Pug Eyes: Clearing Up the Haze

Aug 5, 2013 / Ophthalmology / Dogs

Pigmentary keratopathy (PK) is the most prevelant eye disease of the pug breed.

With their playful spirit, passion to please, and zest for life, pugs are one of the most loved and celebrated breeds. Originating around 400 B.C., pugs have wagged their way into homes from Buddhist monasteries in ancient China and royal castles of medieval England to the houses of many modern day families.

Though the breed itself is extremely resilient, the same cannot be said for pugs’ eyesight. Dr. Amber Labelle, a veterinary ophthalmologist at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, is working to better understand one of the most prevalent eye diseases of the pug breed, pigmentary keratopathy.

Pigmentary keratopathy (PK) is a condition in which brown pigment progressively clouds the cornea, the clear tissue that allows light to enter the eye. PK often results in partial or complete blindness. The cause of PK is not fully understood, but there is a strong correlation between genetic makeup, trauma to the eye (such as chronic irritation, corneal ulcers, or scarring), and the development of PK.

No treatments are available to remove completely pigment that becomes established in the cornea as a result of PK. However, through early detection and prompt intervention, the effects of PK can be minimized.

A yearly examination by a veterinarian or veterinary ophthalmologist is advisable in order to detect PK in its early stages. Once PK has been diagnosed, its progression can be greatly reduced through the application of eye medications known to suppress pigmentation of the eye.

“Pigmentary keratopathy is a disease that affects approximately 80 percent of pugs,” says Dr. Labelle, who recently concluded a study on the prevalence of PK in pugs. “This number holds true regardless of whether your pug is a show dog or an everyday house pet.”

Seeking to improve the lives of future generations of pets, the pug-lover community has been supportive of Dr. Labelle’s work, allowing their animals to be evaluated for her studies. At one “Pug Fest” event held in Milwaukee, Dr. Labelle and her assistants examined 77 pugs in two days.

“What has been really amazing about working with the pug breed has been the willingness and support of the owners,” says Dr. Labelle. “They understand that this isn’t a problem that they have created, but that it is a concern for everyone who loves pugs.”

Despite this support, there are obstacles to continuing the PK studies and research into companion animal health in general.

“One of the greatest challenges that every researcher faces is getting funding to support the work,” says Dr. Labelle.

For the most up-to-date information on Dr. Labelle’s work on pigmentary keratopathy visit her blog, PugEyes.com.

Kody Carr