• Open Access

Qualitative and Quantitative Characteristics of the Electroencephalogram in Normal Horses After Sedation


  • Equine Sedation Electroencephalography.

  • This study was performed at the Center for Equine Health, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California at Davis.

  • Poster presented at the 8th Annual World Congress of Veterinary Anesthesia held in Knoxville, Tennessee in September 2003. Abstract published in the WCVA Proceedings in Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia 2004, 31(4):40–41.

  • Submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Pathology in the Office of Graduate Studies of the University of California Davis.

Corresponding author: D. Colette Williams, William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, 1 Shields Ave, University of California, Davis, CA 95616; e-mail:dcwilliams@ucdavis.edu



The administration of certain sedatives has been shown to promote sleep in humans. Related agents induce sleep-like behavior when administered to horses. Interpretation of electroencephalograms (EEGs) obtained from sedated horses should take into account background activity, presence of sleep-related EEG events, and the animal's behavior.


Sedatives induce states of vigilance that are indistinguishable on EEGs from those that occur naturally.


Six healthy horses.


Digital EEG with video was recorded after administration of 1 of 4 sedatives (acepromazine, butorphanol, xylazine, or detomidine). Serum drug concentrations were measured. Recordings were reviewed, states were identified, and representative EEG samples were analysed. These data were compared with data previously obtained during a study of natural sleep.


Butorphanol was associated with brief episodes resembling slow wave sleep in 1 horse. Acepromazine led to SWS in 3 horses, including 1 that also exhibited rapid eye movement sleep. Periods of SWS were observed in all horses afer xylazine or detomidine administration. Normal sleep-related EEG events and heart block, occurred in association with SWS regardless of which sedative was used. Spectral data varied primarily by state, but some differences were observed between sedative and natural data.

Conclusions and Clinical Importance

Qualitatively, EEG findings appeared identical whether sedation-induced or naturally occurring. The startle response and heart block associated with some sedatives may be related to sleep. Alpha2 agonists can be used to obtain high quality EEGs in horses, but acepromazine does not promote a relaxed state in all animals.