Orbital Cellulitis

...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.

In the tissues surrounding the eyeball of the horse, Orbital Cellulitis is an inflammation of these tissues within the bony cavity around the eye. It occurs when there is long term bacterial infections of the teeth, sinuses, salivary glands and other organs with specific functions that are close to the eye. (1)

Symptoms will develop within a 24 to 48 hour cycle and usually only occur in one of the orbits, or the bony cavity.

The tissues and the eyelid around the eye orbit become red and swollen, and this swelling causes the eyeball itself to protrude. There may be a discharge of pus and mucus from the corners of the eye and any eye movement is very painful to the horse. The exudate and tears will gather in the corners and slip on to the face.

Abscesses may form and the Vet will have to drain them surgically. Do not attempt this at home by yourself. Other symptoms included the horse losing its appetite and running a fever. Remember, the average mean body temperature of the equine is 100 degrees Fahrenheit. (2)

Early diagnosis is necessary so call the Vet. The horse should be examined and the early treatment can prevent irreversible eye damage. Acquire a face mask with blinkers and stall the horse in a dark, enclosed area. The blinker mask will protect the eye. A bandage should be applied to cover the eye, also, as the eyelid itself cannot cover over the protruding cornea. The horse may also have to be sedated during healing or put in a tie stall.

The Vet can sedate or administer pain reliever and antibiotics are prescribed to relieve swelling and inflammation.

The sooner the Vet makes the diagnosis, the sooner recovery can commence. Recovery also depends on response to treatment. As the infection responds to antibiotics, normal vision can be restored.

However, if the orbital inflammation continues on for a long period, the muscles around the eye may be damaged, along with vision. Fat tissue surrounding the eye that protects and cushions may be reabsorbed, eventually leading to optic nerve damage. (3)

Have you seen horses with one eye setting normally in the orbit and one eye setting deeply recessed? They have most likely suffered from Orbital Cellulitis in their earlier years. The eye that is deeply recessed probably has little, if any visual capability. It can appear dry and cloudy. (4)

Horses can injure their eye by rubbing it on barn walls, fence posts, barbed wire, nails in walls or fences, thorns in bushes out in the field, falling down, or by coming into contact with foreign obstacles.

Squinting, tearing and lacerations, along with puffiness or inflammation, are indicators that something has happened. Sometimes horses have fights among themselves, or get scared inside the shipping trailer. Sometimes trainers hit horses in the face and eyes (yes they do) and cause lacerations or orbital damage.

I can’t stand to see sleepers or buildup stuck in the corners of the horse’s eyes, that really bugs me. They all have such beautiful eyes and faces, that they should be clean of debris. Sometimes tear ducts get blocked and debris or sleepers gather. Horses don’t have hands to wipe their own faces, and rely on our kindness to wipe their eyes and keep their faces clean.

Infections should never be left untreated; that’s another thing that really irritates me. Animals depend on humans for care, food and medicine. If you can’t afford what is entailed with keeping animals, you should not have them.

Ampicillin and Amoxicillin and other common antibiotics are not expensive and to leave an animal suffering to the point that it goes blind, to me is a sin.

Call the Vet. Make a payment or installment plan or put it on Pet Care Credit or another credit card, but don’t leave an animal dripping in pus with lacerations or injuries to eyes, or any other part of its body.

This article is meant as a guideline and not Veterinary analysis. A Veterinary consult is the best avenue for a good diagnosis and prognosis. Your animal will be grateful to you.

Leaving you with my advice and also the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy trails to you.”

1-4 : “Horseman’s Veterinary Encyclopedia,” by Will A. Hadden, DVM