Archive for the ‘Horses’ Category

Korean War vets honor hero horse

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Korean War Horse

Sgt. Joseph Latham, of the 5th Marine Division’s recoilless rifle platoon, trained Reckless during the Korean War. He also fed her scrambled eggs. Coca-Cola and occasionally whiskey in addition to her diet of barley, sorghum, hay and rice straw. On cold nights, Latham let Reckless into his tent to sleep next to the stove.

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Animal Connections: Our Journey Together

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

smithsonianHave you ever wished a popular Smithsonian exhibit could come to you rather than the other way around? Thanks to an exciting collaboration initiated by the AVMA and joined by the Smithsonian and Zoetis, “Animal Connections: Our Journey Together” recently made its debut at the AVMA Convention. Housed in a mini-museum inside an expandable 18-wheeler, the exhibit features interactive displays introducing visitors of all ages to the many roles veterinarians play and the complex bond between humans and animals. View a video from Tuesday’s public opening of the exhibit.

Texas A&M veterinary school adds hands-on experience in addressing cruelty, trauma, neglect

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Houston SPCA LogoTexas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences has teamed with the Houston SPCA to give fourth-year veterinary students a chance to work alongside experts in investigating and treating dogs, cats, horses and other animals that have been subject to neglect and abuse. “We will be graduating new generations of vets who will disseminate throughout Texas and beyond with a deep understanding of animal welfare and shelter medicine,” said dean and veterinarian Eleanor Green. The Bryan-College Station Eagle (Texas) (7/12)

By Brooke Conrad brooke.conrad@theeagle.com

The Houston Society for The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences announced Thursday a partnership that will offer veterinary students a deeper look into cases of cruelty, trauma and neglect in a wide array of animals.

The Houston SPCA, the largest animal protection agency in the Gulf Coast area, investigates more than 9,000 cases of animal abuse and neglect and advocates for more than 50,000 animals a year. Through the partnership with the flagship university, fourth-year veterinary students at Texas A&M will undergo a two-week program at the SPCA, working alongside experts in cruelty, trauma and neglect to dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, farm animals, exotic animals and native wildlife, it was announced at a news conference in Houston.

Though Texas A&M veterinary students already receive a world-class, hands-on education, Eleanor Green, the Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said students will experience an “intimate immersion in the handling of animal abuse cases” because of the partnership.

“We will be graduating new generations of vets who will disseminate throughout Texas and beyond with a deep understanding of animal welfare and shelter medicine,” Green said. “It’s truly a win-win for the students, Houston SPCA and society.”

Green said some students have been exposed to cruelty cases, but the partnership will allow students to work with law enforcement in investigating the cases — something they likely haven’t done before. They’ll also experience going to court to see how the cases play out.

The first group of students began their rotations on June 3. Joe Pluhar is in the midst of his rotation, an experience he called “unique, both in volume and variety.”

Pluhar, who said he hopes to become an equine veterinarian after graduation, was able to care for a horse this week that had been mistreated and was unable to walk.

“There’s no other type of education opportunity like this for vet students anywhere else in the country,” Pluhar said. “[By the end of the rotation] we will have done upwards of 30 surgeries. At other schools, some students do maybe two.”

During their rotation, students live near the SPCA in an apartment that is funded by the college and outside donations. The SPCA is working to add a housing units on to its existing facility, Green said.

Kenita Rogers, associate dean for professional programs at the college of veterinary medicine, sparked the partnership over a year ago after she was urged by a longtime Houston vet to contact the SPCA.

“The reason this is so special is because it’s the largest partnership of its time,” Rogers said. “Just the breadth of species that are involved here — they handle up to 1,000 cases every day. It’s not just dogs and cats. It’s pocket pets, horses, farm animals and native wildlife of 240 species every year. There’s an incredible breadth of knowledge there to share with our students.”

