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Your horse’s eye health

By Daniel H. Grove, DVM - June 1st, 2018 - Ask the Vet

AskTheVetThe eyes are extremely important to our equine companions. If we lose one or both eyes, it can be career-ending for our animals. Signs of eye discomfort are blepharospasm (squinting), tearing of the eye, rubbing of the eyes, and changes in the normal appearance of the eyes. This month I will discuss some of the more common eye ailments I see and some tips on what can be done. Before we proceed, I feel I should mention that most eye problems should be seen sooner rather than later. Waiting can be devastating on some of these problems.

Eyelid Lacerations

Eyelid lacerations are extremely common. One Friday evening, I had three emergency pages back-to-back, all eyelid lacerations. If treated promptly, most can be sutured. If no tissue is lost, often times full function returns and there is little to no cosmetic defect. I usually give some sedation, locally anesthetize the skin and repair the laceration. A tetanus vaccine update and some antibiotics are often the only other medications needed.


The uvea is the back part of the eye itself. Some breeds are more prone to the condition, but it is thought that an infectious agent causes the disease, although it cannot always be proven. This area in the eye gets very inflammed and can fill with pus. These conditions are very painful and can cause significant blepharospasm (squinting) and tearing of the eye. The eyes can get a bulging appearance to them and they can appear yellowed. These are many ways these are treated, but anti-inflammatories are very important to reduce the swelling and discomfort.


With this condition, flies land in the corners of the eyes and can deposit the eggs or larvae of one of the stomach worms of horses. This parasite can fester and cause a non-healing wound in the eye. Often times, I find small granules that have formed. These granules and lesions can be very irritating to the eye. Removal of these granules and lesions along with topical steroids and systemic ivermectin usually can get these resolved. Sometimes, multiple visits as the granules continue to migrate to areas that can be accessed are required.

Corneal Ulcers

The cornea is the clear outer layer of the eyeball. It can regenerate quickly, as fast as 24 hours. If it gets damaged, an ulcer, or eroded area, can form. Trauma from an external source is the most common cause. These can be very painful, cause significant tearing, and change the color and appearance of the eye. They are usually easy to diagnose on an ophthalmologic exam with a special stain. The stain highlights the ulcer to make it clearly visible. They can become infected with bacteria or fungi. They are usually treated with antibiotics or antifungals, anti-inflammatories, and atropine. It is very important to not put any eye medications with a steroid in these. The steroids can make them worse and more difficult to treat.

These four conditions are the most common eye problems I see. With the exception of habronemiasis, they should all be seen quickly to get them under control and have the best chance for a positive outcome. Each veterinarian will have their own way to treat these conditions, so if you notice something awry, contact them right away!


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