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Chris Dixon BVSc CertVOphthal MRCVS, a veterinary ophthalmologist, gives his advice on the most common eye problems that occur in horses. Uveitis, an inflammation of the internal structures of the eye, is an extremely painful condition that creates a spasm or cramp of the internal muscles pulling the horse’s pupil into a slit. Over the years many studies in different countries have tried to find the cause of ERU and we now know that the disease is related to a stimulation of the horse’s immune system.
Professor Brian Gilger and his associates in the USA have developed a new treatment for ERU. When dried to an ideal of around 14% moisture, it will be baled and brought into a barn for storage. There are many causes of uveitis and some horses, such as Appaloosas and Warmbloods, are prone to repetitive bouts of inflammation called Equine Recurrent Uveitis (ERU) - this used to be called moon-blindness because it was thought that each bout was caused by the movement of the moon.
They prevent the passage of light through the eye onto the retina and there are many types of cataract, some worse than others. Examples such as simple trauma and fly-bites resolve quickly, but any lumps that persist should be checked for signs of cancer.


Bales of hay come in various shapes and sizes, but that isn’t linked to its quality.“When you cut the strings on a bale of good hay, it will have a greenish colour, smell sweet and really ‘spring’ apart.
Studies have demonstrated links to genetic makeup, bacterial and viral infection, trauma and UV light.
The implant is a small disc impregnated with a drug called cyclosporine that’s slowly released into the eye. Unfortunately once a cataract has formed there’s no medication currently available that can reverse the changes. Sarcoids can occur close to the eye and there are different treatments available depending on the type of sarcoid seen. If it has dried for longer before baling, it will be more yellow and have lost some of its nutritional value, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, just not as nutritious, which may be better for good doers and ponies.“Poor hay has usually laid in the field for several days, perhaps been rained on, washing out some of the soluble nutrients, but worse than that, it can have been baled at too high a moisture content - over 20% - leading to the potential growth of moulds and fungi. It’s been demonstrated that a single implant can last longer than three years and will delay the progression of the disease.
If the cataract is impairing vision and the eye is otherwise healthy, surgical removal can be considered.


Horses with non-pigmented skin are especially prone to sunburn and the use of protective creams or a fly-mask can help to reduce exposure. Hay baled when damp like this will be dusty and may contain mould and fungal spores and should not be fed to horses.When the strings are cut on these bales they do not spring apart and the individual leaves need to be physically prised apart.
The implant doesn’t affect the horse’s vision and we haven’t seen any evidence of discomfort following placement of the implants at our centre. A method called ‘phacoemulsification’ is used to remove the cataract and a plastic lens can then be inserted into the eye, to give the horse the best possible vision.
Any hay which is really dark in colour with an ‘off’ smell is likely to be badly affected and should definitely be discarded.Can I still feed last year’s hay?Stored off the ground in a barn, on old pallets for example, or on a plastic groundsheet, hay made last year and kept dry shouldn’t have deteriorated significantly.



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