Equine survivor’s story shines light on rare infection

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

q-acvim-animal-survivorQ, a yearling Rocky Mounted Saddle Horse in Washington state, recovered from proliferative enteropathy, a rare infection caused by the bacterium Lawsonia intracellularis. Veterinarian Chantal Rothschild suspected the rare infection after blood tests showed extremely low protein levels, a key indicator of the infection, which often leaves the animal unable to absorb dietary protein. Dr. Rothschild initiated treatment before receiving test results, saying, “If we’d waited, we might not have been able to save him.” Q’s treatment and recovery earned the case recognition from the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. The Horse (6/14)

Trainer Julie Blacklow thought Q’s quiet demeanor and willing attitude had to do with her team’s excellent training skills at Rosebud River Ranch in Snoqualmie, Wash. In reality, the yearling Rocky Mounted Saddle Horse gelding was critically sick with proliferative enteropathy, a diseased caused by the bacterium Lawsonia intracellularis and something Blacklow, a veteran horsewoman, had never heard of.

She’s not alone.

The American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) is trying to change that by making owners more aware of L. intracellularis in horses. At the 2013 ACVIM Forum in Seattle, the organization introduced Q as part of its “Animal Survivor” program, which highlights animals that—thanks to advances in veterinary internal medicine—have lived through severe disease.

Q’s survival story started when he spiked a temperature of 104°F (99-101°F is normal). He also became lethargic and stopped eating, a sign to Blacklow that something was very wrong with the young horse. After an inconclusive initial exam by a general practitioner, Blacklow sought a specialist’s second opinion. She contacted Chantal Rothschild, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, of Northwest Equine Veterinary Associates in Maple Valley, Wash.

Rothschild performed ultrasounds of Q’s chest and abdomen looking for the source of the infection causing his fever. Then the gelding’s blood work came back with extremely low protein levels. This is a telltale clinical sign of proliferative enteropathy, a spreading infection of the intestine most common in foals two to seven months old that renders the animal unable to absorb protein from the diet. Edema (swelling) had also developed around the horse’s jaw and down into his chest.

L. interacellularis is common in pigs, and certain wild animals are thought to carry it, Rothschild said, adding that the disease is believed to be contracted when horses ingest bacteria from infected animal feces. Rothschild had treated equine cases during her time practicing in Texas and at Washington State University on the eastern edge of the state. “But I’d never seen a case in the Seattle area,” she said.

After examining Q, Rothschild recommended treating him for proliferative enteropathy immediately rather than waiting for test results confirming L. interacellularis infection. “It would take too long to get a positive test back, so I asked the owners to trust me,” Rothschild said. “If we’d waited we might not have been able to save him.”

Q responded within three days and started acting less like the calm horse Blacklow knew and more like an energetic youngster. “He was trying to bite us, and we couldn’t catch him,” Blacklow said about Q’s reversal. “I called Dr. Rothschild and told her.”

“I was like, ‘Yay! That’s what we want!’” Rothschild said.

Q’s intensive treatment continued for six weeks, multiple times per day, and required dedication from the farm’s workers and the horse’s patience. Q was an excellent patient, Blacklow reported, and has since made what she considers a full recovery.

“Sometimes you have patients that really want to live, and Q was one of those,” Rothschild said. “He helped us help him.”

In addition to Q, the ACVIM named four dogs with diseases ranging from cancer to neurologic conditions as Animal Survivors. For more information visit www.WeAreAnimalSurvivors.org.

Rebuilt CSU equine center thriving after fire

Monday, April 29th, 2013

CS Equine CenterClinicians at Colorado State University’s Equine Reproduction Laboratory, which reopened in March after it was destroyed in a 2011 fire, wasted no time in getting back to work even as construction continued around them. “Literally the day we moved into the facility, we were examining mares,” said veterinarian and facility director Jerry Black. The new space, bigger and filled with state-of-the-art equipment, is central to the effort to develop an Equine Institute at the school. The Coloradoan (Fort Collins, Colo.) (tiered subscription model)

It burned into the ground only to be reborn from the ashes — a home to new life.

