EEVS Monthly Newsletter



Eye emergencies

Because of their prominent location on a horse's head, eyes are prone to injury. Even under the most diligent care in the cleanest environment, eye trauma is very common. Horses rely so much on their eyes and any insult to the eye is taken very seriously by your veterinarian. Prompt attention and an appropriate plan of action are important to maintaining vision and in some cases, the eye.


If you observe these signs, your horse should receive emergency veterinary attention:

  • Squinting, holding eye closed
  • Excessive tear production, especially if there is any blood present
  • Swelling or laceration of eyelid or tissue around the eye
  • Face is "pulled to one side" or asymmetric
  • Cornea is blue or opaque
  • Your horse seems to have difficulty seeing or is especially spooky for no obvious reason


Upon arrival, your veterinarian will likely have some questions for you about your horse's eye. Did your horse seem fine this morning at feeding time then came in from the pasture this afternoon with a swollen eye? Have you noticed any neurologic signs in your horse such as stumbling or weakness? These questions, in additional to a physical examination and ophthalmologic examination, will help your veterinarian arrive at a diagnosis. Now we will discuss some of the diseases that can cause the signs listed above.


Eyelid lacerations

Eyelid lacerations are common in horses and are often very noticeable. If your horse appears to have torn its eyelid, DO NOT make any attempt to remove any piece of skin hanging from the eyelid. There is very good blood supply here and your veterinarian will be able to suture the laceration in a two-layer closure that helps maintain the eyelid margin. Fortunately, most of these heal very well with surgical repair.


Corneal ulceration (Ulcerative keratitis)

The cornea is the outermost, transparent portion of the eye that appears dark due to the underlying iris and pupil. The cornea is the first line of defense for the internal structures of the eye and therefore is commonly injured by debris in the air or by the horse hitting something with its head. Owners often first notice the horse holding its eye closed or squinting with excessive tear production. Your veterinarian will stain the cornea with a dye that will allow them to examine the cornea to look for an ulcer, or defect. Ulcers are treated with topical medications placed in the eye 3-4 times daily to prevent infection and inflammation. The majority of corneal ulcers heal over time with medication. However if they are not caught early enough or are severe, they can sometimes lead to blindness or loss of the eye.


Acute central blindness

Blindness in horses is rare, and can be scary if it occurs suddenly. There are very few disorders that can cause sudden blindness. Often, the horse has an ongoing ocular disorder that progresses to blindness in one or both eyes. Horses with gradually progressive blindness may first have difficulty seeing at night, and elevate their head, or "star gaze," in attempt to visualize in dark areas. These horses also start to display reluctance to enter dark areas such as barns or trailers that they normally willingly enter.


Horses with sudden blindness can be very dangerous to be around because they haven't had time to adjust to their limited vision like the horses described above. If you believe your horse has become suddenly blind, call your veterinarian because it is important to determine a cause and if sight can be restored. Metabolic abnormalities, neoplasia (cancer), nutritional imbalances, infections, toxins, and traumatic events can cause sudden blindness.


Blunt head trauma

If you observe your horse undergo blunt head trauma such as a kick, the eyes may have suffered some trauma in addition to the rest of the head. Sometimes the trauma is forceful enough that one or both eyes can actually rupture, which will be immediately noticeable to you, the owner. The horse may also become blind in one or both eyes. If the eyes or eyelids appear abnormal, or if your horse develops neurologic signs or blindness following head trauma, call your veterinarian immediately.




Equine eyes are amazing!

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Exclusively Equine Vet Services PC
PO Box 721777
OKC, OK 73172
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"No hour of life is wasted, that is spent in the saddle."

- Winston Churchill