When my husband’s gentle gray gelding was diagnosed with Equine Recurring Uveitis (ERU) also known as Moonblindness, I panicked. ERU is the number one cause of blindness in horses.
In February of 2008 Clover’s left eye was closed and weeping. I called my vet, Dr. Susan Mende, D.V.M. of Wolf Creek Equine in Lothian, Maryland.
She treated the eye with atropine and a steroid. The eye healed within a week.
But Clover’s right eye flared up twelve weeks later, and he tested positive for leptospirosis. After two more outbreaks in quick succession, my vet delivered the awful diagnosis. The handsome 17 year old had ERU. Without quick and drastic intervention he would go suddenly and completely blind.
Symptoms of ERU & Difficulty of Diagnosis
The initial signs of the disease are inconspicuous: a weeping and swollen eye, often left to heal itself.
In bad cases ERU recurs in short succession, sometimes affecting both eyes. The gaps between our horse’s outbreaks lessened from 12 weeks to 11 weeks to 9 weeks, and affected alternate eyes.
Luckily my vet saw the pattern early. Many horses are only examined after a long series of recurring flare-ups, dramatically lessening the chances of saving their sight.
Causes of ERU
The causes of Equine Recurring Uveitis are not known for sure, but recent research indicates the culprit is the leptospirus bacterium. Among carriers of leptospirus are mice and infected pets, according to Barbara Fenner, a specialist at the Chirurgischen TierKlinik in Munich, in her article “Schreckgespenst Mondblindheit” (Moonblindness, the Frightening Ghost).
She writes that it’s thought the bacterium itself doesn’t cause the outbreak. The body appears to have an allergic reaction against the protein of the leptospirus, causing an auto-immune reaction within the vitreous fluid of the eye.
What could be done to save Double Clover’s sight?
Dr. Mende told be about cyclosporine. Applied topically in the case of human uveitis, it penetrates the cornea and treats the disease. Unfortunately cyclosporine cannot penetrate the equine cornea.
She told me about two vets, Drs Brian Gilger and Janice Allen, at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine who surgically insert a slow releasing implant of cyclosporine into the vitreous fluid of the eye. They can also remove the diseased fluid, filling the eye with a fresh, healthy replacement.
The operation is usually successful and the implants last for two to four years.
The only problem is the cost: $3,500 at the time of writing. To be paid not only for this operation, but subsequent operations every two to four years over the remaining life of the horse.
I struggled with the daily fear of Clover going suddenly blind, and having to accept that we were unable to afford the only operation that could save our horse’s sight.
Overhearing my lament a local horse show, someone then said the magic words: “A friend’s horse had ERU and homeopathy cured him.”
Finding a Homeopathist
Filled with new hope, I hunted for information on homeopathists and was told about Dr. Joyce Harman who runs a holistic practice Harmany Equine Clinic Ltd in Flint Hill, Virginia.
Dr Mende had only good things to say about Dr. Harman, and I immediately arranged a phone consultation.
The Effects of Stress
Dr. Harman asked whether Clover had experienced any stress in his life?
I reeled off a long list, including: blowing both front tendons: flying from England to the U.S.: blowing a deep digital flexor tendon: regular coughs in the spring: a bout of Lyme’s disease: mild arthritis, and now leptospirosis.
Dr Harman explained that inflammation of the eye pointed to poor liver function, which would also have caused the tendon problems.
The liver’s job is to detoxify, but the stress in Clover’s life had compromised his liver’s ability to perform properly. Over time this had worsened, until the problem had blown up in his eye.
The aim was to remove the inflammation and correct imbalances in his body. Dr. Harman told me he would improve over the next month to three months, but should be treated for six months.
She prescribed Zinc Picolinate, CoQ100. Also a Chinese herbal liver formula called “Tendon/Ligament” as Clover’s gums were a light pink. Had they been red, she would have prescribed Haliotis powder.
Dr. Harman warned me we were treating him rather late after his most recent outbreak, and he may have another flare-up. If so, it would be a mild one. She suggested a treatment of Thuja pills, doubling the CoQ100 and washing the affected eye with euphrasia. In the case of a bad outbreak I should use the above treatment in conjunction with Dr. Mende’s medication.
It was now the first week in October, and Dr. Harman asked that I update her in mid-November.
On 25th November I sent an ecstatic email to Dr. Harman saying Clover had passed the 10 week mark without a flare-up. He then went 11 weeks, 12 weeks and longer without any ERU symptoms!
On 18th December 2008 his left eye started weeping in a mild outbreak. There was no swelling nor were the eyelids closed, but they were red inside. After consulting with Dr. Mende I applied the steroid cream.
The redness inside the eyelid persisted but Dr. Mende reassured me the eye itself was fine and by the beginning of March the lids had returned to their normal white color.
As of the beginning of May 2010, the big gray has gone without even the slightest symptoms of an ERU outbreak for over twelve months!
If your horse exhibits weeping and puffy eyes, call the vet immediately. The sooner the cause is found the better off your horse will be. And if he has ERU, you can do something to stop this terrible disease!
Dr. Harmann can be reached at http://www.harmanyequine.com