Updated: Jan 25
The eyes of horses are enormous and beautiful, and they are set in a position of prominence on their faces. Unfortunately, due to these qualities, it is quite simple for horses to get eye injuries.
According to Dr. Nicki Wise, an ophthalmologist at Washington State University, corneal ulcers are the most prevalent eye issue seen in horses.
"A severe injury is almost always the cause of an ulcer. An ulcer may be caused by anything as trivial as a person's eye being scratched by a limb of a tree or having a piece of hay get lodged in their eye. Most of the time, owners are clueless as to what caused their horse to get an injury.
The thin, transparent covering that covers the front of the eye is called the cornea.
The cornea is made up of a few different cell layers and is only approximately two millimeters thick on average. Abrasions are the most common kind of skin injury, and they are also the most treatable. Abrasions involve the epithelium, which is the outermost layer of the skin. Ulcers are considered injuries that penetrate into the second layer, which is known as the stroma, and they have the potential to cause significant harm if they are not treated.
Squinting, severe tearing, swelling around the eyelids and mucous membranes, and potentially pus-like discharge are indicators that a horse's eye has been damaged.
"Owners will likely witness their horse squinting or keeping an eye shut, and the eye may be watery and sensitive to light," added Wise. "The eye may also be sensitive to light."
In the event that you see this, you should contact a veterinarian to inspect the horse. They are able to evaluate whether or not there is an ulcer and the depth of the ulcer, which is necessary in order to choose the appropriate treatment.
She said that the majority of corneal ulcers are straightforward to repair and do not call for extensive diagnostics or therapy.
But if an ulcer is not treated, it may soon get infected with bacteria or fungus, which would make the condition much worse and might end in the loss of the eye or blindness within a few days. "But if an ulcer is left untreated, it can quickly become infected with bacteria or fungi,"
Horses who have had eye injuries may not want their heads handled if they are in pain. In order for a veterinarian to do an assessment on a horse, they would often sedate the animal or use a local anesthetic to cover up the damaged eye. The depth to which the damage has gone into the cornea is often evaluated with the use of a fluorescent stain.
It is possible to treat a superficial ulcer with a topical antibiotic ointment if the lesion is not too deep. According to what Wise indicated, the recovery period might range anywhere from a few days to many weeks.
"It is extremely essential that owners do not use antibiotics out of their own medication cabinet because if steroids are in those ointments, it might make the ulcer much, much worse," says the veterinarian. "It is very important that owners do not use antibiotics out of their own medicine cabinet."
Horses who have corneal ulcers will most likely be sensitive to light, thus it is advisable to wear a fly mask or keep them in a darkened stall until the eye is healed. This should be done until the eye is completely healed.
"The prognosis for the majority of horses who undergo treatment is favorable," Dr. Wise stated. "The only exceptions are if the eye perforates or a melting ulcer forms."
It is possible for some bacteria to cause melting ulcers because these bacteria create enzymes that damage the stroma. These ulcers may get very big, can occur very fast, and almost always have the appearance of dissolving or looking like jelly. If the condition is not addressed, the eyeball may burst, which would result in the patient losing sight.
"For more severe instances, we have surgical techniques for stabilizing the eye and treating the infection by introducing an indwelling catheter into the eye to administer continuous medicine," she added. "These operations need an indwelling catheter to be placed into the eye."
This is particularly helpful for horses who do not like having their eyes treated and have issues that need the healing process to take many weeks.