After it was demolished by an early morning fire in July 2011, Colorado State University’s Equine Reproduction Laboratory was rebuilt in its former place at the Foothills Campus in west Fort Collins. Just days after final inspections, the now-larger and updated facility opened to eagerly awaiting employees and clients in early March.

“Literally the day we moved into the facility, we were examining mares,” said Jerry Black, appointed the new lab director at the year’s start. Black, a veterinarian and associate professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, also kept his title as director of CSU’s undergraduate equine sciences program.

As construction got under way, CSU continued providing services in temporary Equine Reproduction Laboratory buildings scattered among barns and other facilities unharmed by the fire. And while work never stopped, Black and others are excited for what came next.

“With the tragedy came an opportunity,” he said Wednesday, sitting in a new office that still smelled of fresh paint. The fire, which burned an estimated $12 million in real estate, research equipment and genetic material stored for clients, is counted among the most costly and damaging disasters in CSU history.

The rebuilt facility is “considerably” larger than its predecessor at 12,000 square feet and brings together several long-separated services. Traffic flow is much improved, Black said, with mare and stallion services kept apart for the safety of both horses and humans.

Still in the works is an equine molecular reproduction lab — what Black said will be “one of the only” labs of its type in the country. There users will manipulate high-tech equipment to identify in mere hours potentially harmful bacterial organisms growing in a mare’s uterus; compare this to common practice of growing cultures over two to three weeks.

There’s also more teaching space and places for professors and visiting professionals to conduct research, said Black, opening doors to rooms in which still-covered microscopes and boxed monitors lay unopened on countertops and tables. Down the hall, interns, professors and resident veterinarians were gathered around a microscope and screen that displayed fluid flushed from a mare next door.

Unusual therapy animals make patients of all ages smile

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

According to the AVMA, therapy animals enhance people’s physical, social, cognitive and emotional function, but what’s important to the patients who encounter Napoleon the alpaca and Rojo the llama is that the animals make them smile. Lori Gregory of Mtn Peaks Therapy Llamas and Alpacas in Vancouver, Wash., brings the pair to visit Providence Child Center in Oregon and other health care facilities, and she calls the outreach an “addiction.” Social worker Kelly Schmidt expressed gratitude: “I never realized the power animals have to bring healing and joy to people like this.” CBS News (4/9)

Therapy animals like dogs, cats and horses are sometimes brought into health care facilities to help people suffering from illnesses or physical conditions boost their health and happiness.

Llamas and alpacas: Portland’s fluffiest therapists

At least one Oregon children’s hospital is now employing two unique therapy animals to help patients smile: an alpaca named Napoleon, and a llama named Rojo (see slideshow to the left for more pictures).

CBS affiliate KOIN in Portland, Ore., reports the unique pair light up every room they enter at the hospital.

“I never realized the power animals have to bring healing and joy to people like this,” said Kelly Schmidt, a social worker at Providence Children’s Center in Oregon. “I truly believe they are given a purpose more than just entertainment.”

The animals even ride the elevators (as seen in the video above).

Rojo is an “old pro” at making children happier, according to Schmidt. His owner, Lori Gregory, operator of Mtn Peaks Therapy Llamas and Alpacas in Vancouver, Wash., told the station that once at a local fair someone suggested her huggable llama become a therapy animal. The rest was history, and Gregory said like the patients, she too feels a rush when she introduces her animals — which are often dressed in funny hats and other silly outfits — at hospitals and other medical facilities.

“That’s why it started giving me chills and that’s when it kind of became an addiction,” she told KOIN 6 News. “When you realize that they have this amazing ability to create a natural response therapeutic-wise to get people to do things they normally wouldn’t do.”

Her stable also includes two other llamas named Smokey and Beni, and two more alpacas named Eduardo and Jean-Pierre.

On its website, Mtn Peaks says its animals have made more than 650 therapeutic visits to patients since the organization was founded in 2007.

Rojo has grown a following, even getting his own Facebook fan page.

