Neurologic signs and hyperammonemia in a horse with colic

Leslie C. Sharkey, Shane DeWitt, Cheryl Stockman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


A 23-year-old Thoroughbred gelding was referred for the evaluation of acute onset of ataxia and depression, and a 2-day history of fever. On physical examination, the gelding was profoundly depressed and 10-12% dehydrated. The horse appeared very unstable, with a wide-based stance in the hind limbs, severe symmetric ataxia in all 4 limbs, and proprioceptive deficits in both hind limbs. Nasogastric intubation produced 4 L of brown, fetid reflux, and rectal examination revealed mild small intestinal and cecal distention. Hematologic abnormalities included neutropenia with toxic change, compatible with acute inflammation and endotoxemia, and prolonged coagulation times. Serum biochemical abnormalities included prerenal azotemia, metabolic acidosis, and electrolyte abnormalities consistent with enteritis. Blood ammonia concentration was markedly increased (406 μmol/L; reference interval 4-49 μmol/L), however, serum bile acids concentration and hepatic enzyme activities were within reference intervals. Histopathologic examination of a liver biopsy revealed no abnormalities and results of tests for several infectious agents were negative. Clinical signs resolved with correction of the dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities and with antibiotic therapy. The horse was diagnosed with hyperammonemic neuropathy associated with gastrointestinal disease. In such cases, hyperammonemia is caused by increased production of ammonia by organisms in the gastrointestinal tract in combination with increased gut permeability that facilitates ammonia absorption.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)254-258
Number of pages5
JournalVeterinary Clinical Pathology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Colic
  • Horse
  • Hyperammonemia
  • Neurologic disease


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