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Q:  I have a 3 year old pug.  I am told that Pugs are prone to an eye disease that causes blindness, but can be stopped if it is caught early enough and treated with medication.  What signs should I look for in her eyes, or in her behavior?  What age does it begin to become apparent?  Would her vet be likely to notice it on a regular checkup, or is a visit to a specialist needed to detect it because special equipment is required?  I would hate to have to have my beloved pet become blind because I was unaware.  I am sure your public answer could possibly prevent blindness in many animals.

A:  Pigmentary Keratitis is a disease of the clear surface of the eye (the cornea).  In patients with this disease, pigment builds up on the cornea and obstructs vision in the same way mud on your glasses would make it difficult for you to see.  Patients with Pigmentary Keratitis often have vision problems and “dark” looking eyes.  They may trip, stumble or hesitate while walking.  Your veterinarian will be able to detect this problem on your pet’s annual health examination and may refer you to an ophthalmologist if he/she deems it necessary.

Pigmentary Keratitis tends to occur in certain breeds of dog such as the Pug and Boston Terrier.  This disease is thought to be an overreaction of the immune system, and patients with Pigmentary Keratitis are often treated with topical steroids and other medications that suppress the immune system.  Over time, use of medications can reduce the corneal pigmentation so the patient can see again.  Therapy is often necessary forever!

Remember, it took a long time for the pigment to build up on the eye, so it can take several months of treatment before the pigment is reduced enough so that you can see changes in vision and the appearance of your pet’s eyes.

Most patients with Pigmentary Keratitis need to be treated for the disease for the remainder of their lives.  However, once the condition is under control, we can often reduce the frequency that the medications need to be given.  Periodic ophthalmic recheck examinations will be necessary to follow your pet’s progress.

Please call if you have any questions!

Michael H. Brown, DVM, MS, ACVO (Ophthalmology)

Dr. Brown received his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University and then performed a small animal internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. After returning to Kansas State University for a comparative ophthalmology residency, he received a Master of Science degree for his biochemical study of animal tears. Dr. Brown became a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists in 1996. Dr. Brown’s special interests include diseases of the cornea, corneal surgery, intraocular surgery, and diseases of the retina. He has written scientific papers and is a noted lecturer throughout the country.