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Pannus in Dogs (Chronic Superficial Keratitis) Research Study

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Pannus is an immune-related eye disease in dogs that can cause vision impairment or even blindness if left untreated. Embark is partnering with Cornell University, a leading research institution, to gather samples for the study of the genetic factors involved in this disease.

Keep reading to learn more about pannus in dogs and how you can help with this important research.

What is pannus in dogs?

Pannus is the common name for chronic superficial keratitis. It is considered an autoimmune disease, meaning it involves an abnormal immune response. It is not contagious and is usually not painful.

Pannus causes discolored lesions to develop on a dog’s cornea—the clear, outer layer of the eye. Without treatment, these lesions can lead to scarring that causes loss of sight. Fortunately, if detected early, there are treatments for pannus that can help manage the disease.

What breeds are affected by pannus?

Pannus can affect many breeds, as well as mixed-breed dogs, but it most often occurs in the German Shepherd Dog, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervuren, and Belgian Sheepdog.

What causes pannus in dogs?

The exact cause of pannus is unknown. Because it is more common in some breeds, veterinarians suspect that genetics play a role, although we don’t know the exact genetic factors involved yet. That’s why Embark and Cornell University are working together to study the genetic risk behind pannus.

Other risk factors include high altitudes and exposure to ultraviolet light. Dogs who live at high altitudes and in sunny locations are more often affected by pannus.

How you can help with pannus research

Embark Veterinary is partnering with Jacquelyn Evans, PhD, of the Baker Institute for Animal Health at Cornell University, to collect blood samples for a study to identify genetic risk factors for pannus. Additionally, Embark collaborated with Dr. Evans on providing genetic and phenotypic data on dogs both diagnosed with pannus and those that were unaffected.

Dr. Evans is looking for German Shepherd Dogs, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervuren, and Belgian Sheepdogs for her study that have been diagnosed with pannus OR are at least 8 years old, with no history of eye disease, and have no close relatives (e.g., parents, siblings, or grandparents) with pannus. Registered or non-registered dogs are acceptable, and dogs may come from a variety of lines, including show, working, or companion.  

Please contact Dr. Evans directly at caninegenetics.evanslab@gmail.com if you are interested in participating in the study. You can also learn more about pannus research at the Evans Lab. Thank you for helping with canine research so all dogs can live longer, healthier lives.

Early signs of pannus in dogs

Some signs of pannus include:

  • Cloudiness over the cornea
  • Lesions on the cornea (usually raised red masses, but can also be brown or gray areas of discoloration)
  • Visible blood vessels in the cornea, usually starting at the outside of the cornea and moving inward
  • Reddening or thickening of a dog’s third eyelid, located in the bottom corner of their eye
  • Occasionally, mucus discharge or redness of the eye may be seen

Treatment for pannus in dogs

While there is no known cure for pannus, it can be managed with treatment.

  • Anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating medications are the most common type of treatment. These medications are usually administered as eye drops or topical ointments. They help to stop the progression of the disease and prevent lesions from spreading.
  • Minimizing your dog’s exposure to UV light can help slow down disease progression. This could mean limiting their time outdoors in direct sunlight or using UV protective eyewear designed for dogs (available from brands like Rex Specs or Doggles). 
  • In severe cases, a veterinarian might recommend surgery or injections of medication around the eyes.

Learn more about eye health in dogs

If your dog is predisposed to vision loss, there are a few ways you can help them prepare and make the transition easier. Keep reading to learn more about the importance of canine eye screenings for early detection.

Mimi Padmabandu Contributor

Mimi Padmabandu is a scientific writer and Content Strategy Lead at Embark Veterinary. She has over a decade of experience writing about science and genomics for leading biotechnology companies. She holds a bachelor's degree in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology from UCLA and a master’s degree in Early Modern English Literature from King’s College London.

Read more about Mimi Padmabandu

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