Foal Eye Issues

A number of congenital or developmental problems can impair a foal’s vision. Here’s what to watch for.
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Foal Eye Issues
Recognizing any of an array of foal problems early sometimes can mean the chance to treat and preserve vision. | Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

A number of congenital or developmental problems can impair a foal’s vision.

The newborn foal opens his eyes for the first time, and those soft, expressive orbs framed by tiny eyelashes begin to take in his surroundings. This brand-new set of eyes has never encountered environmental pathogens, sharp objects, or trauma. But it’s important to realize that while all might appear normal now, these peepers could be primed for developing particular conditions—genetic or otherwise—in the coming days or further down the road.

Recognizing any of an array of foal problems early sometimes can mean the chance to treat and preserve vision. But before we get into what can go wrong, let’s cover what’s normal.

Steve Roberts, DVM, Dipl. ACVO, of the Animal Eye Center, in Loveland, Colorado, notes that newborn foals must “learn” to see. “Since vision recognition is a learned response, newborn foals may not seem to recognize objects, movements, or situations within their environment,” he explains. “Although the eye correctly detects visual information, a foal’s brain may not properly understand what that information means. Programming of the brain to interpret visual information might take several days, initially making it difficult for a horse owner to determine the foal’s actual visual function

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Written by:

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care. She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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