Preventing and Handling Eye Injuries

Eye injuries and infections are not uncommon in horses, but minor problems left untreated can quickly become serious and result in blindness if unattended. Here are some recommendations for preventing problems and some guidelines to follow if your horse should sustain an eye injury.

  • One way to prevent problems is to ensure that your horse's environment is safe. Make sure that sharp edges on water troughs, metal buildings, pipes, hooks or other objects are covered, padded, or are inaccessible. Pound in or pull any old nails that may be protruding from fences and other structures.
  • Keep the horse's environment as dust-free as possible.
  • If your horse sustains an eye injury or develops an eye infection, contact your veterinarian immediately. (For more on this see the April 2009 UC Davis Horse Report, from which this article is excerpted.)
  • If the injury is a laceration to the eyelid, clean the area very gently with a saline solution while waiting for the veterinarian. If you don't have one on hand (like the saline solution for contact lenses), you can make some. The ratio is about ¼ teaspoon of table salt to 1 cup of lukewarm water. It should taste like tears.
  • If the injury consists of a foreign object such as a piece of wood that has pierced the eyelid and become embedded, you can remove it but follow up with a full eye examination with a veterinarian to determine the extent of damage. Clean the area very gently with a saline solution while waiting for the veterinarian.
  • If the eyeball itself has a foreign object embedded in it, DO NOT REMOVE IT. Seek immediate veterinary attention as microsurgery may be required to remove the object and save the eye.
  • Put a fly mask on the horse to keep flies off the eye area.
  • If possible, keep your horse in subdued light, such as his stall, until the veterinarian arrives.
  • With all medications prescribed by your veterinarian, make sure that you follow the instructions to the letter, including medicating your horse through the full course of treatment. Do not stop medication because you see marked improvement. This can result in an infection flaring up again. Discard all medications at the end of the treatment course.
  • When working with a horse with an eye problem, be aware that he may have obscured vision and be a little more spooky than usual. Talk gently so you don't surprise him if you walk up on his "blind side."

Information courtesy of The Horse Report, April 2009, and the UC Davis Center for Equine Health. For more information see
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