It is important to know the most common wounds for cattle and how to properly diagnose the ailment to prevent further issues or an infection. Corneal ulcers are no exception. Corneal ulcers are one of the more common eye diseases that can plague your livestock. They can be extremely painful and lead to tearing, squinting, and even weight loss because they can impact grazing patterns.
Let’s learn more about what corneal ulcers are, what can cause them, the symptoms to look out for, and how to treat them.
What are Corneal Ulcers?
A corneal ulcer is an inflammatory eye condition where the outer layer of the cornea is irritated and inflamed. It is also called ulcerative keratitis and is common in household pets like dogs and cats and also livestock, including cattle. Corneal ulcers can be caused by a number of factors, including an infection or trauma to the eye.
To further understand corneal ulcers and lesions, it’s important to understand the structure of the eye. The cornea is the transparent structure that forms the outer layer of the eye. It helps protect the contents of the eye. There are multiple layers of the cornea, and the outer layer is called the epithelium.
What Causes Corneal Ulcers?
There are many causes of corneal ulcers. Here are a few:
Pink eye, or infectious bovine keratoconjunctivitis (IBK), is an eye lesion caused by a bacteria called Moraxella Bovis. Pink eye in cattle is most common in the summer months and in young cattle. It causes tear-staining, conjunctivitis, pain, and possibly a corneal ulcer. It can even cause temporary blindness.
Trauma to the Eye
Of course, corneal ulcers can be caused by trauma to the eye, which leads to scarring and inflammation of the cornea. This trauma can be caused by something dangerous in the surroundings, another animal, the animal itself, foreign bodies in the eye, or mistreatment. Trauma to the eye is also relatively common in livestock, including cattle and horses, because of the eye’s prominent position.
Eye worms, or thelaziasis, are parasites that can inhabit the eye and associated tissues. These eye worms can cause watery eyes, conjunctivitis, corneal opacity, or corneal ulcers. Usually, these eye worms can be treated topically with organophosphates. They can also be treated systematically with an anthelmintic. A vet may be able to remove the worms physically.
These are just a few of the causes of corneal ulcers and some of the most common. Other causes include:
- Mycoplasma spp (mycoplasmosis)
- Chlamydial infections
- Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR)
- Bovine malignant catarrh
In addition to these, sometimes the cause of the corneal ulcer or lesion can’t be found.
The Symptoms of Corneal Ulcers and Lesions
Corneal ulcers are extremely painful and can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- Eye pain
- Watery eyes
- Twitching eyelids
- Photophobia, or intolerance to sunlight
- Corneal edema, or swelling/fluid retention
With all these eye issues, livestock may also face changes in their grazing patterns, which can lead to weight loss, temporary blindness, and wandering. Livestock that has corneal ulcers or lesions should be monitored carefully for their safety.
How to Treat Corneal Ulcers in Livestock
Corneal ulcers should be treated promptly, as they can have sight-threatening consequences. In addition, corneal ulcers increase the risk of secondary bacterial or fungal infections.
Most cases of corneal ulcers can often be treated with medical therapy. A vet may recommend antibiotics, a topical cream, an anti-inflammatory, or a mydriatic. In addition, an antimicrobial topical solution can help limit the risk of infection and speed up healing. The first goal is to reduce the inflammation, and the secondary goal is to reduce pain. These treatments can often do both at the same time. Be careful not to apply too much pressure to the eye and risk rupture. You can also use this on cow udders, too!
If a foreign body causes the corneal ulcer in the eye, it should be flushed out if possible and removed with a cotton-tipped applicator, forceps, or be surgically removed. If the foreign body can’t be removed, the animal may require surgical repair.
After initial treatment, the eye should be examined at least every three days. In more severe cases, it should be checked daily. With proper treatment, most superficial corneal ulcers and lesions heal quickly, and the animal can be back to living normally. In more severe cases, long-term damage might not be known. These cases may require re-examination.
How to Prevent Corneal Ulcers
It may be impossible to prevent corneal ulcers completely, but there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk. Always keep your livestock barns clean and free of debris that could enter the eye. Keep a close watch on your animals to monitor if anything is amiss. Isolate any animal that has an infection, sickness, or other condition.
Corneal ulcers are relatively common and require treatment to prevent the risk of blindness and other long-term side effects.