Pinkeye Prevention

By Diane Alu

This summer was a very wet summer for most of us in the Northeast, which made lots of hay (if you could bale it up dry) and lots of flies. Flies do not cause pink eye. They just help spread it. A fly can be a carrier for up to three days of feeding on infected eye discharge, so wherever that fly has been, it can bring along someone else’s problems with it to your herd, which is not a good thing.

We have had just 2 cases of pink eye since we started with the Miniature Herefords, and only one that was persistent(needing more than one treatment). I learned a lot about pink eye that, I confess, I really didn’t know. I thought I would pass that information along to you.

Pink eye is caused by the infectious bacterium Moraxella bovis. This bacterium is covered by tiny hair-like structures called pili, which allow the bacterium to literally adhere to the eye, either the conjunctiva (the white part) or the cornea, preventing it from being washed away by tearing. The excessive tearing can harbor some shed bacterium, and that is how it is spread, from cow to cow, or, neighbor’s cow to your herd. Excessive tearing is the first sign of an infection; the eye becomes sensitive to light,
so the animal keeps the affected eye closed, or may seek shade. The center of the cornea appears white in a day or two, followed by cornea erosion and ulceration. If left untreated, the cornea can rupture, causing blindness.

Animals who do recover may exhibit permanent scarring, known as “blueeye,” or scars on the cornea. While some animals recover completely on their own, many will have a permanent scarring with limited sight, or blindness. One or both eyes may be affected.

Early detection and treatment is key to preventing permanent damage to the corona. Direct treatment to the eye and an antibiotic is usually sufficient for mild cases. For more advanced cases, antibiotic can be injected into the eyelid under the first layer of white, or conjunctiva; this is also quite effective. If the infection is advanced and/
or the animal is quite valuable (which, to me, is every animal), an eye injection with suturing of the inner eye lid (providing structural support that may keep the cornea from rupturing) may be the answer. This procedure takes skill and the complete immobilization of the animal (imagine someone sewing up your inner eye-lid). Our vet cross-
tied our haltered and penned animal and sedated him so he was relaxed and easier to work on. After injecting the eye, he sewed up the inner eye-lid with great care, gave him a shot of antibiotic, and then released him. After 30 minutes or so he was walking around slowly as if nothing had happened. Within 10 days the sutures
were absorbed, the eye opened, and our animal was spared the possibility of a ruptured cornea and blindness.

Now about that pigment question: unpigmeneted (white) eyelids and hair do not absorb ultraviolet light, therefore increasing the susceptibility of the animal to the organism that causes pinkeye….the organisms do not like surfaces that do absorb ultraviolet light, such as pigment, so pigment around the eyes is a good thing, and should be part of a preventative breeding program.

What can you do to help prevent pink eye in your animals? Breed for pigment around the eyes. Mow mature pastures so animals can graze close to the ground unhindered by (possibly contaminated and irritating) stems and seed heads. Practice fly control. Vaccinate your animals well before the fly season with a pink eye vaccination (this has mixed results, ask your veterinarian) and provide ample shade for animals. Reduce stress, as a stressed animal will be more susceptible to illness and infection, just like us. Look after your stock daily with care.

**Information contained in this article is for general
information purposes only. Contact your local vet for
specific recommendations

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