Recognize and treat eye problems in equines – The horse

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The horse’s eye is a complex organ with a vital function. The horse is well adapted to its existence as a prey species, with horizontally shaped pupils placed in eyes on the sides of its head that facilitate an almost 360-degree field of view. The horse also possesses an exquisite ability to see movement, due to the high number of motion sensing cells that inhabit the equine retina. For the modern domestic horse, vision may not be so critical for survival, but for peak performance it is very important. Eye injuries, infections, or inflammation not only cause severe pain, but can also progress quickly and permanently affect vision. Therefore, it is essential that owners quickly identify any problems or anomalies and take appropriate action as soon as possible to achieve the best possible result.

Signs to watch out for

Often the first and most subtle sign that you will notice is a change in eyelash position. Look at your horse’s face from the front and eyes from the side. The eyelashes in the affected eye may start to point slightly downward before the disease progresses to the more obvious strabismus. You may notice an increase in blinking or the eye may be completely closed. Other signs include swelling of the area around the eye, excessive tearing, or a change in eye discharge to a thick consistency that is yellow or tinged with blood. Look for asymmetry: horses often have a disease that affects only one eye; compare the eyes to facilitate your assessment. Continually rubbing your eyes is another sign of discomfort that may require immediate attention. Pink, wart-like growths from any part of the eye could represent a type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma that can spread if not treated quickly.

Horses have extremely strong eyelid muscles and can keep their eyes closed, often when you approach to investigate. They might also throw their heads in the air or try to get away from you. If your horse isn’t allowing you to take a good look at his eye, your vet may use sedation and potentially local nerve block to temporarily numb the eyelid and facilitate a detailed examination. If your horse allows you to look at the eye more closely with a penlight, you may notice a general redness; a red, white or yellow region; apparent cloudiness; or the eye may even appear blue.

What to do

If you see any abnormality in your horse’s eye, contact your veterinarian immediately. Never start treating with an ointment that you left behind from a previous problem or from a friend without talking to your vet first. Some ointments can make certain conditions worse. For example, if you apply a steroid ointment to treat uveitis (inflammation inside the eye) in an eye with a corneal ulcer, the ulcer will likely get worse, which could affect the success of the treatment. .

While it may seem counterintuitive, don’t remove any foreign objects embedded in your horse’s eye. Call your vet. In some cases, surgery to gently remove the object is the only way to save the eye.

Avoid putting pressure on the eyeball and remember that your horse could suddenly move its head and cause further trauma if it anticipates that you are trying to touch the eye.

Be aware that horses with eye problems may have impaired vision (temporary or permanent) in the affected eye and therefore may be more frightening than usual. Approach him from his “right” side and try not to surprise him with sudden movements or noises.

Prevent eye injuries

Try to minimize dust in your horse’s environment and frequently inspect your horse’s stall and pasture for any protruding objects or sharp edges that could cause injury. In particular, glue the J-shaped hooks on the handles of the hanging water buckets to prevent tearing of the eyelids.

Fly masks are a great way to protect your horses’ eyes, but remove the mask at least twice a day. Debris, flies, foxtail (brush-shaped flower spikes from particular grasses) and other objects can easily get under the mask and injure your horse’s eyes, and there may be no signs obvious unless you remove the mask to check. Additionally, ill-fitting, in poor condition, or out of place masks can rub the face, eyelids, and even the eyes themselves, leading to corneal ulcers or other trauma.

Above all, remember that eye conditions can progress quickly and lead to permanent blindness. Think of them as emergencies and seek early veterinary intervention for the best results.


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