Cataracts are white, cloudy or crystal-looking opaque lenses inside the horse’s eye. The cornea remains clear and there are seldom any signs of pain, inflammation or discomfort. Horses can be born with cataracts, or acquire them later in life.
In a few cases, cataracts can form along with Equine Recurrent Uveitis (ERU) which may require different treatment from that for cataracts stemming from other causes. If the horse’s eye looks whitish from the outside, cataracts are not the primary problem, but could be present.
Since horses do not require two eyes for depth perception, most can perform as normal even if blind in one eye. In some cases, when the cataract occurs in the horse’s dominant eye (the one he prefers to see with), performance can be affected. Horses who are blind in one eye are allowed to compete in most sports except polo.
Some cataracts can be treated with a surgical procedure called phacoemulsification and aspiration. This is not a simple surgery, but can be quite successful, and it may be possible to insert a new lens, similar to that done in humans. However, surgery is costly and may not be needed with some holistic help.
If the cataract is not causing any problems with performance, behavior or safety, doing nothing is fine. In many cases the cataract is discovered by accident, and may have been present for many years without causing any issues.
However, there are a few things that can be done homeopathically to help clear up the lens, or prevent further clouding. Cineraria maratima, or dusty miller, is a common herb that may dissolve cataracts. It needs to be made from the mother tincture of the herb, then diluted in saline water. I usually use about 10-15 drops in a 1/2-oz bottle of sterile non-preserved saline like that used for contact lenses. In warm weather, be sure to refresh the solution every few days or keep it in the refrigerator (but warm it up before putting it in the eye). Put a droppersful into the eye daily, several times a day if possible.
Remedies given internally include Calc Phos, Sepia, Causticum, and Silicea, among others. Since the condition is slow to react, the remedies should be given no more than once a week to once a month. There are actually a dozen or so remedies that could be used, if one of them is not working. It is best to work with a veterinary homeopath to decide the optimal remedy, since cataracts are a chronic condition.
Nutrients will not cure or resolve cataracts, but may be helpful in the healing process and are known to help prevent cataracts in humans. If your horse has a known family history of cataracts, these nutrients would be very useful in the diet:
* Co-enzyme Q10 is useful in many eye diseases: use about 300-400 mg, and only buy from a high quality company.
* N-Acetylcarnosine, or L-carnosine eye drops are available and can be helpful.
* Antioxidant nutrients such as natural Vitamin E (about 5000 IU), Vitamin C (4-5 gms per day), glutathione (hard to get absorbed orally, but there are some available, and it can be given by intravenous injection)
* Curcumin from Turmeric: about 3 times the human dose.
Feeding sulphur-containing foods such as garlic can enhance Glutathione. A good general antioxidant supplement can be used, and antioxidant whole food supplements are excellent additions to the diet. Carotenes are good antioxidants and are in foods such as carrots, pumpkins, spinach, squash, watermelon, asparagus, broccoli and cantaloupe.
Joyce Harman owns and operates Harmany Equine Clinic, Ltd. in Flint Hill, VA. Acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, herbs, nutrition and saddle fitting make up most of her practice. www.harmanyequine.com