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Rv is a 21-year-old thoroughbred who was diagnosed with Equine Recurrent uveitis (ERU) 3 years ago.
We were in the midst of our showing career when he came in from the pasture with his first flare-up. When his left eye did not clear up and the swelling did not go down, I called my veterinarian. The vet treated him with topical ointments (steroidal, non-steroidal, atropine and antibiotics) and a systemic anti-inflammatory. Unfortunately, this would not be the last time RV would have what I called an “eye infection.”
RV started getting more frequent flare-ups that were getting harder and harder to treat. The vet started using internal steroids because RV was becoming immune to all the ointments in his eyes. At this point, I started doing some research on ERU since I had never heard of it before. I learned that the vet needed to come out every time RV had a flare-up to make sure the ERU was not in his cornea, because if the vet were to put him on steroids, it could blind him. I also learned that not many people were familiar with this disease and that there was no cure. The disease was starting to affect RV’s lifestyle – he could not be ridden when he was being treated, and if weather conditions were bad he had to stay in (wind, bugs, and hot weather trigger ERU flare-ups).
Just when I was starting to feel more educated about ERU, more aware of how this disease would affect RV, and more able to maintain his comfort, it started to affect his right eye. He came in with it swollen one day, but this time it was different. The right eye was much more swollen and was tearing non-stop! Unfortunately, RV had developed an ulcer that was bad enough to blind him for a short period of time. As if that was not enough bad news, he had also developed a cataract in the other eye (from the frequent flare-ups he had experienced), which caused him to lose his vision. I made arrangements for him to go to New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania the next day to see an ophthalmologist.
I remember how hard that day was; my poor horse could see pretty much nothing and had a really hard time getting in the trailer. It was an emotional roller coaster for the two of us! RV had an in-depth eye exam at New Bolton Center and the doctors informed me that the lens in his left eye had shifted – even if they were to remove his cataract, he would still not be able to see. Since the ulcer was so bad in his right eye, New Bolton Center put a catheter through his mane leading into the eye to allow them to treat it 6 times a day without aggravating it. RV came home with the catheter in and I continued to treat it for several weeks.
At this time I was already looking into getting RV medicine-releasing implants for both eyes. New Bolton had explained this procedure and felt he was a good candidate since his flare-ups were so frequent. The implants are designed to be inserted under the bone of the eye; they release medicine every so often to control ERU flare-ups. There was no question in my mind, if it would help make him more comfortable and reduce the vet calls, I was ready! RV was scheduled for surgery a few months later. The surgery went well; he was home in 3 days. When he came home, I noticed he was not eating and was not himself. I found out later that he had picked up a virus during his stay at New Bolton Center. Needless to say, he also developed an ERU flare-up with the virus (when a horse’s immunity goes down, ERU attacks).
The implants had not had a chance to work (because they take 6-8 weeks), and unfortunately RV was so immune to every other type of topical medicine that none of them were helping. After several weeks of the ERU not clearing up, my vet instructed me to take him off everything, to let the implants do their job. At this point, RV could only see light and shadows through his right eye and had no vision in the left; there was no guarantee he would not get any more flare-ups. I was not happy with these results and researched other methods. This is when I started using herbal treatments.
After speaking with many “herbal doctors” and researching the herbs, I put a plan together for RV. I found through research that, since he had been on so much medication the past year, detoxing his liver and kidneys of all the toxins before starting the herbs would help jumpstart the process. The detox was a two-week process and I started him on his herbal formula directly after. To date he is on three herbal support formulas (to enhance circulation, support the eyes, and boost immunity), which include hawthorne berry, buckwheat, nettle, willow, meadowsweet, rosehips, echinacea, eyebright, bilberry, ginkgo, garlic, rosehips, nettle, kelp, red clover, and pau de arco bark; vitamin C (to combat stress), and vitamin B12 (because ERU horses have a deficiency).
RV has been on the herbs since May of 2010 and has been flare-up free (let me remind you that before this he was having weekly flare-ups). He has not regained full sight in his right eye, however the ERU damage has gotten thinner and he can see more than just shadows and light. He has days where I swear he can see everything in front of him! RV can see some objects and the closer something is to him, the better. Sometimes he will do a double take at an object trying to make out what it is and I reassure him he will not be harmed. RV is back into a riding routine and goes out with a pony every day. I worked to get him into a routine so he knows his boundaries. I also watch the weather to make sure the conditions are appropriate for him to go out. The best advice I can give any horse caregiver/ handler is to be patient. It will take time for him to adjust. I spent a ton of time working with him when he was really sick; it was constant repetition until he was comfortable. I wanted to get him back to a normal life and wanted him to be happy.
I also wish I knew back then what I know now. I would have put RV on the herbs right away and perhaps gotten the implants earlier. He might still have his sight if I had. I share RV’s story to help/ educate other horse caregivers. My vet is very impressed and could not believe RV’s progress! Time is not on your side with ERU, and it will keep attacking if you do not get it under control – something I believe the herbs have done for RV!
About the Author:
Jessica has been involved in the world of horses since she could walk as her parents own an established hunter/jumper facility in New Jersey. Jessica has a background in marketing, advertising and public relations and now uses her background to communicate and educate horse owners on natural alternatives. She is also the Director of Media Relations for Natural Horse Magazine.
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