Horner’s Syndrome in Dogs

Horner’s syndrome in dogs is alarming to see because it mimics the signs of a stroke or seizure. In reality, Horner’s Syndrome is a common neurological disorder of the eye.

 It happens suddenly and includes a droopy eyelid (affected side), constricted pupil, and an eye socket that looks sunken. You might also notice head tilting, head shaking, pawing at the face, and trouble eating from the affected side.

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Most dogs who get Horner’s Syndrome have no underlying cause.  They call that “idiopathic”.   Horner’s syndrome on it’s own isn’t a big deal. Sometimes, however, there is an underlying condition contributing to the problem, and THAT can be a big deal.

What is Horner’s Syndrome in Dogs?

Horner’s syndrome in dogs is similar (but not exactly the same) as Bell ’s palsy in people. In Bell’s palsy, the 7th cranial nerve is damaged, causing temporary facial paralysis. Like Horner’s Syndrome in dogs, it only affects one side of the face.

In both cases, there is a disruption or injury to the nervous system. In other words, something misfires (or interrupts) the electric pulses that control the eyes and facial muscles.

What Could Have Caused This to Happen?

There is no official cause of Horner’s Syndrome in dogs.  When it happens, it’s essentially the autonomic nervous system (the system that controls automatic functions like breathing and heart rate) misfiring. 

If this has happened to your dog, the veterinarian may want to screen for tetanus, tumors, middle and/or inner ear disease. In addition, things like recent injuries and dehydration will be considered.
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Is My Dog Susceptible?

Any dog can contract Horner’s Syndrome; however, the two most likely breeds to get it are labs and cocker spaniels.


Alternative Treatments for Horner’s Syndrome in Dogs

Moxibustion (Heat Therapy) with Acupuncture

Acupuncture, as you probably know, is the practice of channeling energy points in the body using very fine needles. Horner’s Syndrome in dogs can be treated with a combination of acupuncture and moxibustion as complementary practices.

Moxibustion uses the herb mugwort. It is sealed into a stick (kind of like a large cigar) and burned. As the herb burns, the practitioner carefully applies the heated herb to the areas areas being treated with acupuncture. This is done while the needles are still attached.

Unlikely Side Effects of Acupuncture

When performed by a trained professional, serious side-effects are rare.  In people, some of the most severe side-effects include major hemorrhage, infection, brain stem perforation, the spread of blood-borne disease, vascular damage, punctured organ, heart arrhythmias, burns, scars, and allergic reactions.

Acupuncture is a means of helping the body heal itself faster by correcting imbalances.  Dogs with Horner’s Syndrome benefit from acupuncture applied twice within two days.

Minor side-effects could include skin issues like dermatitis, pain, and bruising. Dogs tend to experience mild pain for up to 2 days after acupuncture treatment.  It’s not unusual for your dog to be a little tired right after.

Unlikely Side Effects of Moxibustion

If performed by a trained professional, there should be no side-effects. However, burning is a possibility if the application isn’t used properly.

Electrostimulation

If you’ve ever had a TENS system applied to your back, you’ll have a good understanding of what this feels like. Essentially, a small electric current enters the body and relaxes muscles.

This therapy, also known as neuromuscular electrical stimulation, uses electrodes and a low electrical current to cause muscle contraction.  The treatment is used in a variety of ways to promote range of motion or to relax muscle spasms.


Hot and/or Cold Laser Therapy

Cold laser therapy is used on specific pathways the same way traditional acupuncture would, but without the needles. This is a noninvasive way to treat the symptoms of Horner’s Syndrome in dogs.

Trained professionals use this to stimulate cell regeneration. It also increases blood circulation, which is essential for healing.  It’s important to distinguish between hot and cold laser therapy:  Cold laser therapy treats the skin’s surface.  Hot laser treatments are designed to affect deep tissue.

Often called low-level laser therapy, cold laser therapy or Class IV laser therapy, by any name, is still a relatively new concept that is being used more recently to treat dogs with arthritis, tendon or soft tissue injuries and to promote wound healing.

