Equine self-mutilation syndrome

Veterinary advice should be sought before applying any treatment or vaccine.

Equine Self-mutilation Syndrome

Flank-biting, Self-directed Aggression

Equine self-mutilation syndrome (ESMS) is a behavioral condition in predominately male horses, involving sudden, unexplained and repeated self-mutilative attempts or actual flank-biting behavior in horses. It is considered very similar to Tourette's syndrome (TS) in humans.

Equine self-mutilation syndrome (ESMS) in horses versus Tourette's syndrome (TS) in humans: Comparison of similarities
ESMSTS
Clinical signsHead and neck motor tics
Hemiballismus (constant, undirected, purposeless striking out with either a forelimb or hindlimb)
Occasional bizarre vocalizations
Fixation with environmental boundaries
Head and neck motor tics
Hemiballismus (constant, undirected, purposeless striking out with either a forelimb or hindlimb)
Occasional bizarre vocalizations
Fixation with environmental boundaries
Age of onsetYoung horsesJuvenile
Gender predispositionGeldings and stallionsMales

Symptoms

Head and neck twitching
Spontaneous kicking or pawing
Bizarre,unsolicited vocalizations
Excessive head tossing
Constant stiffing
Sudden explosive bouts of self mutilation or flank-biting

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam

Treatment


TreatmentDetails
Naltrexone
Morphine
Acepromazine
Buspirone
Long-acting tranquilizersFluphenazine, reserpine
Increased activity
Increased social contactProvide with a companion (other horse(s), goat, miniature horse, etc)
Change in dietMinimize or eliminate all grains and concentrates
Physical restraint to protect from injuryGrazing muzzle, sheet, neck cradle, short tethers, side poles, hobbles

Prevention

  • Maintaining a stress free environment

Scientific Research References

Good Overviews