Cancer of the eye

This looks like bad news:

132 has had prominent white third eye-lids for as long as I’ve known her, but they are now looking distinctly puffy. I noticed them because of the unusual amount of tear-tracking, especially from the left eye.

A few months ago a five-year old cow started turning up for milking with a heavy discharge from one eye, and after a couple of days I decided there must be something irritating it, and had a look. When I peeled her eye-lids open, out popped a tumour that had been quietly growing on her third eye-lid.
I’d seen cancer eye before, usually as a very obvious growth protruding from the corner of a cow’s eye. On about three or four occasions a vet has removed the tumour on one of the cows I managed, allowing her to carry on milking with no further issues. Other farmers have said that cancer eye might as well be a death warrant, but that hadn’t been my experience.
So number 53 saw a vet the next time one was on the farm and endured the removal of the tumour, which was much further advanced than appearances indicated. This time the healing wasn’t straightforward – a day later the eye was infected and streaming pus and after a week of antibiotic treatment she had it sewn shut while it healed. She was wholly blind in that eye when the stitches were removed, but has recovered her vison since. So far the cancer has not returned.
53, three days ago

Normal eyes – the third eye-lid can be either white like 18’s here, or black like Gaunt’s (20).

(If you can read this, you’re below the post fold. Further images may be unpleasant)

Vet examination of 132’s left eye revealed a tumour that was huge – no chance of simply removing all the cancerous tissue with a portion of the third eyelid, as had been done with 53 and the other cows with cancer eye I’d known. The choice was between removing the entire eye, leaving a permanently half-blind cow, or culling her to salvage some meat value.
It might have been a harder decision if she hadn’t been a young cow and one of the top producers in the herd (and aided also by the fact that I’d recently had a one-eyed cow running with the herd and she appeared to cope well with her partial loss of vision).

The operation was done under sedation, and the space packed with sterile gauze before sewing her back up.



Showing the cancerous tissue:

The pre-cancerous tissue on her other eye was also removed while she was under sedation:

Wise to keep such animals grazing alone for a day or so, I suspect. This particular cow is a fence-pusher (was out on the roadside within four hours of the op) and when I let her run back to the milking herd the result was complete pandemonium. The other cows were attempting to lick her good eye – the right one.
They soon settled down, though I’ve since seen the occasional bunt and suspect she’ll drop a few places in the social order (though she hasn’t given up her space in the first row during milking).

Here she is two mornings after. Her head is lifted out of the herd, enabling her to see with her good eye.

And grazing under the hot wire as always:

Cancer eye is best detected early – how to

Information on cancer eye from NSW agriculture, includes images

Although both 53 and 132 were initially noticed because of unusual eye discharge, the growths can often be seen at a glance before they get too big for easy removal, and the fact that I drench my cows daily means I get a good view of their eyes.
As far as I can tell, I have only one other cow in the herd showing any sign of cancer eye, and she has the same sort of pre-cancerous ‘spotty’ third eye-lid 132 had (both eyes). She’s an older cow with a poor temperament, so she won’t have to undergo 132’s experience if it develops.
Yeah, I got photos. No, they’re not worth posting. Guess how easy it is to capture a clear image of a couple of white spots on the third eyelid of a cow moving her back-lit head…

~ by Nellta on January 24, 2009.

9 Responses to “Cancer of the eye”

  1. I am a veterinarian in Chipata Zambia. I am encountering alot of cases in cattle with eye cancer. link me up to a veterinarian up there so that we can share experiences. In Africa it is usually had to convince a farmer to cull animals that are not thrifty!

  2. I will be sending some photos and post surgery pictures when I am done this coming saturday.

  3. i am a undergaraduate vet student from india , doin a small project on bovine tumours here.nice images buddy…….

  4. Interesting to re-read this post – it’s still the most read post on the blog according to incoming searches.

    132 is now 7 years old, one-eyed, still going well. She had a Brown Swiss cross heifer calf eighteen months ago and is currently leased out to a Jersey herd.
    She still leads the herd, as she’s always done; the main thing to watch out for is drafting her in the yard or if she’s leading the herd towards a gate on her blind side. That’s when you remember that she doesn’t see on one side.
    53 is also still around and milking well and has had no further issues – as far as I could tell her sight recovered completely.

  5. Dear sir. I am P.G. student in surgery and my research work on eye cancer in cattle, So, i request to you please give me some reference of eye cancer in cattle.

  6. is there any other growth apart from eye cancer that can affect cows?

    • yes. ’tis the nature of cancer, I think, that it can spread and pop up anywhere. Cancer of the eye is the only type I’ve seen directly.
      Lumps and bumps from injuries are common, so there’s the possiblity of the cause not being investigated early if it did show up elsewhere.

  7. I’m undergrad in animal Science . I would like know the cause ? Is it genectic or is cause by too much sunlight. How is eye determine? And What causes eye cancer in general?

  8. I have a 7yr old suckler cow with eye cancer and she has a very good temperament
    and always produces very well turned out calves. I’m wondering would it be worth it to have the cancer removed as my vet said that it would grow back and is it expensive to have it removed?

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