Horse Eye Problems
Horse eye problems are one of the most common ailments among horses. There are a number of different conditions that can affect your horse's vision.
If your horse has an eye condition or infection, it could lead to swelling, tearing, drainage, discoloration, cloudiness, or sensitivity to light. Other conditions may not affect the eye directly but instead cause issues with the area surrounding the eye, like the eyelid.
These conditions can also have an impact in other ways, such as poor performance, reluctance to move, nervous behavior, stumbling or clumsiness, and an increased risk of injuries.
If your horse shows any concerning signs, then you should have them examined and diagnosed as soon as possible to avoid any serious complications.
Signs of Horse Eye Problems
When a horse has a condition that affects their sight, it can also have an impact on their overall performance.
Some of the common signs that a horse may have eye problems include:
- Clumsy behavior
- Reluctance to move
- Spooked behavior
- Head shaking
- Pastern Dermatitis
Common Types of Horse Eye Problems
There are many different issues that can impact a horse's sight. These can be mild to severe issues, and while one eye is usually affected, there are instances where both might be.
Some of the eye problems that horses commonly experience include:
When a horse has corneal ulcers, it means that they have breaks in the cornea of their eyes. This condition is also known as ulcerated keratitis. The most common cause of this condition is plant material becoming lodged in the eye.
If your horse suffers from a corneal ulcer, then they will likely experience symptoms including squinting, redness of the eye, eyelid swelling, and discharge.
Conjunctivitis is another horse eye problem that more commonly occurs in the summer months. It is known to cause inflammation of the inner lining of the upper and lower eyelids.
Some common symptoms of conjunctivitis include discharge, redness, and swelling of the eye.
This condition can display symptoms similar to those of other conditions, which makes rapid diagnosis and treatment important.
Uveitis, which also goes by the name of Moon Blindness, is an inflammatory condition that affects the middle layer of the eye.
One of the leading causes of blindness in horses is caused by complications of this condition.
There are a number of different causes, such as bacterial or fungal horse eye infections, and they can be either acute or chronic.
Cataracts are caused by tiny, opaque spots on the lens of the eye. This can be mild or severe, with varying levels of blindness. If your horse has cataracts, then you may notice a white lens or white discoloration in the pupil opening.
This condition can be either genetic or caused by trauma or environmental factors such as toxins. The vet may choose to treat mild cases with anti-inflammatory medications or by referring them to a veterinary ophthalmologist.
Keratomycosis is a fungal eye infection in horses that more commonly occurs in hot and humid climates during the warmer months.
If your horse develops this infection, then you may notice excessive blinking, sensitivity to light, pain, discharge from the eye, corneal haze, and/or white or yellow coloring to the eye.
This condition can be either ulcerative or non-ulcerative and falls into three basic categories:
- Stromal ulcerative
- Stromal abscesses
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the most commonly seen eye cancer affecting horses. Some of the areas that it most commonly develops in include the third eyelid, conjunctiva, cornea, or eyelid, but it may spread to the orbit.
When affected by SCC, you may notice pink, raised, roughened, masses or erosive sores on the eyelid. The affected area may be inflamed, ulcerated, or contain dead tissue.
While rare, there have been known cases of squamous cell carcinoma spreading to other parts of a horse's body.
Sarcoids are another horse eye problem that occurs on the eyelid. Many vets believe bovine papillomavirus to be the main cause, and this condition often occurs in younger horses.
A horse may have one or several sarcoids, and while they may be aggressive, they are non-cancerous. The size and shape of these lesions can also vary, and they may occur in other areas of the body.
There are five types of sarcoids that can develop, these are occult, verrucose, nodular, fibroblastic, and mixed.
Diagnosing and Treating Eye Problems in Horses
If your vet suspects a problem with your horse's eye, they will first need to sedate your horse. If the issue is expected to be on the surface of the eye, they will perform fluorescent staining and an examination to identify the extent of the lesion.
Once the issue has been diagnosed, a treatment plan will be developed, which may or may not involve surgery or medications.
There are three ways to deliver medications to the horse’s eye:
- Local ocular (injected)
The delivery method depends on which part of the eye needs treatment. The conjunctiva, cornea, anterior chamber, and iris are best treated with topical therapy such as eye drops.
In many cases, the condition will cause pain, which can make treating your horse with eye drops difficult or even dangerous. Therefore, your vet may explore other possible solutions.
Many horse eye problems and infections can have a similar set of symptoms, which makes early diagnosis important to ensure the correct treatment plan. Contact your vet at the first sign of eye issues to schedule diagnostic testing.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding animals or professional advice regarding equine regulations. For the diagnosis of your animal's condition and help to navigate rules governing the care and transportation of equine animals, please make an appointment with your vet.