Acupuncture Pathways to Treat Horner’s Syndrome in Dogs:

When a dog receives acupuncture to relieve the symptoms of Horner’s Syndrome, the following pathways are used:

ST-4 Meridian (Di Chang). 

The certified veterinarian acupuncturist uses pressure below the pupil, lateral to the corner of the mouth.

This pathway travels around the mouth and lower cheek, through the diaphragm.

GB-1 Meridian (Tong Zi Liao)

This is known as the gall bladder meridian. It has 44 points along the path and is used around the eye socket.

How Quickly Does Acupuncture Work?

It’s thought that acupuncture performed in dogs with Horner’s Syndrome acts very quickly.  Although Horner’s Syndrome will clear up on its own, you could be looking at several weeks, compared to days through acupuncture.

Is There a Cure for Horner’s Syndrome in Dogs?

There is no cure for Horner’s Syndrome in dogs; however, most dogs recover on their own after several weeks. The prognosis is very good for these dogs. 


Horner’s Syndrome Can Develop
Because of:

A. Tumors of the spine or head.

B. Tetanus, also known as Lock Jaw, can cause the symptoms of Horner’s Syndrome.

C. Intervertebral disc damage.

D. Disc damage from car accidents, falls from a distance, and animal abuse, to name a few.

E. Bite wounds to the neck or head can damage nerves causing symptoms of Horner Syndrome.

F. Any type of head injury could trigger Horner’s syndrome in dogs. Car accidents, rough play, and an object falling on the head are some reasons for head injury.

H. Middle ear infections affect people and dogs. They cause pain and inflammation. The inflammation can be a trigger that interrupts nerve activity.

I Didn’t See it Coming

It’s important to remember that injuries and trauma could happen to your dog without you even realizing it.  I often see people driving with their dogs in the back of their pickup. One sudden need to brake and those dogs could be in trouble. A sudden neck jerk, fall, or cranial impact could trigger Horner’s syndrome in dogs…or much worse.

No Treatment Needed for Horner’s Syndrome in Dogs

Although I’ve described some alternative treatments in this post, the reality is that Horner’s Syndrome does not require treatment.

If the veterinarian discovers any underlying conditions, they certainly need to be addressed.  Once at the office, the veterinarian will clearly be able to see what’s wrong with your dog.  If he/she has any reason to suspect something else, the appropriate tests will be ordered. 

It’s important to rule out conditions such as hypothyroidism or tumors, the doctor will order clinical tests.

The Time Line from Start to End

If no underlying disease is found, it could take your dog anywhere from 16 weeks to six months or longer to fully recover.

Healthy dogs with no underlying disease fully recover within seven to eight weeks.

Does Acupressure Cure Horner’s Syndrome in Dogs?

Acupuncture in dogs works by improving blood circulation. The stimulation of the nervous system and the release of “feel good” hormones work together to correct imbalances. A qualified veterinarian professional applies small needles where nerve endings and blood vessels meet in the body.

The Results Are In

Anecdotally, through forums and social media, dog owners rave about the good results their dogs have had with acupuncture treatments. 

The National Center for Biotechnology Information published a systematic review that included the culmination of information from studies, reports, articles, abstracts, conferences, and expert interviews.  The topic was whether acupuncture is beneficial to animals.

The results of the study landed on neutral ground citing no real evidence for or against acupuncture in dogs.  

Getting an Accurate Diagnosis

The most important thing is to get an accurate diagnosis. As mentioned above, Horner’s Syndrome in dogs isn’t a big deal, but it could be if there are serious underlying causes.  Your dog might be at higher risk if he/she is diabetic.

Summing it Up

At the end of the day, the important thing is knowing that Horner’s Syndrome is common, isn’t particularly serious, and will eventually resolve on its own.

In addition, treatments like acupuncture and heat therapy often provide nearly instant results.  Other options include electrostimulation and laser therapy.


I want to thank you for reading this post.  I’ve given you a lot to consider, and I hope you’ve been able to get some valuable information.  If you have any questions, comments, or corrections, I’d be happy to receive them. Just comment in the box below or email me at: [email protected]

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