Any swelling or soreness in your horse’s eye is a key time to call the vet. Yet owners are often surprised when we tell them at our Horse First Aid Course that an eye injury should be taken as seriously as a colic case.
The healthy eye
The outer layer (cornea) should be should be translucent and colourless. The eye should be open and blinking normally with no discharge. If you look at your horse’s eye from the front the eyelashes should point outwards (like angels wings- good way to remember it). Eyelashes pointing downwards are a clear indicator that all is not right in the eye.
If you horse has a sore eye it is often only one eye which is affected, allowing you to compare and contrast with the other side.
This is the most common condition affecting the eye, and is any kind of defect that occurs to the cornea (the outer surface of the eye). It is often not visible to the naked eye and is only clear after applying a stain. Damage to the cornea which is not treated can lead to ulceration and ultimately blindness.
Accidental trauma is the most common cause, and with treatment using antibiotic drops from your vet the eye will return to normal fairly quickly.
This is a condition that affects the horse’s iris within the eye. If the iris becomes damaged, resulting in inflammation this is called uveitis. This can occur as a primary disease, as a result of trauma to the eye, or as part of another disease. When the condition happens repeatedly it is called equine recurrent uveitis.
The eye will appear swollen, redness may be visible and the horse will be very sensitive to light. This is a painful condition, the eye may be closed and will be tearing.
Rapid treatment is necessary to preserve the eye, and you should seek immediate veterinary attention if your horse has a swollen or closed eye.
What should owners do?
Home remedies such as cold tea, or tack shop products (i..e non prescription creams) are not a substitute for the correct medication. These may be helpful if your horse has a slight discharge in the summer from flies, and will probably remove the ‘crusts’ from the discharge.
It is so important that owners don’t re-use an old eye medication without discussion with your vet. Eye drops or ointment will either be steroid or non-steroid, and using the wrong product will damage the eye further. The product may also be out of date, and if it has previously treated another horse (or human) it is likely to be contaminated.
Sadly our vets often recount cases where a horse has lost an eye due to delayed treatment. It seems to be a real misconception amongst owners that you can ‘wait and see’ with a sore or swollen eye.
If you’re interested in joining one of our online Horse First Aid Courses you can register your interest at the link below