Retina and Optic Nerve Disease in Horses

Learn more about 10 conditions that can affect the horse’s retina and optic nerve.

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Normal Retina and Optic Nerve
The normal retina and optic nerve of a horse as seen with an ophthalmoscope. The dark spots in the tapetum are capillaries called Stars of Winslow. | Photo: Courtesy Dennis E. Brooks, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVO

Editor’s Note: This article was revised by the author to reflect new and updated information in November 2017.

In the last article of the 12-part series on the equine eye, we focus on diseases of the retina and optic nerve

The retina is one of the most metabolically active tissues in the body. It consists of 10 layers of cells and nerve fibers. Nine layers compose the sensory retina, with a final layer, the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), present next to the choroids (the primary blood supply to the horse retina). Light passing through the cornea, anterior chamber, lens, and vitreous is absorbed and organized by retinal cells, which then transform the light into electrical signals that pass along the optic nerve fibers to the brain. A reflective tissue called the tapetum in the upper choroid improves night vision. The retina, retinal blood vessels, tapetum, and optic disc (the front of the optic nerve) can be seen with special instruments called ophthalmoscopes. Diseases of the retina and optic nerve are respectively termed retinopathies and optic neuropathies.

Retina and Optic Nerve Disease
The light-colored, rounded areas surrounding both sides of the optic disc are scars from inflammation of the retina and choroid (chorioretinitis). They might be small in some eyes and quite large in others. | Photo: Courtesy Dennis E. Brooks, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVO
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Written by:

Dennis E. Brooks, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVO, is a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Florida. He has lectured extensively, nationally and internationally, in comparative ophthalmology and glaucoma, and has more than 140 refereed publications. He is a recognized authority on canine glaucoma, and infectious keratitis, corneal transplantation, and glaucoma of horses.

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