When Gora, a bomb-sniffing German shepherd working for the Department of the Navy, began to have chronically red eyes and discharge, her Washington, D.C., caretakers took the professional pooch to her veterinarian. Gora was diagnosed with a common autoimmune condition called pannus. The veterinarian prescribed eyedrops, but Gora’s eye problem didn’t end there.
The hardworking canine loathed her new eyedrop routine. Her condition grew worse. Gora’s veterinarian sent her to Dr. Sinisa Grozdanic, DVM, at Iowa State University. The dog’s eyedrop-resistant condition made her the perfect candidate for Dr. Grozdanic’s experimental surgical treatment — the implantation of a slow-release medicinal pellet inside the tissue surrounding the eye. In essence, Gora became one of the first dogs to be outfitted with automatic eyedrops.
Chances are that your dog, too, may very well end up with an eye problem. Below, Dr. Grozdanic shares crucial information about common canine eye problems, as well as his innovative solution.
Signs and Symptoms
Dog eye problems show up in the form of redness, squinting, tearing, cloudiness, sudden loss of vision, pupil dilation or swelling. These symptoms can signify a host of issues ranging from insignificant soreness to an advanced ulcer or even cancer. If you notice any of these symptoms for more than a day, or if your dog suffers any kind of injury in or around its eyes, prompt veterinary attention is crucial.
According to Dr. Grozdanic, three common conditions, other than injury, can cause eye discomfort in dogs. Each is thought to have a genetic component, so they can be treated, but not entirely prevented.
Pannus, also known as corneal disease, is the problem Gora faced. It causes cells in the cornea to multiply in response to UV light, such as sunlight. The cells become pigmented and scarred, making the tissue look red and meaty. “Owners notice the changes almost immediately, so it’s rare that it progresses enough to cause severe visual impairment,” says Dr. Grozdanic.
Pigmentary keratitis causes natural pigment to run over the eye, potentially causing blindness. This condition occurs most often in pugs, Boston terriers and other dogs with bulging eyes. It’s thought to be caused by dry eyes and exposure to the elements. “Owners will notice a brownish haze start to grow over the eye,” explains Dr. Grozdanic.
KCS, or dry eye disease, can result from either skin allergies or an autoimmune response that causes your dog’s immune system to attack its tear glands. In both cases, the lack of lubrication causes irritation — which your dog may deal with by rubbing — and scarring. Medicinal eyedrops can generally stimulate moisture production.
When Eyedrops Don’t Help
Treatment with eyedrops is impacted by the human factor. Pet owners may forget a dose or have trouble getting it into their furry friend’s eyes. But even with successful administration, not all dogs respond to the medicine. “The majority of the patients we’ve treated [with surgery] have been on eyedrops without success,” says Dr. Grozdanic. Drops fail to work in about 10 percent of the population. We’ve developed this treatment to try to close that gap.”
The outpatient procedure, currently available only with Dr. Grozdanic at Iowa State, involves numbing the eye with a topical anesthetic before injecting a biodegradable pellet into the tissue surrounding the eye. The medicine releases gradually, treating the eye for an entire year. “The polymer is so small, we make only a tiny slit and then one simple suture,” says Dr. Grozdanic. The sole risk of the procedure is associated with general anesthesia, which is only required if a lighter sedation does not keep the animal still.
Eight dogs have undergone the procedure to date. “Knock on wood, we haven’t had any problems,” reports Dr. Grozdanic. “The dogs are happy, and the owners are happy. It’s remarkable how much the animals improve.” Dr. Grozdanic predicts that the implant, currently making its way through the FDA’s regulatory process, will be widely available within the next two years.
As for Gora, the performance problems caused by her pannus have disappeared. Automatic eyedrops have allowed her to get back to work helping to protect people — a result that can leave all of us just a little more confident and happy.