 Therapy animals: Doggie docs, horse helpers, and more

Therapy animals, or animal-assisted therapy, is designed to promote improvement in human physical, social, emotional, or cognitive function, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Therapy can occur in a group setting or individually, and can benefit patient populations from the young to elderly, to those in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted-living homes and rehabilitation facilities.

Other examples of more unique therapy animals include miniature horses, elephants (which have been used in Thailand to help some children with autism), helper monkeys and animals with disabilities.

Scientists ID virus that causes Theiler’s disease in horses

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Horse head sticking out of holeU.S. scientists have used RNA analysis to identify the virus that causes Theiler’s disease, a type of equine hepatitis that has stumped veterinarians for nearly a century. The virus, called Theiler’s disease-associated virus, or TDAV, belongs to the same family of viruses that cause hepatitis C, yellow fever and dengue fever. Nature (free content)

Ed Yong

For almost 100 years, veterinarians have puzzled over the cause of Theiler’s disease, a mysterious type of equine hepatitis that is linked to blood products and causes liver failure in up to 90% of afflicted animals.

A team of US scientists has now discovered that the disease is caused by a virus that shares just 35% of its amino acid sequences with its closest-known relative. The team named it Theiler’s disease-associated virus (TDAV), and published the discovery in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1.

Led by Amy Kistler at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research in Emeryville, California, the team responded to an outbreak of Theiler’s disease at a farm in which eight horses had suddenly developed hepatitis after being injected with an antitoxin to prevent them from developing botulism. The researchers used next-generation sequencing to analyse RNA samples from the antitoxin and from two of the horses, and assembled the complete genome of the new virus. The virus was found in every one of the eight horses, as well as in the animal (from a different farm) that was the source of the contaminated antitoxin.

“In the span of a few months, we were able to sequence and validate a virus that had gone undetected for almost a century,” says Kistler. She thinks that traditional virus-hunting techniques failed to find TDAV because they rely on strong similarities to known viruses, or on the ability to culture the mystery culprit. By contrast, her team sequenced everything in their samples — an approach “that meant we didn’t have to know what we were looking for”, she says.

Progress check

To better understand the role of the virus, the team inoculated four healthy horses with the contaminated antitoxin. Within ten weeks, all of them carried TDAV in their bloodstream, and one later showed rising levels of liver enzymes that suggested liver disease.

Although the researchers did not purify the virus before injecting it into the horses, Pablo Murcia, a virologist from the University of Glasgow, UK, says that “they have a strong case: I will be very surprised if TDAV turns out not to be the cause of equine serum hepatitis”. “Now, a new question arises,” he says, “where does this virus come from?”.

It is also possible that there is another unknown virus behind Theiler’s disease. After all, human hepatitis can be caused by at least five viruses.

TDAV belongs to the family Flaviviridae, which includes the viruses behind yellow fever, dengue fever and hepatitis C. It is most closely associated with a genus of newly discovered viruses called Pegivirus, and is the first of these to be convincingly linked to disease.

“The challenges in culturing [pegiviruses] mean that we’re only now getting an understanding of how widely distributed and significant they are,” says James Wood, who studies animal infections at the University of Cambridge, UK. He hints that some studies on new pegiviruses may be published in the future.

“Dr. Google” is not an expert on pet cancer

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

It’s not uncommon for owners to search online for answers to their heart-wrenching questions when a pet is diagnosed with cancer, but they should proceed with caution, writes veterinary oncologist Joanne Intile. A trained veterinary oncologist is the best resource for owners with pets who have cancer, notes Dr. Intile, but she says veterinarians must approach all communication regarding cancer diagnosis, treatment, prognosis and even Internet research with patience and compassion. PetMD.com/The Daily Vet blog

The Internet can be a dangerous place for owners of pets with cancer. The sheer amount of virtual information available immediately at one’s fingertips is astonishing; bordering on overwhelming.
As an example, a quick search of the phrase “canine cancer” in a popular search engine returns over 3,240,000 hits. “Canine lymphoma” yields over 1,050,000 hits, while “feline lymphoma” reveals a mere 565,000 hits. How can an owner sift through all those pages and discern the “good from the bad” when it comes to learning more about their pet’s diagnosis?

