Moon Blindness—A Life Sentence?

My 10 y/o Warmblood mare was just recently diagnosed with ERU or Moon Blindness in her right eye. I was told by the vet that she would have to be on a daily dose of aspirin for the rest of her life. I am worried about ulcers, is there a specific aspirin that I should be using? How often should I have her checked for ulcers? She has never had a history of ulcers or other digestive issues (KNOCK ON WOOD).

Thank you so much,
KP, Illinois

Dear KP,
While we often associate Moon Blindness (ERU or Equine Recurrent Uveitis), with appaloosas, it can develop in any age and breed of horse, including warmbloods like yours. I see that you live in Illinois–there are some very good equine veterinarians as well as board certified veterinary ophthalmologists out there! For starters (if you haven’t already), I suggest you ask your vet to refer you to one of these “animal eye doctors” for a second opinion. An expert in the field has special tools to accurately measure the pressure in the eyes to confirm the diagnosis as well as make sure the prescribed treatment and management program is working. The veterinary ophthalmologist may also offer a more aggressive treatment protocol to start with—such as steroids and antibiotics—since the main goal of therapy is to preserve vision by reducing inflammation and therefore permanent damage to the eye. Some horses respond to daily aspirin after an initial course of steroids or flunixin meglumine (Banamine) while others don’t, so it’s important to know early on if this particular regimen is effective for your horse.

In addition to pharmaceuticals, talk to your regular vet and the veterinary ophthalmologist about adding specific supplements to her diet to help manage inflammation, a potentially overactive immune system and oxidative stress. There’s MSM, which research shows has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities, and Omega 3 Fatty Acids, with their proven inflammation-fighting abilities at the cellular level especially in the retina, brain and heart tissues. Also consider a comprehensive antioxidant package that includes Vitamins A, E and C as well as minerals Selenium, Zinc, Copper and Manganese and other ingredients. One of my favorite supplements for any kind of syndrome where the immune system may be is involved is APF, which contains adaptogenic herbs that help dial systems back to normal or homeostasis.

Finally, because you expressed the very real concern about the long-term use of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (aspirin) on her GI tract, adding digestive support is an excellent idea. Specific agents which have been shown to support a healthy stomach lining include licorice, L-glutamine, pectin-lecithin, and others. Add probiotics, prebiotics and enzymes to help maintain normal function throughout the entire digestive system, including the hindgut.

And don’t forget adding a fly mask to her wardrobe, winter or summer. Year-round protection from the sun as well as insects has been shown to go a long way towards reducing inflammation in the eye and future flare-ups.

For more information on ERU, please visit the topic “Moon Blindness” under Common Equine Conditions on our Horse Health Info page.

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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4 comments on “Moon Blindness—A Life Sentence?
  1. kerry says:

    My friend’s filly contracted ERU following a bump to the face while turned out. Her flare ups were frequent (about every 2 weeks with careful treatment & monitoring). She underwent surgery where a small implant was inserted into the affected eye in hopes of managing flare ups w/o the barrage of daily anti-inflammatories. My understanding is that the procedure is supposed to have good odds and last up to 13 years. FYI: we were told that the condition can sometimes’jump’ and affect the other eye over time. Consult a specialist to see if the implant may be an option for your mare. Good Luck!

    • Tracy says:

      Consider purchasing a Guardian Fly Mask, http://www.horsemask.com/
      95% Sunshade. My paint was recently diagnoses with squamous cell carcinoma and had to have surgery to remove the eye tumor and radiation. He will wear one of these masks forever.

  2. DarcC says:

    Hey there, my 10 yr old mare contracted ERU at 2 and is now fully blind, with one eye removed 2 years ago due to the onset of glaucoma. She had the cyclosporin implant that the first commenter mentioned, it helped but was not a cure-all.

    On a positive note, despite her blindness, she is happy, healthy, and a barn favorite! In fact, she was recently featured in a music video by folk artist Antje Duvekot, here is the you-tube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZ2mCO6R6Uo&feature=share

    Also, I belong to a GREAT blind horse support group on yahoo, here is the link to that if anyone is interested, there are many knowledgeable people on it and all are happy to help by sharing tips and experiences. http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/Blind-Horses2/

  3. Karen says:

    My 19 yo pony came to me with what my vet thinks is ERU, but previous owner claims to have not known about it, she “just always needed to wear a fly mask.” Vision is not affected yet, in fact, her vision is great. I think my mare just has photosensitivity, or some kind of allergy in both her eyes. When it is sunny or windy, she constantly shakes her head, and rubs her eyes until they swell shut, then requires antibiotics. I used Guardian mask for two years, without much improvement, as my mare has incredibly sensitive ears, so she needs ears covered. Pony was going through Guardian masks just as fast as any other mask, so I just stick to something with ears now. Vet says there really isn’t a way to diagnose ERU, it’s just a matter of ruling other things out… any advice?

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