What is Pink Eye?
Pink eye is a common eye infection contracted both by humans and animals. The condition is typified by inflammation, redness, and a discharge from the eye. Clear, watery discharge indicates that the horse’s eye duct has become blocked due to the swelling of the eyelid. In the case of serious infection, yellow or green pus will cover the horse’s eye or eyelid, forcing the eye to remain half-shut or shut until treatment is attained. Conjunctivitis may develop unilaterally (occurring in only one eye) or else may strike both eyes. If the pink eye occurs unilaterally, the infection likely stems from a foreign object becoming lodged beneath the eyelid or on the eye, or else from an injury or insect bite. If both eyes become irritated and swollen, the root of the infection is likely an allergic reaction or a bacterial or viral infection. Any type of eye infection may be secondary to a primary illness.
Any injury or change in the appearance of a horse’s eye calls for immediate medical treatment. If you notice discoloration, swelling or light-sensitivity, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Aside from the significant pain and discomfort associated with an eye infection such as conjunctivitis, any bacteria present may harm the structure of the eye or else become systemic, especially in older horses or those immune-compromised. If the horse does have conjunctivitis, the condition is usually quite treatable. Antibiotic ointment, cream, or drops will be prescribed, and possibly a steroid as well to reduce inflammation. Prescription eye ointment or cream will provide immediate relief for your horse, as might gentle saline washes. Untreated equine conjunctivitis may lead to abscesses in the eye, vision loss, and corneal abrasions and ulcers.
Equine conjunctivitis (also called pink eye) is a common eye infection characterized by inflammation, redness, and a watery or viscous discharge.
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Symptoms of Pink Eye in Horses
- Redness of the eye and lid
- Discharge (clear and watery, or yellow/green and viscous)
- Swollen eyelids
- Closed eyelids or squinting
- Adverse reaction to light
- Rubbing the eyes or shaking the head
Causes of Pink Eye in Horses
- Allergic reaction
- Injury or trauma
- Insect bite or face flies
- A bacterial infection
- A viral infection (such as herpes virus)
- Dirty environment (flying dust)
- Secondary infection to underlying illness
Diagnosis of Pink Eye in Horses
Veterinarians see hundreds of cases of pink eye in horses each year. The veterinarian will want the owner to discuss any precipitating events and development of symptoms. If the horse has conjunctivitis, it will be easily diagnosed due to the obvious signs of swelling, discoloration, light sensitivity and typically, some type of discharge. However, the veterinarian may choose to further examine the horse using ophthalmological instruments. As with humans, part of the diagnosis may include the use of fluorescein stain, a technique that reveals any type of abrasion or the presence of tiny foreign particles in the eye. If discharge is present, the veterinarian may take a sample for further examination.
Treatment of Pink Eye in Horses
The first choice of treatment for equine conjunctivitis is a topical antibiotic ointment or cream that will be supplied by your veterinarian. Anti-inflammatory drops may resolve pressure and inflamed tissue in the infected eye. While improvement will be noted within a few days, it is essential to continue the full course of treatment to fight the infection. Your horse will also benefit from gentle cleanings, using a non-irritant such as saline. The veterinarian will outline a full treatment plan to resolve the pink eye. Immediate diagnosis and treatment will give your horse the best chance to retain full vision. Light sensitivity may endure while healing.
Recovery of Pink Eye in Horses
Many horse owners keep extra antibiotic ointment on hand in case the horse develops another case of pink eye. If a horse is at all immunocompromised, there may be a predisposition to eye infections. Horses with allergies may continually experience bouts of pink eye, so keeping medication on hand is recommended.
Many veterinarians suggest that owners fit a fly mask on the horse to keep the eyes protected from bites and insect-borne infection. Irritation caused by dust or small particles of foreign matter is a constant concern for horse owners. In order to reduce incidences of eye infection or injury, keep your horse’s living environment well-swept and clean.