Horses face high risks of developing eye problems, and Cornell University clinicians have recently developed a new way to detect and diagnose them more safely and quickly than before.

Published online in January 2014 in the journal Veterinary Ophthalmology, their findings are the first to show how horses with microscopic foreign objects in their eyes can benefit from in vivo corneal confocal microscopy, a human medicine technique that let doctors take pictures of living eyes in microscopic detail without a scratch.

After veterinary ophthalmologist Eric Ledbetter, DVM, Dipl. ACVO began adapting the technique in feline and canine patients at Cornell University Hospital for Animals, where he discovered two new infectious diseases of the eye that had never been described before, he expanded to other species. He became the first to use the technique to examine horses, pioneering a clinical research program to develop and validate noninvasive eye imaging in a species particularly poised to benefit from it.

“Horses have very prominent eyes and live in environments that put their eyes at risk of trauma,” said Ledbetter. “They frequently have diseases of the ocular surface and other eye problems for which corneal confocal microscopy will be particularly useful. For example, horses frequently get fungal infections of the cornea. This has traditionally been a hard problem to diagnose—regular culturing methods of diagnosing fungal infections can take 10 to 14 days for results to come back, creating long treatment delays.”

Using an in vivo corneal confocal microscope with a focal depth of 1.5 mm he adapted