When a diagnosis of cancer is made, owners are often placed in the difficult position of having to make decisions regarding diagnostic tests and treatments for their pet, frequently with limited information. This can lead to a feeling of helplessness and depression, or even defensiveness at times. I think it’s natural to turn to the Internet as a source of information, self-comfort, and self-education.

What I’m not so sure of is when exactly did entering phrases or words into a search engine begin qualifying as “research?” Having endured many years of rigorous academic training, when I think of actively researching a topic, it conjures up images of pouring over textbooks and critically reviewing clinical studies. To me, it means learning objective facts and studying information for accuracy of content, not clicking on random websites and reading unsubstantiated opinions backed typically by emotion rather than truth.

It is not unusual for owners to come to their first appointment armed with notes, printouts, suggestions, and/or questions they have garnered from searching their pets’ diagnoses on the Internet. My visceral reaction is typically one of tempered insult. I’m the one who endured many years of education and training and have several years of experience working as a clinical medical oncologist, yet I often joke in some cases that the (in)famous “Dr. Google,” who never went to vet school, once again has managed to usurp my recommendations. It’s challenging for me to remember that the intentions behind my clients’ questions or suggestions are typically pure. Owners simply lack the medical knowledge to review the Internet information accurately, but they really only want the best care and best treatment options for their pets.

I’ve discussed before how I understand that a diagnosis of cancer can be emotionally provoking for owners, and a common frustration many will express is their complete lack of control over the situation. Owners cannot alter progression of the disease once it occurs, they are simply told, “Here are the facts and here are the recommendations.”

An example would be an owner focusing on nutrition and diet after a diagnosis is obtained. What food their pet ingests is one of the few things pet owners can control in an otherwise uncontrollable situation. It is also one of the most Internet-searched topics owners will discuss with me during an appointment. Unfortunately, the lack of evidence-based information supporting nutrition as playing a role in the outcome for animals with cancer makes it difficult to make solid recommendations.
This isn’t to say I can’t relate to the need to try to learn as much as possible about a diagnosis, and I’m aware of how daunting terminology related to science and health and medicine can be for individuals not trained specifically within those subjects. The vocabulary is unfamiliar, anxiety provoking, and even uncomfortable for some. Equally as challenging on my end is determining how to present complicated diagnoses and treatment options in terms the average non-medically inclined individual can understand. Despite my best efforts, even with the most medically educated clientele, I know the emotional aspects surrounding a diagnosis can create barriers to truly understanding the technicalities.

Following initial consults, I provide owners with an in-depth written summary of all the points discussed during the appointment. I believe this is something unique to the veterinary profession. Think about the last time your human MD counterpart provided you with a written summary of any aspect of your visit. Even with the information literally in hand, it’s not uncommon for owners to specifically ask for websites they could use to better understand all the topics I’ve discussed. I’m not sure I will ever understand the need to turn to non-validated sources of information when it comes to learning about health and disease, but I do understand my obligation to being able to point people in the right direction.

Therefore, I generally recommend websites directly affiliated with veterinary schools, professional veterinary organizations, and websites run by respected and prominent veterinarians and advocate such pages as resources for owners seeking additional information. I also have no problem discussing the pros of seeing another medical oncologist for a second opinion when appropriate.

I think one of the main reasons I enjoy being able to write weekly articles for petMD is because I feel it is my small way of contributing factual information about veterinary oncology on the Internet. Though I’m still frequently challenged by owners about something they read on a website or through an online forum, I try to maintain patience when these topics come up.
I take comfort in knowing there are good resources for pet owners, and that I play an active role in keeping truthful information available to a large-scale audience, one week at a time.

