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


Eye looks Sunken


Sunken eyes can be a sign of dehydration or severe weight loss. The normally well-hydrated tissues that surround and support the eye lose their mass and the eye sinks. This observation is to be distinguished from a related observation - the eyeball actually appearing smaller or shrunken.

Older horses and emaciated horses lose fat behind their eyes causing the eyes to appear sunken. The loss of fat and muscle tissue causes the eyeball to sit deeper in the socket and can even lead to dust and debris becoming trapped around the eye and under the eyelids.

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
  • Code Green

    Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources
    • If the eye appears otherwise normal.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
    • If the horse is very old.

your role


What To Do

Assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to the eyes (look for reddening, squinting or watering), and the horse's general hydration.

Gently wipe away any discharge or debris from the eye with a moist towel. Use saline to irrigate the eye if there is discharge or foreign material. Consider the use of a fly mask. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

your vet's role

Your vet will assess general health and hydration, and the eye itself. They will consider the various potential causes for this observation and the tests necessary to rule these conditions out.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Are one or both eyes affected?
  • Can you see anything else going on with the eye(s)?
  • How old is the horse?
  • When did you first notice this?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

Very Common
more treatments

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP