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Eye Injuries – What to look for

Those big soft eyes; whether they’re brown or even blue, we all love to stare into them. However, being so large has its disadvantages, as our horses’ eyes can be prone to injury. Whether it’s to get that last little nibble of grass on the other side of the fence, or while out riding and hacking, traumatic or penetrating injuries can occur and sometimes without us noticing it straight away.
The most common and obvious to the “naked eye” include eyelid lacerations.
Usually the upper lid is most involved, but all lacerations are extremely important to repair without delay to avoid further damage to the eye itself. Depending on the extent of injury, your veterinarian will most likely need to stitch the eyelid.
Another evident injury is blunt trauma to the eye. Your horse may present with just a swollen eyelid, but the key is not to panic! Call your vet to have them examine the extent of injury through the layers of the eye.
Other injuries may not be so apparent. Scratches or damage to the surface of the eyes can easily become infected and create corneal ulcers, which in turn can progress to severe scarring or rupture.

Signs to look out for painful eyes include:
• Avoiding bright light (standing at the back of the stable for example), or excessive squinting
• Closed eyes, with tear production
• Discolouration of the eye
• Swelling or redness of the eye
• White to yellow discharge from the eye

Your vet will want to examine the eye in a dark stable, with a calm and well-restrained patient, therefore sedation may be heavily indicated. Nerve blocks may also be required to relax the eyelids and allow for a more thorough examination. In addition, a special dye called fluorescein can be used to search for damage to the surface layer of the eye, by staining them in bright green.
Treatment can range from daily management routines to immediate referral for further diagnostics and/or surgery. Medical treatment will usually consist of anti-inflammatory drugs to help reduce the pain, as well as eye drops to administer multiple times a day. Atropine eye drops will help to dilate your horse’s pupil and therefore help with pain relief. Antibiotic drops or ointment may be required to fight off any infections. Although it may be onerous, it is very important to stick to the regular daily administration of these medications.

Finally, horses should be kept in a dark stable, preferably in a low-dust environment.

With a combination of early recognition, rapid assessment and the appropriate treatment, eye injuries can have very successful outcomes. Communicating with your vet is key, and soon enough you’ll both be back cantering head on into the sunset!