Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Eye is Bulging or Sticking Out from Socket

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

  • If this problem seems severe and has come on suddenly.
  • If you notice other problems with the eye or the eye seems inflamed and painful.
  • Most eye problems are considered veterinary emergencies.

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

  • If you consider this a chronic and relatively mild problem that is not changing rapidly.
  • If the eye appears otherwise normal.

A bulging eyeball is fairly uncommon, and is usually caused by pressure from behind the eyeball, most often from a tumor or other mass. This observation is more common in older horses that have a higher likelihood of cancer.

Keep in mind that the opposite eye could be abnormally recessed, making this one seem to protrude more. Eye size also ranges between different breeds. For example, Appaloosas tend to have smaller eyes.

This observation is also often confused with a similar one: One eyeball that actually seems larger than the other. The two observations are distinct and the list of diagnoses is different.

In determining whether one eye is bulging, carefully compare it (standing in front of the horse) to the other eye. Consider whether the observation could actually be that one eye is larger than the other, rather than sticking out more. You can also feel the eyeballs through the upper lid with your fingertip, getting a sense of whether one or the other of the eyeballs is harder feeling.

Stand right in front of your horse or look down from above to get a better perspective. A good vantage point to make this evaluation is from the saddle.

Eyes of the same size may look different given their different color, the differences in the surrounding skin, and the different appearance of the “white of the eye.” Eyes that have more white around their edges look more bulged, or larger. If you are concerned about your horse’s vision, test their eyesight with the “menace response.”

Given the importance of your horse’s sight, immediately share all of your findings and concerns with your vet, who may perform an exam, and use ultrasound or tonometry to reach a diagnosis.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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