Eye Problems In Horses; Link To Foal Loss Unknown

Dr. Claire Latimer is a specialist in veterinary ophthalmology, the study of animal eyes. Since May 1, she has seen a surprising increase of eye problems in horses in Central Kentucky that fall into two distinct groups. She said the first syndrome starts with a horse displaying an acute onset of a painful, swollen eye that has discharge. The eye is cloudy with corneal edema and yellowish material in the anterior chamber. When the anterior chamber begins to clear, Latimer said the posterior chamber is visibly involved. That indicates a poor prognosis for vision.

She has seen 13 horses with this same type of acute clinical onset, and eight of them were yearlings. Others have ranged in age from a foal to a 6-year-old.

Latimer added that this syndrome is unusual in that there is apparent inflammation, but the eye's response to anti-inflammatories is not good.

"The eyes are puzzling," she said. "The eyes are destroyed so quickly in the face of aggressive supportive care that I feel helpless."

The treatments have varied, but have included systemic antibiotics, systemic and topical corticosteroids, and anti-inflammatories. Diagnostic tests to date have eliminated some potential causes, but have failed to provide an explanation for this syndrome or these syndromes.

A second population of horses with unique eye problems are foals a couple of days old. These neonates are showing blood and fibrin in the eye. Some of the stillborn foals also had blood in the eye. Latimer said according to what she has seen so far, "I think the foals will get past it. I'm seeing a restored visual pathway."

The obvious question is whether these eye syndromes are in any way associated with the fetal/foal loss syndrome and other problems happening in the horse population this spring in Kentucky and other states to the north.

"There certainly has been a cluster of cases in the same timeframe," said Latimer, "but it isn't occurring in the same population. It's not the aborting mares. I have yet to look at an aborting mare with ocular problems. These are two neonates and the group dominated by yearlings. These may be different disease process brought about by the same causative agent or exposure (as the foal loss).

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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