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University of Minnesota shivers study: researchers need owner assistance

December 1, 2010     E-mail this page to a friend!

Horse owners who have animals with shivers can help researchers at the University of Minnesota's (UM) College of Veterinary Medicine. Vital research on the equine neurologic disorder shivers is being conducted at the university, and they are seeking horse owners who have animals with shivers to assist them with this effort. The disorder is characterized by excessive hind-limb flexion or extension (commonly seen after a horse backs up), muscle tremors, tail elevation, and/or difficulty in raising each hind limb (which can make shoeing challenging).

Very little is known about the disorder, and the researchers' at UM are hoping to learn as much as possible about the different faces of shivers with the study. They hope to make strides in characterizing the breeds affected, their ages, genders, family histories, locations, and how the disease progresses in these animals.

The team's preliminary research indicates there are many more clinical signs that seem to affect different populations of shivers horses, such as the forelimb and facial muscle tremors noted in some horses. Parallels are being drawn with a human movement disorder called paroxysmal kinesigenic dyskinesia (PKD). PKD is characterized by the induction of abnormal movements stimulated when the sufferer changes direction or position.

In order to take a look at the clinical signs present in a larger population, the team is currently searching for horses with, or suspected of having, shivers. The researchers are asking owners of these animals to complete an online questionnaire and upload a simple video of their horse performing a short series of movements (including walking, circling, having their feet picked up, and backing up).

The researchers hope the questionnaire responses will give them insight as to the possible cause of the disorder and, thus, allow for the formulation of successful treatment regimes. The video submission is also crucial to help them definitively deliver a diagnosis of shivers, and it will allow them to characterize all of the clinical signs that shivers exhibit.

"It would be of great benefit to the study if as many owners of affected horses as possible could fill out the questionnaire and (complete) the associated video upload," said equine medical resident and researcher Alexandra Draper, BVetMed, MRCVS. "If videos are uploaded, an opinion as whether the horse suffers from shivers will be provided within three weeks."

The research is being overseen by Stephanie Valberg, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, a professor in the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine, and the director of the Leatherdale Equine Center at UM.

For more information on the study, to take the questionnaire, or to upload a video of your horse, please visit