The neurological examination should be performed with great care and with age and use differences in mind. The predicament
in old horse neurology is the interpretation of the findings in the "standard" neurologic examination. The boundaries of
normal for many of the neurological examination tests on younger horses need to be broadened for older horses. In some cases,
'normal' for an older horse may be considered 'abnormal' for younger animals. In older horses there are neurological signs
of aging that are, at least clinically apparent in horses and well documented in human patients. Unfortunately, it can be
assumed that some fraction of these horses had age associated reduced neuromuscular function or had osteoarthritis, but were
ascribed neurological deficits and were simply - old. As a general rule a lackadaisical response to any pushing, pulling,
prodding or other stimuli is the norm in geriatric horses. Below are some specific issues that the author has found particularly
Most reflexes in geriatric horses are slowed, as occurs in human patients, and these may not all slow simultaneously. So
a sluggish papillary light reflex, a subdued menace or cutaneous reflex, as long as the finding is bilateral, should not be
considered an issue, but should be noted. Most of these changes occur in geriatric patients in association with neuraxonal
degeneration, accumulation of degenerative axonal bodies, and reduced axonal nutrient flow.
An important thumb-rule to keep in mind when performing a gait analysis during the neurological examination is that when neurological
deficits exist alone, the gait is likely to be arrhythmic. If there is musculoskeletal disease alone, then the gait is likely
to be rhythmic. When both conditions exist, then the degree of rhythmicity is determined by the 2 deficits relative severity
to each other. Hence, a moderate lameness will add rhythmicity to a gait abnormality when the neurological deficit is milder
and vice versa. Also realize that pain can increase sensory input to cortical centers and improve compensatory abilities
in neurological deficits. This seems to be the theory why in mixed disease animals, after a course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory
(NSAID) medication, many times the neurological deficit is more pronounced. In general, mixed system gait abnormalities tend
to be rhythmic, but usually the gait arrhythmia is enhanced by a course of NSAID therapy, as long as the lameness is mild.
So when in doubt, apply NSAIDs for a few days, and then take the horse for a walk on pavement and listen to the gait. In
the author's experience, this rule holds true for aged horses as well.