The horse’s eyes are vulnerable to injury, infection and foreign bodies. As prominent protrusions jutting from the sides of horse’s head, horse eyes are regularly subjected to contact with a variety of objects, including: fencing, bridles and halters. This makes the horse’s eyes prone to scratching and damage. As an owner, it is important to distinguish between knowing when to treat and when to allow the eyes to heal without intervention. It’s also important to know how to recognize different types of eye related discharge, what they mean and how to treat them.
When examining your horse, should you notice that he is unable to keep an eye open and is continuously squinting (in either one of both eyes,) and appears to be in pain, it is advisable to examine the eye for any discharge. If the eye is swollen and accompanied by a thick, discolored discharge, this may indicate that the horse has an eye infection. It is advisable to have your vet examine your horse to determine both the cause of infection and the recommended course of treatment. Misuse of medication in the eye can have a negative affect and may even lead to vision problems.
If upon inspecting the horse’s eye you discover the discharge to be clear and watery with no odor, what does this mean?
After examining the horse’s eye to ensure there is no underlying injury or issue, if you notice tears continually running down his face, it is likely that he may have a blocked tear duct. Every horse has tear ducts, known as nasolacrimal ducts, around their eyes. Their purpose is to drain the stream of tears which lubricate, cleanse and facilitate movement of the eyes. You will probably never notice these ducts until a problem actually occurs with them! Due to their size and structure – tiny passages which drain the excess tears from the eyes through the nose – they can become blocked. When they block, the passage of tears becomes obstructed and tears will collect, spilling over the bottom lid.
There are a number of reasons why tear ducts may become blocked. The veterinarian can confirm the diagnosis through assessing function of the ducts. The horse may need to be sedated so he is cooperative. Once the horse is drugged, the vet should then add fluorescein dye to the eye and time the passage of the dye to the opening of the tear duct in the nose. If an obstruction is diagnosed, then the ducts can be flushed.
Please note you should never try and flush the tear ducts yourself, it should only be carried out by a trained veterinarian. The vet flushes the duct by running a small tube up through the horse’s nose into the end of the channel. Saline will be introduced into the ducts which will usually clear the blockage. If you are watching, you will know it has worked as you see fluid bubble up from the eye like a fountain.
There are numerous reasons why the tear ducts may become blocked including accumulation of debris, a build-up of equine tear mucus or a structural problem where the duct is narrowed or damaged. For that reason, it is hard to prevent blockages from occurring. Once the ducts are flushed and free flowing, some horses will never have the problem again. Others may develop another blockage within days. In these cases, you may opt to simply leave the duct blocked. It will cause no harm to your horse, even over the long term.
Although there are no specific ways to prevent tear duct blockage, you can help reduce the risk of this happening with effective fly control. The most reliable way to keep flies at bay is to start using Spalding Fly Predators prior to emergence of adult flies. Also, fly repellents, deemed safe to use around and under the eyes, are available and should be used during fly season. This will prevent the flies, who are attracted to the moisture, from bothering your horse.
*Image courtesy of Dollar Photo Club
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