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Horses are known for their massive stature and majestic
features. Everything from their muscular physique to their large,
lovely eyes leaves us in awe. However, just as horses can injure
their joints and muscles quite easily, ocular trauma is common due
to their eyes’ unique size and shape, and can become dangerous if
not treated quickly.
“There are several features of the equine eye that makes it
quite vulnerable to injury and anatomical features of the equine
skull that contribute to this increased risk for injury,” said Dr.
Leslie Easterwood, Assistant Clinical Professor at the Texas
A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
“The equine head features a complete bony orbital rim and globes
that protrude on each side, leaving the eyes vulnerable to
Ocular injuries in horses should not be taken lightly. If you
suspect that your horse is showing signs of abnormality, it must be
evaluated promptly and accurately. “Owners should be counseled to
consider any abnormality involving the eye as cause for concern
requiring prompt veterinary attention,” said Easterwood. “Owners
should watch out for squinting, tearing, lid swelling, corneal
opacity, and facial asymmetry.”
The first step you should take when evaluating a horse with
ocular or orbital trauma is a complete physical examination.
It is also important that their neurologic status is evaluated
prior to considering sedation for the ocular examination. “Sedation
in the face of an undiagnosed neurologic injury could result in a
lowered threshold for seizures,” said Easterwood. “Owners will
frequently miss subtle neurologic deficits and focus on obvious
Some of the common ocular emergencies in horses include eyelid
lacerations, traumatic globe rupture, ulcerative corneal rupture
with iris prolapse, fungal keratitis, and acute central
“Eyelid lacerations most commonly involve the upper lid, and
course from the side to the middle,” said Easterwood. “These
lacerations should be repaired with the goal to maintain lid
architecture at all cost.” While these injuries are often easier to
diagnose than most other eye emergencies, it is equally important
to seek immediate medical attention.
Another frequent ocular injury, traumatic globe rupture, can
commonly be caused from blunt force trauma to the globe. “Prompt
surgical repair is essential to maintain sight, but be careful to
avoid ophthalmic ointments if there is any chance of a globe
rupture,” said Easterwood.
Corneal rupture due to bacterial and fungal keratitis can hold a
much more guarded prognosis than traumatic globe rupture, and
require prompt diagnosis as well as intensive therapy. A ruptured
cornea can often result in blindness due to scar tissue in the eye
that prevents light from getting to the back of the eye. Treatment
for both bacterial and fungal disease must be vigorous.
Acute central blindness, another common ocular emergency in
horses, may result from traumatic optic neuropathy. Horses that
suffer from this may never be sighted, but can be maintained with
appropriate therapy and management changes. “Permanently dilated
pupils are a poor prognostic indicator,” said Easterwood.
“Anti-inflammatory therapy for this should be initiated, but
recovery is rare.”
It is vital that equine eye emergencies be evaluated promptly in
order to start appropriate therapy. If ocular abnormalities go
untreated, it is possible for there to be a permanent loss of
sight. Just as we take the necessary precautions in preventing and
treating injury to our own eyes, it is important that we do the
same for our horses.
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