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Glossoplegia in Large Animals


Jan F. Hawkins

, DVM, DACVS, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University

Reviewed/Revised Oct 2021 | Modified Oct 2022

Glossoplegia, or paralysis of the tongue, is uncommon. Causes in horses include incorrect placement of obstetric snares in neonates during manual forced extraction (delivery), upper respiratory tract infections including strangles Strangles in Horses Strangles is a highly prevalent infectious disease characterized by upper respiratory tract lymph node abscessation secondary to infection with Streptococcus equi equi. The abbreviated terminology... read more Strangles in Horses , meningitis Meningitis, Encephalitis, and Encephalomyelitis in Animals Meningitis, encephalitis, and encephalomyelitis are terms used to describe inflammatory conditions of the meninges, brain, or brain and spinal cord, respectively. These inflammatory processes... read more Meningitis, Encephalitis, and Encephalomyelitis in Animals , botulism Botulism in Animals Botulism most commonly results from ingestion of toxin in food. The usual source of the toxin is decaying carcasses or vegetable material. Clinical signs are caused by flaccid muscle paralysis... read more , encephalomyelitis Meningitis, Encephalitis, and Encephalomyelitis , leukoencephalomalacia Fumonisin Toxicosis in Animals Fumonisins are responsible for two well-described diseases of livestock, equine leukoencephalomalacia and porcine pulmonary edema. Equine leukoencephalomalacia is a mycotoxic disease of the... read more , equine protozoal encephalomyelitis Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) is caused by CNS infection of equids with either of the apicomplexan protozoa Sarcocystis neurona or Neospora hughesi. Common clinical... read more , and cerebral abscessation. Any condition that damages the hypoglossal nerve (cranial nerve XII), which is the major motor nerve to the muscles of the tongue, can result in glossoplegia.

Neonates with glossoplegia must be monitored carefully to ensure they are able to eat. If necessary, a nasogastric tube should be placed in affected foals for supplemental feeding including administration of colostrum, or intravenous plasma should be administered to prevent failure of passive transfer. Foals unable to maintain hydration may require intravenous fluid therapy and anti-inflammatory medication (eg, phenylbutazone, flunixin meglumine, or dexamethasone). Prophylaxis against gastric ulceration is also indicated. If the condition persists for >10 days after birth, the prognosis for regaining normal function is guarded.

Inflammatory diseases and trauma may also result in transient glossoplegia. Occasionally, horses undergoing prolonged dental procedures involving excessive traction on the tongue can develop temporary glossoplegia. The prognosis of glossoplegia depends on the horse’s response to treatment for the primary condition.

In cattle, glossoplegia may accompany severe actinobacillosis Actinobacillosis . There may be complete paralysis of the tongue accompanied by necrosis of the tip. Such conditions occasionally occur in outbreaks in feedlot cattle and may follow a bout of viral stomatitis.

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