Eye injuries in horses are very common. Most horse owners will have to deal with an injured eye at some point or another.
Horses have naturally protruding eyes that leave them very vulnerable to their surroundings. Injuries are usually caused by an object hitting the surface of the eye or, in some cases, deeper into the eye.
The most common injury is a scratch on the surface of the eye, also called a corneal ulcer. The scratch usually occurs from a piece of straw/hay that makes contact with the eye while the horse is eating. However, things as small as a grain of dust or an aberrant eyelash can also cause an ulcer.
There are degrees of injury when it comes to scratches on the eye. Some you need to be very concerned about while others will heal on their own with little intervention.
In general, if your horse sustains an injury to the eye and holds its eye shut, starts squinting or tearing and is sensitive to sunlight, then there is a serious problem that requires veterinary attention.
When the cornea is more seriously damaged, the surface of the eye becomes very inflamed, which will cause the eye to turn blue-white in color and/or there will be a circular area of blue-white on the surface of the eye. This inflammation and injury to the surface must be treated right away to avoid a devastating infection.
The treatment is easy but labour-intensive. Your veterinarian will assess the damage to the surface and then prescribe several eye drops or ointments to be applied to the eye three to four times a day for about a week. These eye drops will fight infection, decrease inflammation and relieve pain.
If an infection does get into the scratched surface, the horse could quickly lose vision and, in some cases, lose the eye.
Corneal scratches and ulcers can be minimized by eliminating edges and sharp objects from your horse’s environment.
Loose nails or cracked buckets should be removed or replaced. Ensuring that your horses aren’t having to stick their heads deep into their hay and limiting dusty stable or outdoor environments are all good preventative steps.
If you suspect your horse has an eye injury, contact your veterinarian right away. Prompt treatment will help to save your horse’s vision.
Chris Bell is an equine veterinarian and surgical specialist who operates Elders Equine Veterinary Service, with clinics in Cartier and Winnipeg. See www.eldersequineclinic.com