What is Skin and Eye Inflammation Due to Autoimmune Disorder (Uveodermatologic Syndrome)?
While this is an uncommon illness in dogs overall, it is quite common in some breeds, such as the Samoyed, Siberian Husky, English Sheepdog, and Shetland Sheepdog. The best way to describe uveodermatologic disorder is a hereditary autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack its own pigmentation cells. Some veterinary medicine experts believe it could be triggered by a virus and that exposure to sunlight (UV light) can make the symptoms worse. The disorder usually starts out as light patches around the nose, but the first symptom noticed is most often the eye problems, which can range from redness to squinting. However, these eye problems may also be related to other disorders, such as tick-borne diseases, injuries, infections, and cancer. The thing to remember is that if your dog has signs of eye problems, it is important to go to the veterinarian as soon as possible because in several of these disorders, if it is not treated it can lead to blindness.
Skin and eye inflammation due to autoimmune disorder (uveodermatologic disorder) causes depigmentation of the lips, nose, and eyes (vitiligo) in certain breeds of dog. The disease is not common in most dogs, but is common in certain breeds and thought to be caused by the dog’s immune system fighting off its own pigmentation cells. Uveodermatologic disorder usually presents as irritated red eyes, light skin tones on the face and footpads, and whitening of the fur (poliosis). However, the most important issue of this disorder is the eyes because it is painful and may end up in permanent blindness.
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Symptoms of Skin and Eye Inflammation Due to Autoimmune Disorder (Uveodermatologic Syndrome) in Dogs
The symptoms of uveodermatologic disorder do not start showing up until the dog is about six months old, but in some cases are not seen until the dog is almost six years old. Most often, you may not notice any symptoms until your dog’s eyes are affected. The skin pigmentation may not be noticeable because it is just written off as a cosmetic abnormality, but when your dog starts to have trouble seeing, it is time to visit your veterinarian. These are the most commonly seen symptoms of uveodermatologic disorder:
- Bumping into things
- Whining when out in the sun
- Excessive blinking
- Red eyes
- Small pupils
- Pain around the eye area
- Lightened color of eyes
- Cloudy eyes
- White spots on nose, footpads, eyelids, and lips
- Whitening of the hair
Causes of Skin and Eye Inflammation Due to Autoimmune Disorder (Uveodermatologic Syndrome) in Dogs
Uveodermatologic disorder is thought to be a genetic disorder that causes your dog’s immune system to attack the cells that are responsible for producing pigment. It can be triggered in some cases by a viral infection from a tick bite, injury, or cancer. The most common breed affected is the Akita, but can also be found in these breeds:
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Old English Sheepdog
- Saint Bernard
- Irish Setter
- Chow Chow
- Siberian Husky
- Fox Terrier
- Portuguese Water Dog
Diagnosis of Skin and Eye Inflammation Due to Autoimmune Disorder (Uveodermatologic Syndrome) in Dogs
As with any trip to the veterinarian’s office, you should be prepared to provide your dog’s medical history, most recent injuries and illnesses, changes in appetite, and abnormal behavior. For suspected uveodermatologic disorder, the veterinarian will also need to know if your dog has been treated for ticks and fleas, whether you have found any ticks on your dog, and if your dog has been to any dog parks or doggie day care where he is exposed to a bunch of other dogs. Your veterinarian will give your dog a complete physical examination including weight, body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure.
Some diagnostic tests will need to be done to make a definitive diagnosis, such as an eye examination with a Schirmer tear test, fluorescein staining, and tonometry. Other tests needed are blood tests (i.e. complete blood count, blood chemical panel), fine needle biopsy, urinalysis, and maybe a fecal examination. Depending on the test results, your veterinarian may want to get some digital radiographs (x-rays) or a CT scan to rule out any signs of cancer.
Treatment of Skin and Eye Inflammation Due to Autoimmune Disorder (Uveodermatologic Syndrome) in Dogs
The way to treat uveodermatologic disorder is by suppressing the immune system so it does not attack its own cells. The most common and effective way to do this is with systemic corticosteroids (i.e. prednisone) and azathioprine. Another choice that is commonly used in human patients is systemic cyclosporine. Topical treatments for the eyes are usually cycloplegics and corticosteroids such as indomethacin.
Recovery of Skin and Eye Inflammation Due to Autoimmune Disorder (Uveodermatologic Syndrome) in Dogs
Dogs with uveodermatologic disorder will most often need treatment for the rest of their lives for their eye problems. If it is found early enough (before it turns into blindness) the chance of recovery is good, but your dog may still end up with permanent blindness eventually. The reason for this is that the symptoms can be treated, but not cured. In almost all cases, the symptoms will return, but can still be relieved with aggressive treatment. Be sure to follow all of your veterinarian’s instructions and bring your dog back for follow-up visits regularly.