Horse Eye Problems: Injuries, Infections, and How to Treat Them

March 11, 2021

Horse Eye Problems: Injuries, Infections, and How to Treat Them

The prominence and size of horses' eyes are what makes them so striking. However, it also leaves these magnificent creatures vulnerable to horse eye problems, including injuries and infections. You should thoroughly check for horse eye problems at least twice a day. 

When treated quickly, you can clear up infections and injuries in a matter of days. Although you should call a veterinarian when problems arise, you can handle general management of your horse's eye health by yourself.

Here's what you need to know if you think your horse has an eye infection or injury. 

What Causes Eye Infections in Horses?

The main causes of eye infections in horses are bacteria and traumatic wounds. Even minor scratches can give bacteria a chance to thrive and cause eye infections in horses. Bacterial infections will make the horse's eyes cloudy and red, causing excessive tears. 

Uveitis is one type of serious infection that can cause blindness in horses. Your horse may have uveitis if they display hypersensitivity to light or seem to be squinting. A cloudy eyeball is another common symptom. 

The parasite Thelazia is another common cause of infection. Known as the eyeworm, this parasite is transmitted via flies landing on the surface of the horse's eyeball. You will be able to see small worms in the horse's eye if Thelazia is present.

You don't want to leave an infection untreated. It could result in blindness or even full collapse of the eye's structure. In any case, the infection will cause the horse severe pain and should therefore be treated immediately.

How to Spot Eye Infections in Horses

When a horse's eyes are healthy, they will appear clear and bright. The inside of the eyelids should be slightly moist and pale pink in color. You should look out for damage to the eye itself, which would indicate a traumatic wound has occurred. However, here are some other warning signs of eye infections in horses to look out for:

  • Swelling of the eyelids
  • Excessive tearing or tears running down the horse's face (keep in mind that dry winds may make a horse tear up. If there is no wind present, tears could indicate a blocked tear duct).
  • Cut or torn eyelids
  • Discharge
  • Inflammation or redness of the eye, eyelid, or surrounding tissue
  • Presence of tumors
  • Eyelids turned under so the eyelashes rub against the eye (common in foals)
  • White film over the cornea

How Do You Prevent Eye Infections?

Excessive dust is harmful to horses' eyes. To prevent infection, minimize the amount of dust present in your horse's environment. Your horse's hay and bedding should not be too dusty if you want to avoid horse eye problems. 

The best way to prevent infection is to regularly check your horse's eyes and take precautions to ensure no injuries occur. Injuries to the cornea itself are the main reason a horse's eyes become vulnerable to infection. 

What Are The Treatment Options?

If you notice that your horse has symptoms of an eye infection, contact your veterinarian immediately. Most horse eye problems can be treated easily by a vet, but immediate care makes all the difference. 

Actions to Take While You Wait for The Vet

While you wait for a veterinarian, keep flies away from your horse's eyes with a face net. Don't use a fly mask as this could rub against the horse's eyeball, further irritating it. Keep your horse out of harsh sunlight, such as inside their stall.

Your horse will likely be resistant to an examination if they are in pain. For this reason, do not try to force your horse's eyelid open for a closer look. It could cause further damage and also be dangerous for you. Wait for a veterinarian, as they will likely sedate the horse before the examination.

What Types of Treatments Do Vets Use?

Treatment will look different depending on the nature of the horse eye problem. Eyelid rips and tears may require stitches. If something is caught in your horse's eye, such as a splinter or rock, the veterinarian will remove it.

For bacterial infections, your veterinarian will most likely prescribe a topical ointment or gel. Sometimes the horse's own blood will be drawn and made into a serum to irrigate the eyeball. Horse's blood is a healing agent for their eye tissue. 

If Thelazia is the culprit, the vet will remove the eyeworms using forceps. 

Caring for Your Horse After the Vet Visit

If your vet gives you directions for applying topical serums or ointments, follow their instructions exactly. Make sure your hands are always clean when administering ointments. Do not stop your horse's medication regimen just because you see improvements. Follow the vet's schedule exactly, so the infection doesn't return.

Your horse may be jumpier and more sensitive than usual. After all, they're experiencing pain and decreased vision. Avoid sneaking up on them. Approach slowly and speak in a soft, soothing voice. 

What Are The Other Types of Horse Eye Problems?

Ocular injuries are unfortunately common in horses due to the size of their eyes. Objects such as hay, burrs, sharp edges of water troughs or fence posts, and loose nails can scratch a horse's cornea leading to pain and possible infection. 

Here are the most common horse eye injuries and how to spot them.

Eyelid Lacerations

Horses' eyelids can be damaged when they rub up against something sharp. Healthy eyelids are critical to eye lubrication. Therefore, eyelid lacerations can cause dryness and infection if left untreated. 

You'll notice redness and swelling after a laceration has occurred.

Ulcers

Ulcers occur when the cornea is scratched. They are very painful for the horse, so you'll notice they are squinting, tearing up, and squeezing their eyelid shut. 

Foreign Objects

It's common for foreign objects to become lodged in a horse's eye. You might see the object itself, or you may notice your horse squinting or tearing up more than usual.

Facial Fractures

Facial fractures are another horse eye problem. If you notice swelling or depression around the exterior of your horse's eye, this may be the culprit. Facial fractures can interfere with the orbit of the eyeball. An x-ray can determine the extent of the damage. Surgery may be required. 

How Do You Prevent Horse Eye Injuries?

You can prevent horse eye injuries from occurring by keeping your horse's environment free from sharp edges. Keep obstacles out of their path and make sure no loose nails are protruding from fence posts or stalls.

Call your veterinarian immediately if you believe you are dealing with a horse eye injury. You stand a better chance of avoiding infection when the injury is treated immediately.

The veterinarian's treatment will vary depending on the type of horse eye injury. Ulcers will need to be removed. Antibiotic ointments will also be prescribed. Surgical repair is needed in the event of lacerations. The vet may recommend that your horse wear an eye-saver while the wound heals to prevent them from rubbing against something sharp again.  

Conclusion

Whether you think your horse has an infection or another eye injury, remember that immediate care is important. A veterinarian will diagnose the problem quickly and guide you through treatment. However, you can also prevent horse eye injuries by clearing sharp objects from their living space and cleaning dust. 

For more information on horse eye problems and properly caring for your horses, join our mailing list. 




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