Guild of Shepherds & Collies

Does Your German Shepherd Show Signs of This Eye Disease?

eye disease


Pannus, an Eye Disease, is Common in German Shepherds

"Seeing" as there is a National Service Dog Eye Exam month (May), I thought it would be good to discuss one of the eye diseases experienced by one of the most common breeds of service dogs.

It's important to note that the term Service Dog refers to a variety of different working dog classes. According to the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists, these are the qualifying service dogs:

  • Guide Dogs
  • Hearing Assistance Dogs
  • Drug Detection Dogs
  • Police/Military Dogs
  • Search & Rescue Dogs
  • Service Dogs for People with Disabilities other than Blindness
  • Therapy Dogs

The top 3 most popular breeds in the US, according to the AKC, that are commonly used as service dogs for many of the above categories are: Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs, and Golden Retrievers. Today, we would like to focus specifically on the most common eye disease experienced by German Shepherds, but first, we need to establish why eye health is so important in dogs.

In my experience as a veterinary assistant, I can tell you that eye issues are most commonly considered emergencies, or situations of immediate concern. The eye is made up of such delicate tissue that it’s important to act quickly to avoid long-term damage and loss of sight. As a pet parent, it is crucial to be aware of the diseases that threaten your pet AND know the signs and symptoms of those diseases so that you can act immediately.

Pannus in German Shepherds

I first learned about Pannus as an eye disease in 2010, when we had a German Shepherd patient visit the hospital because her person noticed that there was "something wrong with her eye".

Pannus is defined by Animal Eye Center as:

"A progressive change occurs where blood vessels and scar tissue invade the cornea. This change usually begins in the temporal (outer) or ventral (lower) quadrant of the cornea, and severe cases can involve most or all of the corneal surface area resulting in blindness. With chronicity the affected areas become black with pigmentation."

This disease is most commonly seen in the German Shepherd Dog breed, which supports many hypotheses that German Shepherds are genetically predisposed to the disease. However, the disease is thought to originate when a dog has been exposed to UV radiation, which is more likely to occur in areas of higher elevation. Some sources even suggest that the lesions from Pannus become worse in the summer time.

What are the signs of Pannus?

Pannus is identified when a pet parent or veterinarian notices a discoloration of the cornea.

How is Pannus treated?

Pannus is defined as an “immune-mediated disease”. Meaning, the dog’s body is identifying the cells as foreign and has launched an immune attack against the cells in the eye. Therefore, Pannus is treated with steroids and immunosuppressive drugs like Cyclosporine. It is important to note that this disease can be managed in the long-term.

What can you do for your pet?

Make sure to keep an eye out (literally) for the symptoms of Pannus. Once treatment begins for the disease, the discomfort can be limited, and your pet’s vision has can be preserved as much as possible. If you have a German Shepherd, I highly recommend using Doggles to limit their exposure to the UV light, especially if you live in higher altitudes.


Article By:
Rachel Sheppard
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