Green household products may not be entirely safe for animals

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Green cleaning products are gaining popularity, but owners should know that even environmentally friendly products may pose threats to pet health. “People expose their animals without even realizing the risk,” said Karl Jandrey, an emergency and critical care veterinarian at the University of California, Davis’ Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Veterinarian Camille DeClementi, a senior toxicologist with the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center, said any product with a warning for children isn’t appropriate for pets and recommended keeping animals away from any cleaning activity. San Jose Mercury News (Calif.) (free registration)/The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES—As the time nears for spring cleaning and companies offer more environmentally friendly alternatives to toxic cleaners, veterinarians say pet owners should keep in mind that what’s green to a human can be dangerous—even deadly—to animals.

“People expose their animals without even realizing the risk,” said Dr. Karl Jandrey, who works in the emergency and critical care units at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis. “That’s the most common thing that happens when you come to our emergency room—the clients put their pets at risk because they were unaware of how significant the damage could be.”

Most household cleaners are safe if used as directed on labels, but pet owners who make their own cleansers using natural ingredients don’t have the warnings or instructions that come with commercial products.

Cats, for example, can get stomachaches from essential oils added for orange, lemon or peppermint scents in cleaners, said Dr. Camille DeClementi, a senior toxicologist at the Animal Poison Control Center run by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Urbana, Ill.

Most commercial green products are safe for animals, DeClementi said, but owners should still exercise the same precautions as with chemical alternatives, such as keeping pets away from an area being cleaned, not using sprays directly on a pet and making sure that dogs don’t chew on the


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products.

If a product says “Keep out of reach of children,” keep it away from pets too, DeClementi said.

Caroline Golon, an Ohio mother of two children under 5 and owner of two Persian cats, said she became concerned about cleaning products before her children were born, when she noticed how often the cats jumped between floors and counters. The Columbus resident uses only unscented green products or vinegar and water to clean, a water-only steam mop on floors and washes the cats’ dishes and litter boxes with hot water and green dish soap.

“There are varying degrees of green, and there are a lot of mainstream brands now that have a green version. You have to do a little research to see what you like best,” said Golon, a pet blogger.

The “green” label on products can be misleading because it still can be dangerous, Jandrey added. “Some still have their own toxicities. In general, they probably are a little less toxic, but not free of toxic potential. They just have a need for a larger dose to cause the same kind of symptoms,” he said.

He cited antifreeze as an example. The pet-friendly version of antifreeze, propylene glycol, is “still an antifreeze product. It’s still intoxicating to patients, our dogs and cats. It’s just not as intoxicating as ethylene glycol.”

It takes more of the propylene glycol to be as deadly as the ethylene glycol, “but it is still intoxicating though it might say pet-friendly in the ads or on the bottle,” Jandrey said.

Labels can’t always account for every reaction, Jandrey said. “Each intoxicating product has different concentrations and each dog or cat, each species, has a different sensitivity to that product. So what might be intoxicating to a dog is really, really intoxicating to a cat because cats might be more sensitive,” he said.

Nancy Guberti, a New York City nutritionist and healthy lifestyle coach for the past 15 years, said some products will say green when they are not.

“Natural means nothing. The consumer has to be educated. It’s all about awareness,” she said.

Extra care also should be taken when cleaning around a pet’s area, such as its toys or bedding, the experts say. Don’t use fabric softener sheets that contain cationic detergents because they will give your pet—especially cats—stomach distress, DeClementi said, referring to a type of chemical soap that kills bacteria.

Such detergents and soaps, normally associated with helping to get clothes clean and fresh-smelling, can have chemicals that can sicken humans and pets alike.

Guberti switched to green cleaners out of necessity when her youngest son developed a liver disorder and many allergies. Guberti said the whole family became green—even their family’s 6-year-old Shih Tzu, Flower, because her son can’t hold Flower “if she is full of toxic chemicals or perfumes.”

She recalled how she took the dog to a groomer for the first time, and Flower came out covered in perfume. Guberti washed her again at home, and now she brings her own bottles to the groomer.

“I have a bottle of shampoo and a bottle of conditioner with her name on it. I always remind them: ‘No perfumes whatsoever,'” Guberti said.

