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Buying a Horse With Shivers

March 4, 2013

Dr. Holly Bedman explains the points you should consider before buying a horse with shivers.

Ask an ExpertQuestion:

I have the opportunity to purchase a very nice horse at a favorable price due to shivers. I have read that Vitamin E can help control the problem. What are your suggestions?

For the answer to this question, we consulted Dr. Holly Bedman with the American Association of Equine Practitioners.


The exact cause of shivers is unknown; however, genetic, traumatic, infectious, myopathic or neurological factors have been suggested. At the present time, there is no cure for shivers, and few treatments have been found to be effective in controlling this disease. Some cases have reportedly shown improvement in clinical signs following periods of rest, however once exercise resumes, clinical signs often return. Dietary modification to a high-fat, low-carbohydrate feed, along with a regular exercise program and daily turnout, may reduce the frequency of muscle spasms in some cases. Additionally, supplementation with a natural source of Vitamin E (1,000 IU/day) may improve clinical signs in some horses with shivers.

Unfortunately, the long-term prognosis for athleticism, and in some cases life, for horses with shivers is poor due to the progressive nature of the disease and lack of effective treatments. Over time, spasms may occur more frequently and worsen in severity. In severe cases, muscle wasting and weakness may also develop, necessitating humane euthanasia.

If you are considering purchasing a horse with suspected shivers, consultation with your veterinarian is recommended. He or she will most likely recommend a thorough evaluation to confirm the diagnosis by ruling out other possible

causes of any gait abnormalities that are present.

Learn more about shivers in horses and current ongoing research through the University of Minnesota’s Equine Neuromuscular Lab.

— Dr. Holly Bedman, member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners