What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Eye has Irritated Pink Skin around It


Horses with pink skin around their eyes (Paints and Appaloosas) tend to have chronic inflammation around their eyes (conjunctivitis- swelling of eye membranes and sunburn and/or windburn to pink skin). This is especially true at high altitudes where ultraviolet light exposure is greater.

The skin peels and the eye tends to ooze discharge. Irritation to the skin from discharge causes itchiness, and this causes rubbing and scratching that worsens the problem and creates a cycle of inflammation and trauma. Flies are attracted to the discharge and this makes things worse yet. The chronic irritation can also cause direct damage to the eye itself, and can be a trigger to worsen or incite Equine Recurrent Uveitis, a common chronic inflammatory condition, especially common in Appaloosa horses.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If you notice any change in appearance of the eye itself.
    • If you notice other problems with the eye or the eye seems inflamed and painful.
    • Most eye problems are considered veterinary emergencies.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If the signs are very mild and the eye appears normal otherwise.
    • The eye does not seem painful and the horse does not seem distressed.

your role


What To Do

Given the importance of your horse's sight, do not allow this condition to continue or worsen over time. Assess both eyes, take photos, and contact your vet with your findings and concerns. Use a "UV protective" fly mask to protect the eye until it can be evaluated.

What Not To Do

Do not over-apply sunscreens to the skin above the eye (without vet supervision) as they may get into the eye itself and cause worsening irritation.

your vet's role

Your vet can help you manage the eye and skin problems. They will recommend ideas for long-term management of the problem, including tattooing of the pink skin around the horse's eyes, a treatment that can make a difference in some cases.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Does the eye itself appear to be irritated or injured?
  • What is the age and breed of the horse?
  • When did you first notice this problem?
  • Does the horse wear a fly mask?
  • Is the problem affecting one or both eyes?
  • Can you send a photo?
  • Have flies been bothering the eyes?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
more diagnoses

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP