Corneal ulcers are quite common in horses and while most respond well and quickly to treatment some horses can suffer complications, says Dr Ian Church.

This happens when corneal stromal ‘melting’ or keratomalacia occurs because of imbalances between naturally occurring proteinases and their inhibitors.

Corneal or melting ulcers can progress quickly and potentially lead to a horse losing its sight hence require urgent attention.

Here’s an example of a horse we recently worked with, and an explanation of our approach.

1 – The problem

This is an eye that had just a tiny pinpoint defect on its eyeball surface the previous day. 

Excessive tearing and squinting are indications of a possible ulcer along with cloudiness in the eye as seen here.

It has been infected with a bacteria known as pseudomonas aeruginosa which also can affect humans causing infection in the blood and lungs, sometimes leading to pneumonia.

In this instance, the infection has caused the characteristic “melting cornea”, leaving the eyeball susceptible to rupture within 24 hours.

2 – The solution

To diagnose the problem, we stain the eye with a fluorescein dye which will adhere to the cornea on areas where the epithelium or first layer is no longer intact.

The green stain shows the extent of the damage to the corneal surface.

This shot shows a rim quite visible outside the stained area with a treatment tube visible.

It is placed into the eye to allow medication to be administered.

This is done rather than applying the meds directly to the eyeball manually which can irritate the horse’s already painful eye and prove quite problematic.

3 – The recovery

In these photos, you’ll see the rim has nearly disappeared indicating improvement in the eye.

Surgical intervention may be recommended for especially large corneal ulcers and normally involves a conjunctival graft.

This procedure is performed under a general anaesthetic.

A last resort option is to have the eye removed.

Horses can still function well and live a normal life with one eye however this is normally career-ending, as stipulated under racing rules.

In this particular case, the process went according to plan. Below you see that the blood vessels are growing in from the sclera (the white on the edge of the cornea) and are nearly at the ulcer. When this happens, the healing process accelerates significantly.

The photo below, taken a month after the initial diagnosis, shows the ongoing success of the treatment.

Contact us today

If you suspect your horse may have a corneal ulcer, it is important to seek an immediate consultation with a qualified equine veterinarian.

Be sure not to apply any ointments to the eye as this may actually exacerbate the problem.

Keep your horse in a darkened stall as you await diagnosis because bright lights may further irritate the eye.

At Newmarket Equine, we provide a dedicated service to the thoroughbred racing industry with the practice having a long and proud history based around the excellence of our staff.

Our vets are experienced in all matters including medical, reproduction and quarantine procedures.

State-of-the-art equipment is provided including digital radiology, digital ultrasound, shock wave therapy, video endoscopy and IRAP processing. 

Contact us today to book an appointment.

The information contained on this article is general in nature and does not take into account your horse’s individual needs. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your horse’s needs, and seek professional advice from a qualified vet.

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