German shepherds are known for their intelligence and loyalty, and their versatility to suit laid-back family life or intense working conditions. However, like all breeds, German shepherds are bred from a closed stock, which leads to the development of genetic health issues. The Veterinary Vision Center team treats this breed for an array of eye conditions with a presumed genetic basis. Here is our guide to German shepherd eye health to help pet owners identify concerning signs so they can be addressed promptly.

Pannus in German shepherds

Chronic superficial keratitis, more commonly known as pannus, is a common eye condition in German shepherds. Pannus is characterized by inflammation that causes gradual thickening, redness, cloudiness, and pigmentation of the cornea that can look like a mass or plaque on the eye’s surface. The disease is progressive and can lead to eventual blindness without treatment, which includes avoiding UV rays and life-long topical medications. An atypical pannus form causes similar changes in the third eyelid instead of or in addition to those seen on the cornea.

Limbal melanoma in German shepherds

Limbal melanoma is a tumor that arises from pigmented cells in the limbus—the area where the clear cornea and white sclera connect. Ocular melanomas typically stay inside the eye, but we still recommend removal to ameliorate the low risk of the tumor spreading to other body areas and to minimize physical damage from the tumor’s presence. Large melanomas can invade interior eye structures and necessitate complete eye removal. 

Distichiasis in German shepherds

Distichiasis is a condition in which extra eyelashes grow inward along the eyelid margin, causing irritation, corneal erosions, and inflammation that can lead to gradual scarring and vision impairment. Some distichiae are soft and harmless, but pets who show signs require surgical correction to eliminate the abnormal hairs.

Corneal dystrophy in German shepherds

Corneal dystrophy typically has minimal effect on this breed. The condition causes opaque spots on the corneal surface or deeper corneal layers that are usually symmetrical in each eye. Large dystrophic areas can obstruct vision, but this is uncommon. Corneal dystrophy does not usually respond to or require any treatment.

Cataracts in German shepherds

Cataracts are a common age-related eye condition in German shepherds, but may also occur in young dogs. Cataracts appear as cloudiness in the lens and can result in blurred or obstructed vision. Cataracts require treatment with anti-inflammatory medications to prevent complications or surgical removal to restore impaired vision.

Congenital anomalies in German shepherds

German shepherds may be born with various congenital abnormalities, including persistent pupillary membrane (PPM), optic nerve hypoplasia, or retinal dysplasia, which are caused by underdeveloped eye tissues. They may be of no consequence or may cause vision impairments. Most congenital conditions are irreversible and don’t require treatment unless a painful complication, such as glaucoma, develops secondary to the primary issue.

Retinal degeneration in German shepherds

German shepherds can develop a specific type of progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) that causes cone degeneration from a young age. This is different from the typical PRA, which usually leads to rod and cone degeneration. Cone degeneration causes day and color blindness, but the retina appears normal on physical exam. Dogs with vision impairments from PRA do not require treatment and learn to compensate for their vision loss quickly.

Learning about genetic eye conditions in your German shepherd and partnering with our Veterinary Vision Center team can ensure early detection and timely intervention if or when your furry pal develops eye health concerns. German shepherd dogs who are found to have a genetic or presumed genetic eye health issue should not participate in breeding programs to help improve eye health in future generations. Contact us to schedule a genetic eye condition screening exam for your German shepherd or with any concerns about their eye health.