Q: I adopted a middle aged German Shepherd mix from the shelter today and was told he has an eye condition called pannus. His vet won’t be able to see him for a week, so hopefully you’ll tell me about the pannus and if it’s painful.
A: Pannus is the common name for chronic superficial keratitis. Superficial keratitis is an inflammation of the surface of the cornea, the normally transparent covering of the eyeball. The word chronic indicates that it is a long-term disease.
Pannus is most common in middle-aged German Shepherds and their mixes, although other breeds can be affected as well. It is an immune-mediated disease, which means that an overactive immune system produces the clinical signs. Exposure to ultraviolet light or air pollution worsens the condition.
Clinical signs are limited to the eyes. The outer edge of the cornea develops a brown, gray, or red covering that eventually grows toward the center-front of the eye and darkens.
Sometimes the nictitans, or third eyelid, are involved. The condition is not painful, but without treatment it can lead to blindness.
The usual treatment is eye drops or ointments that suppress the eye’s excessive immune response. These drugs control but do not cure the disease, so they must be used for life.
Additionally, your veterinarian may recommend that you minimize your dog’s exposure to UV rays by keeping him indoors when the sun is at its brightest and providing shade outdoors. Consider dog goggles that protect his eyes when he’s outdoors.
Q: Zippy, my 5 year old ferret, is losing his tail hair. She has no fleas, and she looks fine except for the hair loss. My other ferret’s hair is normal. What causes Zippy’s hair loss?
A: Middle-aged ferrets often lose their hair. Symmetrical hair loss begins on the tail and spreads forward to eventually affect the entire body. The skin is otherwise normal, although some ferrets will scratch.
The usual cause is ferret adrenal disease due to enlargement of the two small adrenal glands near (“ad-“) the kidneys (“-renal”). The result is an overproduction of sex hormones secreted by the adrenals.
Ferret adrenal gland disease may be linked to early neutering. In the United States, where most ferrets are neutered when they are 4 to 6 weeks old, adrenal disease develops in 15 to 25 percent of them between 3 and 6 years old. In Europe and Australia, sterilization is done around 1 year or not at all, and the disease is rare.
Most American ferrets are bred by one major provider. The resulting lack of genetic diversity may also play a role in ferret adrenal disease. Another factor may be exposure to electric lights that artificially extend day length beyond eight hours.
In addition to hair loss, clinical signs include enlargement of the vulva in castrated females and of the prostate in castrated males. An enlarged prostate can cause frequent and painful urination and even urinary obstruction. Some ferrets with adrenal disease exhibit increased sexual behavior and aggression.
If the diagnosis is unclear, adrenal disease can be confirmed by blood tests that show high levels of sex hormones.
Treatment options include adrenal gland surgery and long-acting medications that decrease sex hormone secretion. If hair loss is the only clinical sign, no treatment can be a reasonable alternative.
To find out for sure what’s causing Zippy’s hair loss and the options to fix it, schedule an appointment with a veterinarian who’s experienced in treating ferrets.
Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at https://askthevet.pet.