Golon, who uses a maid service once a month, said she had the same problem when they brought their own products when they first started cleaning the house.

“I hadn’t thought about it but the smell was so overpowering, it really bothered me. I can just imagine what it was doing to the cats with their sensitivity to scents,” she said.

 

Common equine eye emergencies

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013
Veterinarian Anna O’Brien explains the causes and treatment of two common equine eye emergencies: corneal ulcers and eyelid lacerations. Items commonly found in the barn are often the culprit behind these traumatic injuries, Dr. O’Brien writes, but timely and appropriate veterinary care is usually enough to treat them effectively.

Unlike cattle, sheep, and goats, where the majority of eye issues are infectious, the majority of equine eye problems I see are trauma-related and result in corneal ulcerations.
It is my scientific opinion that horse eyes seem predisposed to getting poked out. This is most likely due to their anatomical location, which is namely right on the corners of the head, sticking out like headlights on an old VW Bug. Sharp objects apparently roam the Earth searching for horse eyes.

 

One of the most common culprits is, unfairly, the very food they eat. Long wiry pieces of hay shooting out of the trough or hay net are almost always in the “Usual Suspect” lineup when we play the game, “Who Poked Out My Horse’s Eye?”
As with cattle and small ruminants with inflamed and infected eyes, horses with corneal ulcerations exhibit similar signs. Horse owners will observe a forcefully closed eye, excessive tearing, with perhaps some head shyness or avoidance of light, depending on the disposition of the horse. As hours pass, the cornea may become cloudy, and white or yellowish discharge instead of tears may weep from the eye.
The beginning of any emergency equine exam starts with sedation and a nerve block of the upper eyelid to allow me to open the eye wide. Then, if I suspect trauma and corneal damage, I’ll apply a special stain to the eye. This stain will glow neon green if the delicate tissue underneath the outer layer of the cornea is exposed due to ulceration. Sometimes the area of ulceration is literally the size of a needlepoint. But no matter what the size, ulceration is ulceration and requires treatment.
Most mild corneal ulcerations can be treated with topical antibiotic ointment and some pain medication. Others are more complicated. If the ulcer is large, healthy epithelial tissue sometimes has difficulty adhering to the cornea, and healing is non-productive. If this is the case, we sometimes have to scrape the eye to remove the old tissue, giving the new tissue something to adhere to.
Other times, the ulceration has allowed bacteria inside the eye, setting up what is called a stromal abscess. These can be very difficult to treat, requiring intensely frequent applications of multiple types of medications. At the very worst, an ulcer can be deep enough to rupture the eye. This is why eye issues are always an emergency, since you can never be sure at first exactly how deep the problem really is.
Eyelid lacerations are another extremely common equine eye problem. Like the ubiquitous hay stalk waiting to cause a corneal ulcer, another common barn object is frequently the cause of dangling eyelids: the hooks at the ends of water bucket handles. These curved metal pieces on the sides of hanging buckets just seem to jump out at horse eyes and grab on to upper eyelids for dear life, resulting in a gruesome find for the owner the next morning.
Luckily, eyelid lacerations usually look much worse than they really are. They bleed a lot and swell a lot, making the horse look like he’s been in a bar fight involving brass knuckles and a switchblade. However, after sedation and nerve blocks and a little careful stitching with very fine suture material and a teeny tiny needle, the horse usually comes out of it looking much better. The only challenge is not letting the horse rub his head once the stitches become itchy a few days later.
Sometimes with an eyelid laceration, the owner will ask why I don’t just trim off the lacerated portion rather than sew it back on. The answer is that horse’s eyes are so big, they need all the lid they can get. Eyelids are the best protection the eyeball has against the pokey world and even a small missing portion can sometimes result in chronic eye irritation.
Although we’ve covered the traumatic cases of equine eye emergencies, we haven’t even touched on things like cancer of the eye and a weird thing only horses get called “moon blindness.” Shall we say, stay tuned?