Equine Veterinary Corner Dr. Courtney Varney answers common questions regarding equine health care.
My horse’s eye is tearing and he is squinting even while in his dark stall, is this really an emergency?
Yes, have your horse examined ASAP. Ocular injuries occur commonly in horses, mostly because of the anatomical positioning of the eyes. When a horse is experiencing ocular pain, symptoms such as squinting, tearing, and swelling of the eyelids are usually the first indications that something is wrong. The eye has the ability to heal quickly if an issue is addressed immediately, but left untreated ocular injuries can deteriorate very quickly resulting in vision loss or even loss of the eye itself.
There are many types of diseases that can affect the equine eye including tumors, bacterial infections, fungal infections, viral infections, and trauma to mention a few. A complete ophthalmic exam must be performed in order to determine the nature of your horse’s problem. The exam will begin with proper restraint of the horse, and sedation of necessary. If the horse is very painful a nerve block may be performed to facilitate the opening of eyelids in order to properly examine the entire eye. A fluorescein dye is used to stain the cornea to check for any ulcerations or abrasions on the surface of the eye. An ophthalmoscope will also be used as a light source to check the anterior chamber of the eye.
After a proper examination has been carried out, the nature of the problem is usually determined. If a corneal ulceration is present, medications will be necessary to prevent/ treat infection, as well as control internal inflammation (uveitis). Antibiotic ointment, antifungal agents, atropine and systemic banamine typically make up a first line treatment. Your horse’s serum may also be used as a treatment to aid in corneal healing. NEVER use steroids to treat an injured eye without first consulting a veterinarian.
If the cause of the problem cannot be determined or if the prescribed treatments are not working, referral to an ophthalmologist may be necessary. A referral center will have the tools necessary to examine both anterior and posterior chambers of the eye correctly as well as all surrounding soft tissue structures and bone.
There are many different ailments that may affect your horse’s eye, all of which require immediate attention. As previously mentioned the eye may quickly deteriorate when diseased, and a simple corneal ulcer may turn into weeks in a hospital or even an expensive surgical procedure. Any questions regarding ocular injuries should immediately be presented to your veterinarian.
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Who is Dr. Courtney?
Dr. Courtney Varney works with Ocala Equine Hospital where her main focus is on the competitive sport horse, specifically Eventers, Jumpers and Dressage horses. Dr. Courtney brings a rare perspective as a veterinarian as she is also an accomplished FEI dressage rider and competitor and has recently been awarded her USDF gold medal. Call her any time 352.843.8503 for your in-season or off-season needs!