German shepherds are prone to three eye disorders in particular -- pannus, anterior uveal melanoma and limbal melanoma. The first can cause complete vision loss, the second may kill him, while the third usually has a good prognosis when caught early. If your German shepherd develops any of these eye conditions, take him to a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist.
Formally known as chronic superficial keratitis, pannus affects the cornea, usually of both eyes. Another common term is German shepherd keratitis, since the condition predominantely strikes this breed. Symptoms first appear between the ages of 3 and 5. You might notice white or pink granulation tissue forming at the outside of the front of the eye, growing inward. The tissue may not form in both eyes at the same rate. The dog's third eyelid appears, thicker than usual and possibly lacking pigment. If untreated, pannus eventually covers the entire eye, rendering the animal blind. Still, it is not a painful eye disorder.
Treatment and Prognosis
Your vet can treat your German shepherd for pannus, but she can't cure the condition. Instead, lifelong treatment is necessary if your dog is to retain sight. When first diagnosed, your vet may prescribe several medications for your dog, including topical eye ointments administered every few hours. Eventually, you need only give your dog these ointments or drops twice daily.
Because sunlight affects pannus severity, keep your dog indoors or in a very shaded area during daylight hours. Expect to bring your dog to the vet regularly for monitoring.
Anterior Uveal Melanoma
Your dog's uvea contains the iris, ciliary body and choroid. Cancer can develop in any of these areas. Symptoms include eye color change, a mass in the eye, discoloration in the sclera -- or white of the eye -- chronic pupil enlargement, bleeding within the eye or bloodshot eyes and swelling. Anterior uveal tumors are painful, and the dog may appear sensitive to light or squint frequently. If the tumor metastasized to the eye from elsewhere in the body, he may have other physical issues, including lethargy, appetite and weight loss.
Treatment and Prognosis
Your vet diagnoses anterior uveal melanoma after performing an ophthalmic examination, along with X-rays, ultrasounds and magnetic resonance imaging. Some melanomas are benign and don't pose a threat to your dog's life. If the melanoma is malignant, the primary treatment includes enucleation, or eye removal. It's not always possible to determine whether a melanoma is malignant without a biopsy -- which involves removing the eye. After the surgery, your dog may receive chemotherapy and radiation if the tumor was malignant. If the cancer has metastasized, the prognosis is not good.
Also known as epibulbar melanoma, limbal melanoma tends to appear in middle-aged German shepherds. Symptoms consists of masses in the sclera or conjunctiva, sometimes accompanied by excessive tearing or mild conjunctivitis. It's a benign tumor, and surgical removal is possible without removing the entire eye. Although about one-third of limbal melanomas grow back after removal, they are very slow-growing tumors.