QI adopted a middle-aged German shepherd mix from the shelter today and was told he has an eye condition called pannus. His veterinarian of him wo n’t be able to see him for another week, so I hope you’ll tell me about pannus and whether it’s painful.
TO Pannus is the common name for chronic superficial keratitis. Superficial keratitis is inflammation of the surface of the cornea, the normally clear covering of the eyeball. The word chronic indicates it’s a long-term condition.
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, meaning an overactive immune system produces the clinical signs. Exposure to ultraviolet light or air pollution worsens the condition.
Clinical signs are restricted 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, is involved. The condition is not painful, but without treatment, it can result in blindness.
The usual treatment is eye drops or ointments that suppress the eye’s excessive immune response. These medications control but don’t cure the disease, so they must be used lifelong.
In addition, your veterinarian may recommend that you minimize your dog’s exposure to ultraviolet light by keeping him indoors when the sun is brightest and offering him shade outside. Consider dog goggles that protect his eyes when he’s outdoors.
Q Zippy, my 5-year-old ferret, is losing the hair on her tail. She does n’t have fleas, and she seems fine except for her hair loss. My other ferret’s hair is normal. What is causing Zippy’s hair loss?
TO Middle-aged ferrets often lose their hair. Symmetrical hair loss begins on the tail and extends forward to eventually affect the entire body. The skin is otherwise normal, although some ferrets scratch.
The usual cause is ferret adrenal gland disease due to enlargement of the two small adrenal glands near (“ad-“) the kidneys (“-renal”). The result is overproduction of the sex hormones secreted by the adrenals.
Ferret adrenal gland disease can be related to early sterilization. In the United States, where most ferrets are sterilized when they are 4 to 6 weeks old, adrenal disease develops in 15% to 25% of them between 3 and 6 years of age. In Europe and Australia, sterilization is done at about 1 year of age or not at all, and the disease is rare.
Most US ferrets are bred by a single large supplier. The resulting lack of genetic diversity can also play a role in ferret adrenal disease. Another factor could 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 spayed females and the prostate in neutered males. The enlarged prostate can cause frequent, 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 elevated hormone levels.
Treatment options include adrenal gland surgery and long-acting medication that decreases sex hormone secretion. If hair loss is the only clinical sign, no treatment could be a reasonable alternative.
To find out for sure what’s causing Zippy’s hair loss and learn about options for addressing it, make an appointment with a veterinarian experienced in treating ferrets.
Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at