Pug eyes: Clearing up the haze

By Kody Carr/University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine

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 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 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 Labelle's work, allowing their animals to be evaluated for her studies. At one "Pug Fest" event in Milwaukee, 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 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 Labelle.

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

An archive of pet columns from the UI College of Veterinary Medicine is available at http://vetmed.illinois.edu/petcolumns/. Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Chris Beuoy at beuoy@illinois.edu.

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