Contact Lenses for Horses

While they aren't used to improve vision in horses, soft contact lenses can be used to protect the eye and facilitate healing in horses with non-infected ulcerations. Robert Lowe, BVSc, MRCVS, CertVOphthal, of Downland Veterinary Group in Hampshire, United Kingdom, discussed the use of contacts for horses at the 43rd annual British Equine Veterinary Association Congress held Sept. 15-18 in Birmingham.

"I use them often, on any case with superficial ulceration and no infection," Lowe said. "I think they're quite underused. They're used a lot in dogs and cats, but horses as well as humans are better species for them because the eyelids are tighter and hold the lens in better. There's less chance of them rubbing the lenses out."

Reasons to avoid contacts for a particular horse include reduced tear production, infection, deep corneal ulceration where there's a risk of rupture during lens placement, and abnormal corneal curvature (including raised corneal masses), he said.

Equine lenses come in two sizes--34 mm diameter with 18 base curvature (BC), and 32 mm/17 BC (for comparison's sake, human lenses are about 14 mm/8.60 BC). Lowe recommends using the larger size for horses and the smaller for ponies and foals. The lenses cost about �45 each (about $76 U.S.).

The procedure for inserting a lens is relatively simple, and it is done by a veterinarian with the horse sometimes under sedation. The only real complication, Lowe said, is lens loss or tearing. Torn lenses must be replaced, and very occasionally infection in the horse necessitates removal of the lens and treatment of the infection.

The lenses are removed after the ulceration heals fully (they heal at 0.6 mm/day, noted Lowe), again by a veterinarian.

"In summary, lenses are an excellent treatment for sterile, superficial, stubborn ulcers," he concluded.

About the Author

Christy M. West

Christy West has a BS in Equine Science from the University of Kentucky, and an MS in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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