Horses can be born with cataracts due to developmental or heritable causes--known as congenital cataracts. Foals with cataracts often present very early in life, usually at 1 to 2 months of age. Typically, the owners will notice the whiteness in the pupil of one eye almost immediately after birth. This change is often followed closely by the other eye. Visual problems experienced by the foal are noticed through behaviors such as hesitancy to go anywhere without the mare or outright bumping into things. Otherwise, the foals are usually systemically healthy, and the eyes are not painful.

Congenital cataracts in newborn foals are especially amenable to surgical removal. Veterinary attention should be sought as soon as possible. Signs include a milky-appearing pupil or evidence of impaired vision as mentioned above. Immediately before and after surgery, the foal is given a number of medications including topical antibiotics, topical anti-inflammatories (steroidal and nonsteroidal), and systemic anti-inflammatories (usually Banamine).

The surgery is performed using a technology known as phaco-emulsification. This is the exact same technology and equipment used in human cataract surgery. Most of the foals spend about 5 to 7 days in the hospital after surgery. Rechecks are usually required at approximately 2 weeks and 2 months after surgery, although the interval and frequency is determined by the presence or absence of complications.

The most common post-operative problem is glaucoma. During the post-surgical period, the medications are usually reduced. Cataract surgery will usually result in the horse being far-sighted (not able to see things up close), but many go on to live productive lives.

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