Eye problems in horses are particularly common in the summer, with dust, flies and allergies proving a nuisance. You may notice a red and weepy eye and just put this down to a bit of irritation, however do not forget that far more serious eye conditions can present in exactly the same way!
What are the common summer problems?
CONJUNCTIVITIS - One of the most common summer eye problems is conjunctivitis, which is the inflammation and infection of the mucous membranes surrounding the eye. Rubbing of eyes to get rid of flies or irritation from pollens can often lead to trauma of the sensitive mucous membranes. This subsequently allows entry to bacteria that are left behind by the flies and rubbed into the membranes. Your horse may then present with swollen sore eyes. They will have reddened conjunctiva with weepy eyes due to increased tear production, but can also have a more mucoid, thicker discharge in worse cases. With conjunctivitis, the eyeball itself is not affected, however if left untreated and your horse is continuing to rub their eyes on anything they can, this can lead to trauma and damage of the globe itself and therefore more serious problems can follow. If you see any of these signs, do not hesitate to contact your vet in order for a closer examination and appropriate treatment.
CORNEAL ULCERS – In the summer, our horses tend to be out longer with more time to be mischievous in the fields! We often hear of the ponies burrowing into the hedgerow in order to get every scrap they can, unfortunately with that comes increased risk of pokes in the eyes by stray vegetation! Overzealous itching on posts and rails to get flies off their faces is also not uncommon and again can lead to eye injury. Corneal ulcers occur when the surface of the eye itself is damaged and are very painful. Your horse may appear to have a slightly red, squinty and weepy eye so could easily be mistaken for conjunctivitis. It is important to get these treated as soon as possible as, if left untreated, what can start as a small pin point ulcer could then develop into something far more catastrophic. Your vet will be able to provide pain relief and appropriate eye medication to prevent deterioration and infection. When treated promptly and without complications, most ulcers should heal within 2-7 days depending on size and nature.
LACERATIONS – Again with flies and allergens causing increased irritation, a head shake or rub in the wrong direction could easily lead to a bash of the eye on an exposed a nail in a fence or a rogue branch. Lacerations to eyelids may be obvious by wounds or active bleeding and veterinary attention should be sought as soon as possible especially if involving the lid margins. If lid margins are not correctly realigned, long term corneal problems may occur and can be very serious.
How can I minimise risks of eye problems?
Being vigilant with insect control and checking for hazards are key to reducing the risk of eye problems. Check thoroughly for any potentially hazardous sharp edges, nails and hooks in both the fields and the stable, as we all know if there is one wayward nail in a 20 acre field, a horse is bound to find it! Also ensure all vegetation is appropriately trimmed to keep the pasture clear. Fly masks are a useful tool in preventing bugs from physically reaching the eyes, as well as helping provide some shade from the sun in those (relatively rare) sunny moments, which can also be irritating. Insecticide sprays are useful overall deterrent for the flies also.
To conclude, eye problems are never to be taken lightly. So if you have any concerns or spot any of the above signs in your horse, then please do contact your vet as soon as possible for further advice.