Pannus in the German Shepherd Dog

All dog owners will likely agree that the care and well being of their canine friends is of the utmost importance. We all want our dogs to live happy, healthy lives.

With each dog breed comes particular health challenges and concerns. For the German Shepherd, one of these concerns is the development of Pannus. This eye condition affecting the cornea often develops around mid-life for this breed of dog. So, does this mean your German Shepherd is doomed to develop the condition? Not necessarily.

The causes of Pannus cannot always be determined, though there are certain common factors in whether or not your dog will develop the condition. German Shepherds are, above other breeds, particularly prone to the condition. But not all German Shepherds will develop Pannus.

If you are concerned that your dog may have Pannus, or may develop it later, read on to discover more about the condition.

What is Pannus?

Pannus in a German Shepherd Dog.

Pannus, also known as chronic superficial keratitis, is an autoimmune disease affecting the cornea, or the clear part of the eyeball. This condition develops when blood vessels invade the surface of the eye, causing scar tissue and inflammation of the eyelid and hindering vision.

This condition may be hereditary, although some environmental factors may also contribute to the development of Pannus. Some possible contributing factors include: overexposure to ultraviolet light, environmental irritants, such as smoke, and high altitudes.

While you probably cannot prevent your German Shepherd from developing this condition, you can watch for signs of the disease, get a diagnosis, treat the symptoms and understand the prognosis.

Symptoms of Pannus

One of the first symptoms of Pannus that you may notice in your German Shepherd is the development of a small, pinky white mass, or lesion, on the cornea. The mass may be filmy in consistency and usually appears as a symmetrical shape.

These lesions usually appear on the outer corners of both eyes. As the condition progresses, these lesions will flatten out, spreading over a wider area of the eye. The lesions may also become darker in color as Pannus progresses.

Inflammation of the third eyelid is another symptom to watch for. This usually develops after you have already noticed the pink masses on your dog’s eyes. The eyelids may also appear pink in color. However, in another form of Pannus, called nictitans plasmacytic conjunctivitis or plasmoma, inflammation of the third eyelid may be the first symptom, and no mass will appear on the cornea in this variation of the disease.

When Pannus is present, your German Shepherd’s eyes may also appear red or bloodshot. The dog’s eyes may appear weepy, or you may notice an opaque appearance to the cornea. In some cases, small white deposits will appear in other places around the cornea.

Even if you don’t notice any of these symptoms, it’s wise to take your German Shepherd for regular veterinary checkups. A vet may notice the development of early symptoms of Pannus before you do, and the earlier the condition is diagnosed, the better.

Diagnosing Pannus

A veterinarian can diagnose Pannus based on both visible symptoms and your German Shepherd’s medical records. If you have medical history for your dog, make sure you bring these records with you so that the vet has all available information at hand when conducting an examination.

Another way a vet can diagnose Pannus is by performing some diagnostic tests on your German Shepherd. But first, your vet will perform a complete eye exam, including a general intraocular pressure test.

After a basic examination of the eyes, the vet will perform diagnostic tests which may include: a Schirmer tear test, Fluorescein staining, and biopsies of the cornea.

The Schirmer tear test is done to determine if your dog has a tear deficiency. Tear deficiency, or dry eye, may mimic some of the symptoms of Pannus.

The Fluorescein staining of the cornea is done to determine if your dog has any ulcerations in the eyes. Ulcerations may be a secondary condition to the Pannus, or they may exist without the presence of the disease. The biopsies will be the final determining factor in diagnosing Pannus.

All of these tests are fairly simple to perform and will not cause your dog undue stress or pain.

Treatment For Pannus

When diagnosed early, Pannus can be treated using topical drugs. Most commonly, a veterinarian will prescribe corticosteroids. These steroid drugs work as anti-inflammatories, reducing the swelling of the scar tissue and easing the inflammation of the eyelid.

Cyclosporine and Tacrolimus are two common corticosteroids prescribed for the treatment of Pannus in German Shepherds. These drugs are typically applied topically, in the form of eye drops, but may also be administered via injection in some cases.

Other immune modulating drugs and antibiotics may also be prescribed for treating the condition. Antibiotics are generally prescribed when a secondary infection has developed in relation to the Pannus.

Prescribed medications should be given according to your vet’s instructions and should be administered throughout the remainder of your dog’s life.

Your pet should also be taken in for regular checkups to ensure that the condition is being treated properly and to avoid the progression of the disease.

A Realistic Prognosis With Pannus

It should be noted that Pannus is an incurable condition. However, with careful treatment, your German Shepherd can still enjoy good vision and a high quality of life.

Most cases of Pannus are easily treatable, responding well to topical drugs. In some more severe cases, however, you may need to take your dog to a veterinary ophthalmologist for more in depth testing and treatment. Surgery may also become necessary at times to remove scar tissue.

Left untreated, Pannus can cause blindness in the German Shepherd. Thus, it is imperative that you take your dog to a vet as soon as you notice the development of symptoms.