Uveitis is defined as inflammation of the uveal tract, which includes the iris or “colored part of the eye”. There are many causes for uveitis including cancer, immune-mediated disease, cataracts, and certain infections. There is an inherited form of uveitis that occurs in the Golden Retriever breed.
Golden Retriever Uveitis is a serious condition because it is chronic and can result in vision loss. One of the ways it can be such a threat to vision is by being such an insidious disease. Signs detectable to a pet owner can be limited to redness and minimal drainage so the disease can progress to an advanced stage before affected pets are presented to a veterinarian.
In a large retrospective study, the mean age of affected dogs at the time of diagnosis was found to be 8.6 years (range 4.5-14.5 years). The majority of dogs are affected in both eyes. Some of the key features of this condition are pigment dispersion across the front surface of the lens and the presence of one or more uveal cysts within the eye. Fibrin (inflammatory material) is sometimes found within the eye and can be an ominous precursor for impending glaucoma.
Glaucoma and cataract formation are the most common complications of the Golden Retriever (Pigmentary) Uveitis condition. If vision is lost from this disease, it is usually from one or both of these complications. In the retrospective study mentioned, 46% of dogs had glaucoma and 37% had cataracts. The cataracts that form with this condition are problematic because these are not the ideal candidates for cataract surgery. Glaucoma can rapidly (within days) cause permanent vision loss, is painful, and is not always controllable with medical therapy alone. Surgical options might need to be pursued.
The prognosis for dogs affected with this condition is guarded. With early detection, consistent therapy, and regular monitoring, some affected dogs will go years without major complications and with maintenance of vision. But there are some dogs with more advanced forms or stages of the condition where it fails to respond to therapy and vision cannot be saved.
The question is sometimes asked why any treatments or monitoring are necessary in an eye that has already lost vision. The reason is that a blind eye can still be a painful one. Glaucoma pain is commonly occult, meaning no outward signs of pain are exhibited. Golden Retrievers are notoriously bad about complaining that their eyes hurt. They are such good dogs! We know that these issues must be painful, at least in the majority of dogs, because of the positive changes in attitude/activity once uveitis and glaucoma are controlled.
For the sake of your pet’s vision and comfort, it is critical that you contact us ASAP if you detect a sudden change in the appearance of your pet’s eye(s).