Owner survey of headshaking in horses

J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2001 Aug 1;219(3):334-7. doi: 10.2460/javma.2001.219.334.


Objective: To determine signalment, history, clinical signs, duration, seasonality, and response to various treatments reported by owners for headshaking in horses.

Design: Owner survey.

Animals: 109 horses with headshaking.

Procedure: Owners of affected horses completed a survey questionnaire.

Results: 78 affected horses were geldings, 29 were mares, and 2 were stallions. Mean age of onset was 9 years. Headshaking in 64 horses had a seasonal component, and for most horses, headshaking began in spring and ceased in late summer or fall. The most common clinical signs were shaking the head in a vertical plane, acting like an insect was flying up the nostril, snorting excessively, rubbing the muzzle on objects, having an anxious expression while headshaking, worsening of clinical signs with exposure to sunlight, and improvement of clinical signs at night. Treatment with antihistamines, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, antimicrobials, fly control, chiropractic, and acupuncture had limited success. Sixty-one horses had been treated with cyproheptadine; 43 had moderate to substantial improvement.

Conclusions and clinical relevance: Headshaking may have many causes. A large subset of horses have similar clinical signs including shaking the head in a vertical plane, acting as if an insect were flying up the nostrils, and rubbing the muzzle on objects. Seasonality and worsening of clinical signs with exposure to light are also common features of this syndrome. Geldings and Thoroughbreds appear to be overrepresented. Cyproheptadine treatment was beneficial in more than two thirds of treated horses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Allergic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Behavior, Animal* / drug effects
  • Cyproheptadine / therapeutic use*
  • Data Collection
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Horse Diseases / diagnosis
  • Horse Diseases / drug therapy
  • Horse Diseases / etiology*
  • Horses
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Seasons
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Anti-Allergic Agents
  • Cyproheptadine