It's always interesting to me to compare the treatments and outcomes of two horses with similar health problems, especially when the end results are entirely different. One of the most telling comparisons I've run across in my equine life involves two 20-something Appaloosas, both diagnosed with equine recurrent uveitis (ERU, sometimes referred to as moon blindness).
The first case involves a big mare named Willow, who resided a farm at which I taught riding lessons for a while. Willow was a tough old girl who rarely needed to see the veterinarian; in fact, keeping her weight up during the cold winters appeared to be her owners' biggest health challenge for many years.
In the summer of 2008, Willow's owners noticed one of her eyes draining after she'd spent time in the pasture. Although they continued to monitor the draining, they did not consider it a health problem and, thus, elected not to have a veterinarian come evaluate the mare.
The ocular draining continued through the summer and into the fall until one day, Willow came in from the field with her eye swollen and nearly crusted shut. At that point her owners called their veterinarian, who quickly diagnosed the mare with ERU. The veterinarian cautioned Willow's owners that, because they'd waited so long to get the problem checked out, the mare's prognosis for long-term visual function was guarded at best. After ensuring no corneal ulcers were present, the veterinarian prescribed treatment--which included non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and topical corticosteroids--and suggested Willow wear a fly mask with ultraviolet (UV) protection when she spent time in the sun.
Willow's condition stabilized for a few months; however in late 2008 her condition worsened and she lost sight in her affected eye. Her owners waited a short time to see if the mare could learn to cope with one-sided vision, but unfortunately Willow didn't adjust well.
While her owners weighed what would (or could) happen next with their veterinarian, Willow's condition worsened again. Although I never learned exactly how it happened, Willow's iris ultimately prolapsed and she was euthanized in early 2009.
Not long after, my parents--who care for five of our family's horses on their Michigan farm--noticed our then-25-year-old Appaloosa gelding Taz's eye draining one day in 2010. Since the veterinarian was coming out to give spring shots within a few days' time, they elected to have Taz's eye checked out at the same time. Sure enough, after close inspection, the veterinarian diagnosed him with ERU.
The veterinarian left my parents with similar instructions that Willow's owners had received--topical corticosteroids and, if needed, phenylbutazone to reduce pain associated with flare-ups; she also recommended that Taz wear a fly mask with UV protection when he wasn't in his stall.
Unlike Willow's case, our veterinarian said that because we'd caught Taz's ERU early, he would probably retain his sight for the foreseeable future with treatment.
Today, Taz still wears his UV-protected fly mask everywhere and receives corticosteroid treatment as needed, but his vision is still intact and his eye looks healthy. And as you might remember from a few blog posts ago, his uveitis isn't slowing him down under saddle, either.
To me, this story is a reminder of how important it is to seek veterinary care at the first signs of trouble, especially in aged horses or others that could have a weakened immune response. While hindsight is 20/20, an earlier vet call could have easily saved or prolonged Willow's life.
Do you have any experiences where early treatment made all the difference? Or have you ultimately waited too long and would like to caution other owners about doing the same? Share your experiences below.