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Today we will talk about German Shepherd Pannus, an eye disease that commonly affects German Shepherds.
There is no pain involved, but it can be a very serious condition that may result in blindness if not treated in time.
We will look at the disease and discuss its cause and symptoms, how it’s diagnosed and what type of treatment is required.
Pannus can’t be cured and lifelong care is needed for a German Shepherd with the condition.
We will discuss how owners can support their dogs, and what they need to do after diagnosis.
What is German Shepherd Pannus?
Pannus is an autoimmune inflammatory eye disease also known as ‘Chronic Superficial Keratitis’.
It is a condition that causes a dog’s immune system to attack the cornea.
The disease is incurable but can be managed with proper care.
In advanced cases that are not treated in time, the dog will lose its sight.
Pannus often affects German Shepherds, particularly during middle age when the immune system begins to weaken.
Although common in older dogs, younger dogs can also be affected.
Several breeds are more prone to the disease including German Shepherds /GSD mixes, Greyhounds, Poodles, Belgium Teruvens, Dachshunds, and Huskies.
The response to treatment is often more positive if the onset is after 5-6years of age
In younger dogs, the condition may be more severe and less responsive to some of the more common therapies.
What signs give it away?
The disease causes the cornea to become inflamed and discolored.
One eye may be more affected than the other. It starts off with a pink tinge usually on the outer edges of each eye, then moving inwards.
When looking directly at a dog’s eyes, changes will be noticeable at the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions.
The tinge is due to tiny blood vessels that eventually spread out to cover the entire surface of the cornea.
This turns the eye opaque and eventually, the cornea becomes dark and pigmented.
Scarring and tissue accumulate on the surface of the eye, and cholesterol forms inside the cornea. Discharge may sometimes be present. In some cases, small white deposits will appear in other areas around the cornea.
Dogs have a third eyelid in the bottom corner of the eye, this protects the cornea by clearing mucus and produces a third of the dog’s tears.
This third eyelid may also become affected with a Pannus variation called ‘Nictitans Plasmacytic Conjunctivitus’ or ‘Plasmoma’. Each form may or may not be present at the same time.
What Causes Pannus in German Shepherds?
Pannus is thought to be hereditary, and German Shepherds / GSD mixes are predisposed more often due to their genetics.
Classified as an autoimmune disorder, this means that the dog’s immune system begins to attack the conjunctiva tissue covering the eye.
Ultraviolet light can aggravate the condition and produce a more severe case of Pannus.
Therefore dogs living or working in certain conditions will be more exposed to UV rays. These conditions include sunny climates, high altitudes, and areas with open bodies of water. Owners will need to be very diligent particularly during the summer months or if a pet spends a lot of time outdoors.
Polluted air i.e from smoke may contribute to Pannus development.
German Shepherds living in polluted areas appear to be more at risk.
Studies suggest that environmental allergens may cause a type of reaction in the corneas of some dogs. Certain foods may be linked and there are a few holistic practitioners who treat Pannus through diet.
Signs & Symptoms of German Shepherd Pannus
- Pink tinge on outer edges of eye/s
- Bloodshot eyes
- Watery, weepy looking eyes
- Inflammed third eyelid
- Symmetrical cloudy pink mass on the cornea
- Corneal color change from clear to a whitish pink, brown or black
- White fatty growths on the cornea / tiny white spots around the eyes
- Thickened tissue over the eye
- Visual impairment
If any of the above symptoms are recognizable in a dog, they must be taken to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible.
At the clinic, the vet will look at a dog’s medical history and carry out an eye examination, including an intraocular pressure test. Diagnostics may include a Schirmer tear test, Fluorescein corneal staining, and a corneal biopsy (scrapings) Staining will determine if the dog has ulcerations in the eye, which may or may not be present with Pannus.
The Schirmer test determines tear deficiency, known as Keratoconjunctivitis (dry eye) this condition produces symptoms similar to Pannus.
But overall the biopsy will be the determining factor for diagnosing the disease.
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Since there is no cure for Pannus the aim of treatment is to control the disease and to stop it from progressing further and becoming worse. Treatment will depend on the severity at the time of diagnosis.
Blood vessel growth and cloudiness will be controlled with anti-inflammatory medications (topical steroids).
These commonly include corticosteroids, tacrolimus, or cyclosporine usually administered as eye drops or ointment.
These are used to suppress the immune response that causes Pannus.
Occasionally Injections of subconjunctival steroids may be used for lesions on the cornea. Antibiotics may be required if a secondary infection develops.
Most dogs respond well to topical medication, treatment will attempt to stop further progression and may reverse some negative changes. A referral to a Veterinary Ophthalmologist may be required for more specific tests and treatment.
Cryosurgery may be used to destroy diseased cells by freezing.
In some cases, diseased areas of tissue will require surgical removal to improve corneal vision.
The surface layer of the cornea is removed for severely affected dogs, but the recurrence can be high following surgery and the procedure can only be performed once.
Beta Radiation may be used as a last resort if other treatments are unresponsive.
Treatment needs to continue for the rest of the dog’s life and has to be administered several times a day with drops/ ointment. The frequency may reduce in time, once the condition is brought under control.
German Shepherd Pannus Recover & Prognosis
The severity of the condition will determine the outcome. But most dogs with mild to moderate Pannus responded well to topical medication.
With regular clinical checkups, a German Shepherd with Pannus can still have good vision and lead a good quality of life.
The condition is more difficult to treat in dogs that live or work at high altitudes
For example, Military dogs in mountainous regions (High UV).
Avoiding a dog’s exposure to sunlight will be necessary after diagnosis and treatment. Shelters should be provided in the home away from sunlight
Dogs are best exercised during the very early morning or much later in the evening.
Special doggy sunglasses/goggles with UV protection are available.
Pets may resist wearing them initially, but with gentle encouragement, a dog will adapt.
They will also look very cool too!
Pannus is a common German Shepherd condition, particularly in middle age. It should not be allowed to progress and owners need to be aware if they spot any changes in their dog’s eyes. It’s a disease that’s very easily diagnosed and treated. An appointment should be made as soon as possible if there are any concerns.
The overall prognosis for the majority of dogs is very good, but only with lifelong treatment and periodic veterinary checks.
Helping to shield pets from UV rays is an important factor, and there are measures owners can take to help support their pets with this.