Equine recurrent uveitis
Equine recurrent uveitis (ERU) is the most common cause of blindness in horses. As many as 28% of horses with ERU were blind in one or both eyes when ﬁrst examined by an ophthalmologist. Equine recurrent uveitis is often referred to as moon blindness. It was originally thought that these episodes of inﬂammation, or uveitis, occurred with the phases of the moon. It is true that ERU is characterized by recurring bouts of inﬂammation but they do not correlate to the phases of the moon.
Equine recurrent uveitis is thought to be an autoimmune disease but the underlying cause and reasons for recurrence aren’t completely known. Just because a horse has an episode of inﬂammation, or uveitis, does not mean they have ERU. There are many causes of uveitis, which can in turn result in equine recurrent uveitis if not managed appropriately.
Leptospirosis is the most common and well-known infectious organism associated with ERU but the clear association and development of ERU is still not well understood. Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease and the organisms are found in rivers, lakes and pond waters as well as sewage. Deer, cattle, pigs and rats are the animals that carry the organism that infects horses. Horses are infected with this bacterium after drinking water that has been contaminated by urine from one of the above listed animals. It is recommended that horses are not allowed to drink water from ponds or run oﬀ areas, rather they should use a designated water trough. Initial infection with the bacteria is often not noticed but the ocular signs can occur
immediately or within 15-24 months.
Appaloosa, Warmblood and Knabstrupper horses are thought to have a genetic predisposition to equine recurrent uveitis. The disease in these breeds is more of an insidious type of inﬂammation with chronic lowgrade inﬂammation. These horses are not obviously painful. Appaloosas with the leopard complex are eight times more likely to develop equine recurrent uveitis and four times more likely to go blind than any other breed.
Diﬀerentiating between ERU and non-ERU uveitis is very important. There are many conditions of the eye that can present with similar symptoms; squinting, tearing, corneal cloudiness and even blindness. Treatment options vary widely between ERU and non-ERU uveitis.
The initial goal with ERU is to get the inﬂammatory episode and pain under control. This can be done with topical or oral steroid or nonsteroidal anti-inﬂammatories, injections into the back of the eye with low dose gentamicin and/or triamcinolone, cyclosporine surgical implants which slowly release medication into the eye and removal of the vitreous or gel in the back of the eye. There are pluses and minuses to each treatment plan; discussion with Dr. Erica Tolar will help you choose the best one for you and your horse.