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


Rubbing or Trying to Scratch Eye


Conditions causing pain and irritation to the eye or the skin around the eye may cause a horse to rub, itch or scratch this area. This may cause additional trauma, creating a cycle of inflammation and itchiness that worsens the disease process and could severely damage the eye and compromise vision. Often, this can result in damage to the clear front surface of the eye (a corneal ulcer).

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If you notice any change in appearance of the eye itself.
    • If the horse seems particularly distressed by the problem.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If the eye seems normal in appearance but the behavior persists.
  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If the signs are very mild and the eye appears normal otherwise.
You also might be observing
Very Common
Less Common
more observations

your role


What To Do

Assess your horse's eye. Compare the affected eye to the other eye. Look for swelling, tearing, debris or trauma. Look for any change in appearance of the eyeball itself. You may irrigate the affected eye with saline solution to remove debris. Use a warm wet towel to clean the skin around the eye.

Given the importance of your horse's sight, immediately share all of your findings and concerns with your vet.

What Not To Do

Do not apply any eye ointments without first talking to your vet. Some may be inappropriate and could even make the situation worse.

your vet's role

Your vet will conduct an eye (ophthalmic) exam, and carefully examine the area around the eye. They may use fluorescein stain to determine whether a corneal ulcer is present.

While you wait for your vet, keep your horse calm. If you are concerned about flies or airborne debris, place a fly mask on your horse.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When did you first notice this?
  • Have flies been bothering the eyes?
  • Is there swelling of the area around your horse's eye?
  • Does the horse have a watery eye?
  • Do you notice anything else wrong with the horse's eye?
  • Do you notice a wounds in the eye area?
  • Do the eyes appear irritated?
  • Can you see the appearance of the eye itself?
  • Can you see anything else going on with the eye(s)?
  • Do the left and right eye look the same to you?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • Do you notice burrs or plant material in the horse's mane or forelock?
  • Are one or both eyes affected?

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
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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

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP