Equine eye injuries, even minor scratches, can turn into a serious problem. Bacteria or fungi have the potential to create an eroding ulcer of the cornea that threatens vision loss or even loss of the eye. Call your veterinarian immediately any time your horse shows signs of an eye injury. Rapid intervention can shorten healing time, return the eye to function as quickly as possible and diminish your horse’s pain.

A corneal abrasion or scratch is a common eye injury incurred by horses. This can be quite painful for your horse, and you’ll notice telltale signs of a problem:

  • He squints in the sunlight and/or holds his eye closed
  • Eyelashes of the affected eye often point downward
  • A weeping clear or yellowish discharge may be present
  • There may be swelling and redness of tissues around and within the eye

What can you do in the meantime until your vet arrives? You can attempt to irrigate the eye with saline solution, which might loosen debris or a foreign body—sterile saline is available on the supermarket shelf with the contact lens supplies.

If you have antibiotic ophthalmic ointment on hand that is specifically intended for use in the eye, you can medicate the eye. Until your vet diagnoses the nature of the problem, do not use any eye ointment that contains a corticosteroid as this will worsen a corneal ulcer.

Broad-spectrum anti-bacterial eye ointments or drops, without steroids, may be applied every 2-3 hours to give your horse some relief. Human ophthalmic lubricating ointments (such as LacriLube) may be used as a substitute. However, general wound medications should never be used in the eye as they can cause a serious chemical burn to your horse’s eye.

If the eye is badly damaged and/or the globe itself appears punctured, it is important to cover the eye with a moistened compress bandage until your veterinarian can arrive.

By Nancy S. Loving, DVM