Pannus and other German Shepherd Eye Problems

photo by Unsplash

Did you know that the first working guide dog was a German Shepherd? The year was 1928, when a 19-year-old blind man named Morris Frank was introduced to a guide dog named Kiss who he later named Buddy.

Ironically, GSDs are more predisposed to a particular inflammatory eye disease called Pannus.

What is Pannus?

Pannus is an autoimmune disease also known as Chronic Superficial Keratitis. It affects the cornea which will result in blindness if not treated immediately. There are many factors as to why GSDs are more predisposed to this disease and why some are severely affected than others.


  • GSDs and GSD-mixes are more predisposed to Pannus due to their genetic makeup.
  • Pannus is an autoimmune disorder. Simply put that your GSDs’ immune system, which is supposed to heal and protect their body, is abnormally attacking your GSDs’ conjunctiva.
  • GSDs living at high altitudes and near bodies of water develop a more severe case of Pannus because they are more exposed to UV rays.
  • Air pollutants may be partly responsible for developing Pannus. So, GSDs residing in polluted areas are more susceptible.  
  • Middle-aged GSDs are more affected because of their low immune system.
  • GSDs as young as 4 to 7 years old have more chances of developing Pannus
  • GSDs with Pannus, living at low altitude is likely more responsive to medications especially if they developed the disease when they were 5 or 6 years old.
  • GSDs who are diagnosed with Pannus at a very early age will most likely develop a more severe form of the disease and will be unresponsive to medications.
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What are the symptoms of Pannus in GSDs?

According to vets, Pannus usually starts at the very edge of the transparent part of the eye known as the cornea. The corner edge of the cornea becomes cloudy with very small, visible blood vessels which will eventually cover the whole cornea. Fortunately, Pannus is not painful.

Here are other visible symptoms of Pannus eye disease in German Shepherds:

  • Symmetrical cloudy pink mass on the cornea with obvious blood vessels (In plasmoma, the other form of Pannus, this symptom is not observed)
  • Dark brown or sometimes black pigmentation of the cornea
  • German Shepherd bloodshot eyes
  • Inflamed third eyelid
  • German Shepherds eyes watering or may appear weeping
  • Thick cloudiness of the cornea
  • Tiny white spots may appear around the eyes

Cure for GSD Pannus

There is no known cure for Pannus itself but most vets recommend symptomatic treatments. This is to delay the progress of Pannus in GSDs and at least improve their quality of life. Depending on the progress and severity, different methods can be applied. Here are some known German Shepherd Pannus treatments.

Dog Protective Sunglasses

Dog Protective sunglasses or goggles is an effective German Shepherd Pannus treatments.It reduces UV radiation exposure of GSDs’ eyes which can prevent the disease from worsening or advancing.

Steroid-based Topical Medicine

If Pannus is diagnosed at a very early stage, a steroid-based topical cream will be recommended by vets. This medicine can reduce German Shepherd swollen eyes and inflammation of the cornea and eyelids. Most commonly prescribed corticosteroids eye cream are dexamethasone and prednisolone.

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Immunosuppressant Eye Drops

Immunosuppressant eye drops are also favored by vets since it is easy to use. A 1%, 1.5% or 2% Cyclosporine eye drops are what they usually recommend in GSDs. It can improve scarring and pigmentation of the cornea.

Corticosteroid Injections

To halt the progress of Pannus, some vets would regularly administer corticosteroid injections under the GSD’s conjunctiva, coupled with topical eye medicines. It is usually done regularly till the end of the GSDs lifespan.  This treatment is ideal for GSDs who are nearly blind.


In some cases of Pannus, a secondary infection has developed, so antibiotics should be given for treatment and prevent bacterial eye infection from spreading.

Eye Surgery

In some severe cases, eye surgery can be done to remove the surface layer of the cornea. This procedure can improve a severely affected GSD’s eyesight but can only be done once in their lifetime. Sadly, chances of Pannus’ recurrence is very high after surgery. Careful consideration should be done before opting for this procedure.

Beta Radiation

Advanced stage Pannus is usually unresponsive to other treatments, thus beta radiation is the last option.  Beta radiation can lessen blood vessels and cells in the cornea.

Change of Lifestyle

Sunlight should be avoided by GSDs affected with Pannus since it has harmful UV rays. Avoiding direct sunlight can prevent this disease from progressing. Instead of usual walk in the morning, they should exercise when the sun is down or at night. They should always be sheltered in the house away from the sunlight.

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Other German Shepherd Eye Diseases

Being a large dog breed doesn’t mean that GSDs are not susceptible to eye diseases. Furthermore, they are genetically more prone to some known canine eye disorders.

  • Plasma Cell Conjunctivitis is a known German Shepherd eye infection. It is also an autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation of the eyes’ moist tissues.
  • Acromatopsia is a retinal abnormality in GSDs. Also known as day blindness disease, GSDs’ vision becomes blurred and may lose sight of color in bright light.
  • German Shepherd eye allergies are usually caused by irritants in the air like pollen, weed and some chemicals.

How to care for your German Shepherd’s Eyes

Since GSDs are more prone to some autoimmune eye diseases, it is but imperative for GSD owners to take care of their dog’s eyes.

  • Use saline solution when cleaning your GSD’s eyes or eyelids of crusts and eye secretions.
  • Let your GSD use dog protective goggles when travelling to avoid dust, debris or other irritants from getting into their eyes.
  • Do not use shampoo on your GSD’s eyes.
  • Feed your GSDs a healthy, well-balanced diet.


While most eye irritations in German Shepherds would go away on its own, some may be symptoms of serious eye problems or worst brain and nerve injuries. A regular visit to the vet will assure your GSD of its eye health. Pannus may be incurable but with proper management and adherence to medications, GSDs will surely have the quality of life they deserve.

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