overhead and the minute he came out of the stall, it hit him.

                  ML - that's interesting about the change in temps - we have hugely varying temps and a weird spring all the way around. I wonder if it could have exacerbated his symptoms. I'll keep the Chlor-Trimeton in the back of my mind, it's a great price for sure, if it would give him some relief. I'll also check out the Yahoo group.
                  Susan N.

                  Don't get confused between my personality & my attitude. My personality is who I am, my attitude depends on who you are.


                  • #10
                    http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/headshakers/ yahoo group on head shaking , read it figure what works for your horse. Did a ton of research and feel lucky to have found the chlor Trimeton


                    • #11
                      If it is any consolation, one of my younger mares displayed headshaking one Spring a couple of years ago...but when the pollen subsided and summer arrived it disappeared, and has never returned. Worried me to death at the time, as I'd had a boarder whose horse developed it and it was chronic.

                      I'm guessing that "photic" headshaking can be a catch-all term, at least based upon my own experience.

                      Obviously some sort of pollen that may have been more prevalent set off symptoms of "head-shaking" that Spring in my horse...and thus she was more senstive. In her case, it appeared to be an allergy and was a freak event. We did not treat her. It just went away.

                      Hopefully, this will pass and you'll only have to deal with it when the offending thing that affects the horse goes away.
                      www.littlebullrun@aol.com See Little Bull Run's stallions at:
                      "Argosy" - YouTube and "Boleem" - YouTube
                      Boleem @ 1993 National Dressage Symposium - YouTube


                      • Original Poster

                        I thought I would report back that I went out and observed his behavior after dark last night and the head shaking and all other symptoms were completely gone. I was almost hoping they would still be there to indicate that I shouldn't rule out allergies, but he was just fine.

                        Sid - I hope this ends up being temporary for my horse, but I'm usually not that lucky.

                        To the person who decided to send me an advertisement of your "miracle cure" patches through my website email address after stating that you read my topic here, I will never buy nor recommend your product. Advertising in that manner is forbidden on this forum and I find it a cheap stunt on your part to advertise in that manner. I will not post your company name here because I'm not going to give you free advertising, but anyone wanting to know who it is, send me a PM. I wish I could report them but have no idea of their user I.D. here on COTH.
                        Susan N.

                        Don't get confused between my personality & my attitude. My personality is who I am, my attitude depends on who you are.


                        • #13
                          That is how my gelding started as well-- several springs with just a bad day here and there that we excused as allergies, and then one year it kept going. He seems to be extremely itchy and hypersensitive but not truly photic (fine on cool, dry windy days, miserable on humid ones.) It's not something I would wish on anyone, but while it didn't do my horse's dressage any favors, with a nosenet he still was able to event and it really didn't ever stop us from doing anything.


                          • #14
                            Pooh. Very sorry to hear that. Sending best wishes that you are able to find some options for treatment that give him some relief. Hoping he's like my guy was last year where it subsided at the beginning of summer. Jingles coming your way!
                            It's not about the color of the ribbon but the quality of the ride. Having said that, I'd like the blue one please!


                            • #15
                              I recently followed a thread on another forum that was eerily similar. Sensitivity manifested with higher temps and sunlight, face rubbing, etc. It was diagnosed as head shaking with the trigeminal neuralgia. Not a happy diagnosis but it's better to have answers so you can make informed decisions. It's been a few days since your last post, have you continued to have success with night turnout?

                              Wishing you the best.


                              • Original Poster

                                Thanks Highflyer and drawstraws - it's not something I wanted to ever have to deal with, but just like some metabolic horses I've owned in the past, they don't give me much choice.

                                Thanks for asking sevensprings - he is better and he is much better at night. I have continued with nightly T/O except for last night due to heavy rains. He definitely thrives on night turnout. I'm going to continue with the allergy meds for a little bit longer, but I'm having serious doubts that it is truly allergy-related. I will research trigeminal neuralgia since that is new to me.
                                Susan N.

                                Don't get confused between my personality & my attitude. My personality is who I am, my attitude depends on who you are.