Staggers & Wobbler SyndromeHorse with Staggers

I mention both here because they are so often confused.

‘Wobbler Syndrome’ is where there is an actual lesion affecting the vertebrae of the neck, verifiable by X-Ray and which is usually only seen in younger horses.

The trouble is that symptoms include ‘unco-ordinated gait’ or moving like they are drunk, giving out or even collapsing in the hind-quarters and falling over, heavy on the forehand, difficulty walking down hill and backing up, which are the exact same set of symptoms seen in horses that have staggers from the grass.

Therefore it is wise to make some urgent diet changes to see if the horse gets better.

If it is a form of ‘Grass Staggers’ you will see improvements within a week.

Too many times this possibility is overlooked and the poor horse is deemed to be a ‘Wobbler’ and put down without any verification of the diagnosis.

Two Types of Staggers
There is a great deal of confusion around about ‘Staggers’. Everybody thinks it is a toxin problem whereas in actual fact there are TWO possible causes

One possible cause is the mycotoxin – Lolitrem B which is produced by the endophyte in perennial rye grass and Tall Fescue (if you are in North America). If your horse is grazing either of these grasses the season for problems with the Lolitrem B mycotoxin is from late summer through to Autumn.

Fungi in general tend to produce myco-toxins in times or regions of humidity (northern parts of NZ and many regions of Australia) and in Autumn these are the times it is beneficial to add Tox-Defy to your horses feed.

The second cause of staggers which we believe is more prevalent, are the mineral imbalances caused by the rapid Autumn grass growth - especially after a drought-breaking rain. This cause of staggers is prevalent where there are cool-season grasses (most of NZ and lower regions of Australia.  Susceptible animals are those who go into Autumn either already  malnourished which means inadequate supplementation of various minerals including salt, calcium and magnesium.

NO amount of toxin binder is going to help the horse if it is the mineral imbalance variety of staggers.

How do you tell the difference? The first way to know is that the Lolitrem B myco-toxin is a feature of Perennial Rye-Grass so if your horse pasture doesn’t contain this grass it won’t be a toxin problem. If your horse pasture is any of the ‘endophyte-free’ strains it won’t be a Lolitrem B problem either, it will be a serious mineral imbalance. Therefore, besides taking the horse off the offending pasture temporarily, you will need to address mineral imbalances by feeding salt and Graze Ezy. Avoid lucerne and clover.



Rye Grass Staggers

which is caused when the endophyte within the rye-grass produces the mycotoxin Lolitrem B which affects the CNS of the livestock.

Dangerous times for this are late summer and autumn.

Grass Staggers

which is caused by the mineral imbalances of rapidly growing grass, basically a lack of salt and calcium/magnesium.

This sort of staggers can happen at any time of the year depending on the weather.

It is very common after a drought breaking rain when all the little green shoots appear. All livestock are susceptible and are in danger of injuring themselves by falling into fences etc.

Signs of Staggers

  • Muscular weakness – giving out in the hind quarters
  • Heavy on the forehand
  • Looks like they’re drunk
  • Standing base wide (see pic)
  • Hypersensitive to sounds
  • The ‘Zonked look’ (Sleepy eyed, ears askew)
  • Difficulty walking downhill and backing up
  • Stumbling over nothing

For every extreme case, where the horse develops full blown staggers and its really obvious, there are hundreds of mild to moderate cases with maybe a touch of these symptoms – do not ignore them!

‘Staggers’ and Other Issues

With most problems like ‘staggers’ you will see warning signs and the horse will recover within a week or two.

Most susceptible are horses who are turned out on over-grazed paddocks which suddenly turn green. With no hay and no salt in their diet those green shoots can cause ‘grass tetany’ and sudden death. 
Allowing your horses to graze them puts them at risk, THEY CAN CAUSE LAMINITIS & HEAD-FLICKING - best to move them into a paddock with longer grass or onto a Dry Lot.

Horses are coming down with ‘staggers’ including the horse in the video clip.

The name ‘Staggers’ gives you a good indication of what happens to horses when afflicted. As you can see they walk like they have had a few too many drinks!

In many cases the hind-quarters ‘give out’ and horses can fall over. In addition their eyesight may be affected plus they can become hyper-sensitive to noise and other stimuli so you need to be very careful when handling them. Put them in a safe environment where they can’t hurt themselves and keep them out of trouble.

What is the Cause?

It is important to understand there are TWO potential causes of ‘staggers’
1. An endophyte fungus in perennial rye-grass which in late summer/autumn can produce mycotoxins which cause staggers in livestock.

2. Mineral imbalances in the grass after drought-breaking rains. This is by far the most common cause and in this lady’s case she had very little rye-grass so it wasn’t likely to be the mycotoxins causing the problem

How can we prevent it?

A. Avoid having your horses eat any new fresh green shoots which spring from the ground after a drought breaking rain

B. Horses that are kept ‘up’ on all their minerals including salt are far less susceptible to such issues with the grass. Add salt to their feeds along with GrazeEzy/SOS whenever grass takes off.

What do we do if the horse develops Staggers?

Remove them from the offending pasture and put them on ad-lib hay. (no rye or clover)
Check salt intake, if you are not including it in the feed make sure you do – at least a Tbsp per feed twice a day for average sized hack.

Thanks to Julie for supplying the before and after clips

Here is what you need to understand about ‘staggers’. Time frames for them to regain co-ordination vary from horse to horse but are usually around 1-10 days. If you don’t see improvements after 2-3 days contact us to help identify what is getting in the way.

What can I do?

Horses that are properly nourished and therefore ‘topped up’ on all their minerals are not usually susceptible.

Problems occur when horses are salt/magnesium depleted especially when the grass suddenly greens up and that’s all they’ve got to eat.

This is where they can get so bad they die from it in a short space of time.

The solution?
Remove the horse from the offending pasture immediatly.
Apply the following dietary/lifestyle changes ... THE SOLUTION

IMPORTANT NOTE: Feeding supplements is always about an interaction between the minerals, not feeding one in isolation, for example, magnesium needs co-factors such as boron, phosphorous  and calcium in order to be efficiently utilised. GrazeEzy is ideal for this situation.