Horses saved by pioneering surgery

  • Cataracts can now be removed from horses’ eyes using techniques previously only used on humans. The pioneering operation has been perfected by vets and ophthalmologists at the University of Liverpool’s Large Animal Hospital at Leahurst, Merseyside, and will save thousands of horses from being put down.

    Until now equine cataract operations have rarely been performed in the UK because of the risk of post-operative complications but now the hospital can offer it as routine surgery. Professor Derek Knottenbelt, Liverpool University’s Head of Equine Studies said: “This new surgery shows how effectively the latest human cataract surgical techniques can translate successfully to bear on an equine problem.”

    Surgeons at Leahurst have already restored the sight in one eye of a 15-month-old filly who was born blind with cataracts in both eyes. The team is now preparing to operate on the second eye and the horse is expected to make a full recovery.

    The veterinary team perfected the operation by adapting a device usually used on humans which breaks up a cataract using an ultrasound probe called a phacoemulsification machine. The surgeons combined that with a technique commonly used in “eye camps” in remote parts of India, to dislodge the cataract using a jet of saline. Finally they found a way to inject horses with steroids to control postoperative inflammation of the eye.

    There have already been several success stories at Leahurst. Professor Knottenbelt and Dr. Wong carried out two operations on TC, a nine-year old gelding warmblood with cataracts in both eyes. “I’m absolutely delighted with the outcome of TC’s surgery,” said TC’s owner, Melina. “If I had not agreed to this pioneering operation the only other course of action would have been to have my horse put down. As a showjumping horse, it was vital to have TC’s eyesight restored.”

    For further information about equine cataracts and eye surgery, contact the University of Liverpool’s Large Animal Hospital at Leahurst, Wirral, Merseyside (tel: 0151 794 6041).

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