Equine Head Shaking Syndrome

image of a white and black horse in the snow

Introduction to head shaking syndrome in horses:

Imagine witnessing your beloved horse suddenly and uncontrollably shaking its head, seemingly in distress. This perplexing behavior is known as head shaking syndrome, a condition that continues to baffle both horse owners and veterinarians alike. In this blog, we delve into the complexities of head shaking syndrome in horses, exploring its symptoms, potential causes, and available treatment options.

Understanding head shaking syndrome:

Head shaking syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, involuntary movements of the head, including shaking, nodding, tilting, or jerking. These movements can range from mild to severe and may occur intermittently or persistently. Affected horses often exhibit signs of discomfort or agitation, such as rubbing their noses or avoiding sunlight.

Symptoms and triggers of head shaking syndrome:

The symptoms of head shaking syndrome can vary widely among individual horses, making diagnosis challenging. Common signs include sudden head movements, excessive snorting or sneezing, rubbing or shaking of the head, and avoidance of light or wind. Triggers for head shaking episodes can also differ from one horse to another and may include sunlight, pollen, dust, stress, or even exercise.

Head shaking syndrome potential causes:

Despite extensive research, the exact cause of head shaking syndrome remains unclear. Various theories have been proposed, including neurological disorders, nerve damage, allergies, sinus irritation, and even dental issues. Some experts believe that head shaking syndrome may result from a combination of factors, making it difficult to pinpoint a single underlying cause.

Headshaking syndrome in horses has often been associated with dysfunction of the trigeminal nerve, which is the fifth cranial nerve responsible for sensation in the face and motor functions such as chewing. The trigeminal nerve plays a crucial role in transmitting sensory information from the head, including the nose and mouth, to the brain. In cases of headshaking syndrome, dysfunction or irritation of the trigeminal nerve may result in abnormal sensory input, leading to the characteristic headshaking behavior observed in affected horses.

Research suggests that various factors, such as allergies, sinusitis, dental problems, or even exposure to certain environmental stimuli, can trigger trigeminal nerve irritation in horses, contributing to the development of headshaking syndrome. Additionally, abnormalities in the trigeminal nerve pathway or its associated structures may also play a role in the pathogenesis of this condition.

Diagnosis and differential diagnosis:

Diagnosing head shaking syndrome requires a thorough examination by a qualified equine veterinarian. Differential diagnoses may include allergies, sinusitis, dental problems, ear infections, or ocular issues. Veterinary assessments may involve physical exams, neurological evaluations, allergy testing, and imaging studies to rule out other potential causes.

Treatment options for head shaking syndrome in horses:

Treating head shaking syndrome in horses can be challenging, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Treatment strategies may vary depending on the severity of symptoms and underlying triggers. Common approaches include antihistamines, corticosteroids, nose nets, face masks, and dietary modifications. In some cases, surgical interventions or nerve blocks may be considered for refractory cases.

Exploring alternative therapies:

In recent years, horse owners have increasingly turned to alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, herbal supplements, and even CBD products, in search of relief for horses suffering from head shaking syndrome. While the efficacy of these treatments may vary, some owners report positive outcomes and improvements in their horse's symptoms. If you have questions on dosing CBD for this condition for your horse, please reach out to our veterinary team at info@vetcs.com

Coping strategies for horse owners:

Dealing with head shaking syndrome can be emotionally and financially taxing for horse owners. It's essential to work closely with your veterinarian to develop a comprehensive management plan tailored to your horse's specific needs. Additionally, implementing environmental modifications, such as providing shade or using fly masks, can help minimize triggers and improve your horse's comfort.


Head shaking syndrome remains a challenging condition that continues to puzzle veterinarians and horse owners alike. While significant strides have been made in understanding its symptoms and potential triggers, there is still much to learn about its underlying causes and effective treatment options. By remaining vigilant, proactive, and open to exploring alternative therapies, horse owners can help improve the quality of life for their beloved equine companions affected by this enigmatic syndrome.

Search our shop