Treating an Eye Infection or Injury: Promptness is Essential

Kroni's eye was swollen and red on Sunday.
Kroni's eye was swollen and red on Sunday!

My horses seem determined to stay on the front page of my blog! In the past three weeks they’ve caused three calls to the vet: first when Freedom hurt his leg out hunting, second when Kroni coliced, and most recently last Sunday, when I arrived to find Kroni’s eye swollen and full of puss. If it was one of my kids, it would have been no problem: a simple case of conjunctivitis that could be resolved in a few days of optical antibiotic ointment.

However, eye injuries in horses are potentially quite serious and can be volatile: delaying treatment can make the outcome much worse. So, although a Sunday visit would mean an emergency vet call, it was not something to leave until Monday. Thank goodness my cell phone has a speaker phone feature. I was very soon talking to my vet while holding a flashlight up to my horse’s eye. My instructions were to see if there was any sign of a white film, which would have indicated a scratch or other damage to the cornea. Luckily, although his eye was red and puffy, it was still clear.

My vet explained that the only true way to determine whether the eye was scratched would be to put fluorescent dye in the horse’s eye. However, since the treatment for a scratch and the treatment for conjunctivitis differs only in the frequency of inserting the triple antibiotic ophthalmic ointment, he said it would be fine for me to start treating the eye today (putting ointment in every 2 – 3 hours) and call for an appointment on Monday. He offered to phone in a prescription to my pharmacy for the ointment but since I had a full tube of erythromycin, I was able to use that. My vet emphasized that you should never use an ophthalmic ointment that contains steroids on a horse.

I was less than optimistic about my chances of actually getting the ointment into the affected eye. I clearly remember how difficult it was to wrestle a 3 year old human onto the sofa, pry their eyelids open and insert the ointment without causing further damage. However, my 1400 pound horse stood quietly while I cleaned his eye with a saline solution and then put in the ointment. He obviously has more faith in my medical skills than my children did. By the third application that day, his eye looked 80 percent better; by Monday, he looked back to normal. Phew! I just hope that since bad luck generally comes in threes, I’ve gotten my full allotment for the time being.

Additional Resources:

Trail Terrors: Eye Injuries

Eye Infections and Injuries in Horses

Eye Emergencies

The Horse: The Eyes Have It

2 thoughts on “Treating an Eye Infection or Injury: Promptness is Essential

  1. Can you share what you use as a method to get saline/ointment in? Went out this morning and two horses had puffy, goopy eyes. Too much “coincidence” to be a scratch, especially since one has two puffy eyes. My TB stood like a saint while I put saline in, tense and clearly hating it the whole time. My rescue mare, on the other hand, was a moving target. I’m wondering if there’s an easier way than what I was trying to do!
    (Oh, and call is in to the vet – I just rinsed with saline to do something to de-goop while we wait.)

Leave a Reply