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Some horses suffer from frequent discharges from one or both eyes, often as a result of a medical problem such as allergies. When I rescued an abused horse last fall, he came with many problems, some easier to address than others. Quality pasture, my farmer’s nice hay, alfalfa, sustained access to grain, water, and shelter all contributed to his weight gain, improvement to his immune system, and a chance to begin to discover what it means to just be a horse and to have a loving home that comes with veterinary care. Clipping and bathing with medicated shampoo eliminated the lice infestation and Prascend is keeping his Cushing's disease under control. The drippy eyes are more challenging to heal. 

In the early days, the vet tried to drain the nasolacrimal duct, but after a few days, both eyes were dripping and oozing with discharge again. His corpora nigra cysts are so large that one cannot see behind the eyes for a more thorough examination. Fortunately, I was able to avoid taking him to a hospital for an ophthalmologic exam as I found a vet with a specialty in internal medicine who has a sub-specialty in ophthalmology. Taking an older, abused horse who had already been through so much to a hospital seemed unfair as he was not in any serious pain or danger.

Dr. G came to examine Spyri's eyes on a grey day where the clouds seemed to hover together in one canopy above, not threatening a storm, but rather, changing colors reminiscent of piglets, elephants, and polar bears. The first step was to take a general look at both eyes, followed by a test to rule out glaucoma. This reminded me of my own visits to the ophthalmologist where she injects dye into my eyes to make any signs of glaucoma visible. The test is the same for horses which somehow heightened my sympathy for my horse. 

Once completed, the next step was to try draining the ducts again, in hopes that it might work better this time. Dr. G noted scarring around the nasolacrimal duct which caused the opening to the passage to be narrower than is normal. After a few attempts, she was able to fully flush the ducts so that liquid flowed through both sides. 

After a few days of clear eyes with no tearing, the cycle resumed, alas. After ten days on the antibiotic ointment, there were no signs of improvement, so I contacted the vet who said to continue for a full month, but that if there were no improvement, to accept the fact that the nasolacrimal ducts had narrow openings and would always clog up and cause discharge. Fly masks and low dust environments could help, and keeping an eye to be sure that the situation did not worsen. 

Living and working with horses provides a life filled with great rewards, joys, and sorrows, and plenty of compromises. Spyri’s eyes will always drip as his ducts are narrow, but with care, he will suffer no pain and live out a happy life. Compromise can always be a wise solution.

Katharine MacCornack
Published on 2021-06-04