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Strabismus & Blindness in Horses

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  • Strabismus & Blindness in Horses

    Does anyone have any experience with strabismus and/or blindness in horses? I recently had the opportunity to take back the 2007 foal from my mare Snowflake. She was donated to a rescue when I got sick and needed to have multiple surgeries for a bone infection in my face. Now, the people who run the rescue are in ill health and I returned the favor by taking her back and off of their plates. But, it hasn't been a happy ending.

    We got home and within the first day we realized something was not quite right. She was very quiet and hesitant to move. She had little interest in exploring the other horses and kept to herself for the most part. When she would walk down the aisle (the BO has it set up where he opens stall doors and horses go down a path to the pasture gate) she walks with her nose to the ground like she's feeling her way. She tilts her head and doesn't turn to face noises. She does have obvious strabismus in both eyes.

    Things came to a head the other morning when she was turned out. Something happened and she had a complete and total meltdown. She ran through the fence, got herself into the tractor path, was facing the barn and just ran into the side of the building. The BO went up to her and she was completely unaware he was there. He said she could see NOTHING. He said she calmed quickly and she turned out the rest of the day without a problem.

    Now, her sire had late life uveitis. I don't see any inflammation/discharge or typical squinting here. I'm waiting on the vet to come out and do a solid diagnosis, but I have a feeling a specialist might be in order before we really know what's happening. Has anyone had experience with strabismus? I searched what I could online but there isn't much related to horses. I would like to know more about it and whether, at the age of 4 going on 5, she would be a surgical candidate.

    I'm upset because I really don't have the facilities to safely keep a blind horse. To my knowledge there are no local boarding facilities in my budget that have no climb or board fence. If we are limited for any treatment options, I may have to put her down.

    I was hoping someone could share their experience so I know what I'm up against here.

  • #2
    I didn't know horses could get strabismus like people can. Is that a vet's diagnosis or are you just describing the appearance of the horse's eyes? If she's been blind a long time the eyes may just not track properly, but that would be secondary. Maybe she has had head trauma or an eye socket problem making one eye track abnormally?

    I sincerely doubt (but this is a guess) that any sort of surgery would work at this point, even if it IS the equine equivalent of actual strabismus. Once the window for correction has passed, the affected eye will never have functional vision. But better to get a vet's opinion. Good luck!

    ETA it appears per my old vet book that foalhood strabismus can occur in Appies. If dad had uveitis and mom's name was Snowflake, is that a reach?
    Click here before you buy.

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    • Original Poster

      #3
      Originally posted by deltawave View Post
      ETA it appears per my old vet book that foalhood strabismus can occur in Appies. If dad had uveitis and mom's name was Snowflake, is that a reach?
      You are correct deltawave - She is 3/4 appy, 1/4 Irish Draught. Dad was a fewspot and mom a roan with blanket. She has a homozygous snowcap pattern that makes her more prone to appy eye issues. She clearly has strabismus from how her eyes look. When she was born, it really wasn't obvious. So, is this something that can get progressively worse?

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      • #4
        The only expertise I have is very, very basic and includes the fact that both my middle brother and I were born with strabismus. Mine was corrected surgically at age 18 months, his wasn't. (he's older and it wasn't recognized nor did they have the same options back then) I have vision in both eyes, while he only has vision in one. My (very basic) understanding of the disorder in people is that if it's not corrected early, the affected eye will never develop vision beyond a very, very poor level.
        Click here before you buy.

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        • Original Poster

          #5
          Originally posted by deltawave View Post
          The only expertise I have is very, very basic and includes the fact that both my middle brother and I were born with strabismus. Mine was corrected surgically at age 18 months, his wasn't. (he's older and it wasn't recognized nor did they have the same options back then) I have vision in both eyes, while he only has vision in one. My (very basic) understanding of the disorder in people is that if it's not corrected early, the affected eye will never develop vision beyond a very, very poor level.
          Good to know. If that holds true for horses, it doesn't sound good for Baby.

          My brother was born with Strabismus and had surgery when he was 2. No problems with him either.

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          • #6
            I don't have any clue about strabismus (had to look it up) but I know a lot about blind horses. Just from what you said, I don't think there's anything you can do to fix it, but definitely see an opthamologist.

            It sounds like she recently lost her vision. If they lose it gradually, they can cope really well. It really helps if she can have a buddy she can trust to be her seeing eye horse--they can be really safe in a pasture and follow the other around. You also need to teach her verbal commands to make her safe--whoa is number one. She needs to learn to stop in any time of uncertainty. You can also teach her to step up, down, and over.

            I would start her in a smaller area with a buddy and teach her the size of it and how to test the boundaries--this requires slow moving and bumping into things. If you can get a good buddy and she's a decently smart horse, she will learn to stay at their side and cope really well. Some horses have problems, but a lot of them do amazingly well once they realize how to cope.

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