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Administering eye ointment

From: Emma

Hi there! My horse Andre managed to get an ulcer in one of his eyes, and needs medication put in, one of them 4 times a day. The only problem is that I haven't been able to get a good amount actually into his eye. At least not as much as our vet was able to get in, and that was when he was sedated. He will not let me open his eye up far enough to get it in. He really needs this to get better, I was hoping you could give me some pointers on how I can get the cream into his eye. Thank-You Emma.

Hi Emma! I'm so sorry that your horse has an eye ulcer.

It's worth making a special effort to get the meds into his eye, and four times a day is a good schedule - in fact, if you board your horse far from your home, it can be a very challenging schedule and you may need to enlist the help of the barn manager.

If you keep your horse at home, you might even ask your vet whether six or eight times a day would be preferable - four times a day is often not actually the OPTIMUM number of times to administer eye meds, it's just the number of times that the vet feels the client is likely to be willing or able to perform this task. ;-)

Now, let's talk about getting the ointment into your horse's eye!

Medicating eyes can be tricky because eye pain makes horses unwilling to allow people to put their hands on or near eyes and eyelids. Here are a few methods that I've found to be useful.

First, remember that you do NOT need to spread ointment over the surface of your horse's eye, and you don't need to put ointment on his eyeball. All you have to do is ensure that the ointment gets into the inside corner of the horse's eye. Once it's there, it will liquefy very quickly, and his own eyelids will do the job of distributing the meds across the entire surface of his eye - all he has to do is blink, and he WILL blink.

The pointed metal ends of those tiny ointment tubes make me nervous whenever they're very close to a horse's eye. I've had horses that would stand stock-still and let me use those tubes, but I've also had horses that worried more or had more eye pain and would move around. To avoid the risk of poking one of these horses in the eye (or allowing the to poke itself - the pain and damage would be the same) with that pointy bit of metal, I would wash my hands or use a clean wipe on my hand just before adminstering the ointment. Then I would squeeze about half an inch of the ointment onto the pad of my clean index finger, and wipe the ointment into the inside corner of the horse's eye. If you use this method, it's important that you have short fingernails! If you keep your fingernails long and your horse needs regular applications of eye ointment, you should go ahead and cut your nails short - It won't be forever, you'll just have to live with them that way for a few weeks. You really do NOT want to have long fingernails anywhere near your horse's eye.

You can use the same method to put the ointment just inside the horse's lower lid - put your thumb on the skin just below the horse's lower lid and push the skin down a little. This causes the lower lid to gape open slightly - just enough for you to use the tube (or, as above, the pad of a clean finger) to deposit a quarter-inch ribbon of ointment just inside the lower lid.

One of my students found yet another way to administer eye ointment - she, too, felt a need to keep the metal tip of the tube away from the horse's eyeball. She would pull her horse's upper eyelid a little away from his eye and fold it upwards for a moment, wipe the ointment onto the lid and then let it unfold and drop back over the eye. Naturally the first thing her horse did was blink, thus distributing the ointment. Her method isn't one I've used myself, but I watched her do it many times, and her horse was completely calm about it. It helped that she was a tall girl and her horse was quite small and low-headed. It might have been more difficult for a shorter person to work with the upper lid of a taller, more up-headed horse.

I'm glad that you're taking good care of your horse. Eye injuries are too painful and too dangerous to be left untreated; they must be diagnosed as soon as possible and then treated immediately and aggressively. "Wait and see" often turns into "I waited, and now he can't see." If we treat every eye injury as a RED ALERT emergency, our horses will have a better chance of healing and keeping their sight.

I hope that Andre's eye heals quickly and perfectly.


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