Summer 2010 Magazine

Dig Those Shades!
Protection from Pannus

By Gavin Kennard, DVM, DACVO

Most of us live here because we love the mountains and the sun. Here in Albuquerque, we have inescapable mountain views and 310 sunny days a year! While we might love mountaintops and sunshine, our dogs may not, particularly German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Border Collies and Greyhounds. These breeds have a heritable predisposition to a slowly progressive disease of the cornea (to which any dog can be susceptible) called chronic superficial keratitis or, more commonly, "pannus". Guess what incites and propagates this disease - altitude and the sun's ultraviolet rays.

In its early stages, pannus causes redness and brown pigment in the mucous membrane just outside the edge of the cornea. Next, whitish inflammatory cells infiltrate the cornea, followed by a growth of new blood vessels. Later, connective tissue grows, which over time becomes brownish. In other words, if you're checking for pannus, you're looking for a whitish, pink or brown streak at the edge of the clear cornea. You'll usually find this tell-tale sign of pannus at the outer, lower corner of the eye.

Unfortunately, no permanent cure exists and, if left completely untreated, pannus can lead to blindness. The good news is that in the vast majority of cases, pannus can be controlled and stabilized, especially if therapy is initiated early in the course of the disease.

The goal of therapy is to reverse active corneal vascularization (that is, the growth of blood vessels) and to prevent further progression of the scarring and pigment deposition in the cornea. To that end, a veterinary ophthalmologist is likely to prescribe immuno-modulating therapy and will recommend limiting your dog's exposure to UV light.

Dogs with pannus will require this therapy consistently for life. Even short periods without treatment might cause the disease process to recur, which in turn could wreak havoc on your dog's vision. While the thought of applying topical medications for the rest of your dog's life might make you nervous, this therapy not only slows progression of this disease but also reverses some of the damage already done and very seldom gives rise to complications. And be assured that the ultimate goal is to have your pet on the fewest medications necessary for control.

To protect your dog's eyes from pannus, take a proactive approach and do for him or her what you do for yourself: limit exposure to the sun's UV rays and buy a pair of "doggie" sunglasses. Then, the next time you head out for a walk, remember to grab the shades-yours and your dog's!

Dr. Kennard is a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist and has been serving New Mexico for the past six years. Call (505-292-3600) to get a consultation for your pet's ocular condition.

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