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Uveodermatologic Syndrome in Dogs

Uveodermatologic Syndrome in Dogs: Definition, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs is a rare autoimmune condition that causes eye and skin problems in dogs. Uveodermatologuc syndrome is abbreviated as UDS or called “VKH-like syndrome” (Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada-Like Syndrome). UDS is prevalent in Akitas and Nordic dog breeds.

The immune system in dogs with uveodermatologic syndrome targets the pigment-containing cells known as melanocytes in the eyes and skin. 

Bloodshot eyes, tearing, blepharospasm, photophobia, pupillary reflex changes, cloudy eyes, bulging eyeballs, bumping into objects, leukoderma or vitiligo, and leukotrichia are common UDS symptoms. 

Cataracts, glaucoma, and retinal detachment are eye complications, and skin ulcers are skin complications in the uveodermatologic syndrome dog diagnosis.

Treating VKH disease in dogs involves topical and oral steroids, immunosuppressants, and steroid conjunctival injections. 

Prompt treatment reverses the early signs of vitiligo in dogs, while delayed treatment results in cosmetic defects. The prognosis for the eyes is guarded to poor. Uveodermatologic syndrome has a recurring tendency and renders the dog blind in most cases.  

What is Uveodermatologic Syndrome in Dogs?

Uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs is an autoimmune condition with skin and eye problems. 

UDS occurs when the immune system produces autoantibodies against melanocytes. Melanocytes are skin and eye cells that contain and produce the pigment melanin.

The autoantibodies destroy the melanocytes, causing leukoderma (skin depigmentation or vitiligo), leukotrichia (hair depigmentation), and eye inflammation. 

The whitening skin effects are purely cosmetic, while the eye inflammation progresses and culminates in blindness in severe cases. 

Uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs is rare but prevalent in Akitas and Nordic breeds. UDS is not fatal but affects the dog’s life quality due to vision deficits. 

What are the other terms for Uveodermatologic Syndrome in Dogs?

The other terms for uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs are UDS and VKH-like syndrome. UDS is the abbreviation for uveodermatologic syndrome.

UDS is the canine equivalent of a human condition called Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada (VKH) syndrome. VKH syndrome causes problems with the skin, eyes, and brain. 

UDS in dogs is called VKH-like syndrome because it shares similarities with the human version. 

Is Uveodermatologic Syndrome a common autoimmune disease in dogs?

No, uveodermatologic syndrome is not a common autoimmune disease in dogs. UDS is rarely diagnosed. 

There are no available data to estimate the global or regional incidence or prevalence of the UDS in dogs, states a study, “Autoimmune Diseases Affecting Skin Melanocytes in Dogs, Cats, and Horses: Vitiligo and the Uveodermatological Syndrome: A Comprehensive Review,” issued in BMC Veterinary Research in 2019. 

The study notes, “However, the canine UDS has a worldwide distribution and has been reported in dogs from Asia, Europe, South America, and North America.” The most common dog autoimmune disease is pemphigus foliaceus. 

How is Uveodermatologic Syndrome in Dogs Developed?

Uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs develops slowly. Eye symptoms manifest first, with skin problems appearing within three to six months. 

The eye effects of UDS are less noticeable but more severe. Skin whitening is the most striking visual effect, but it is purely cosmetic. 

“The disease is commonly seen in dogs between the ages of 6 months and 6 years,” according to a study, “Uveodermatologic Syndrome in a Brazilian Fila Dog,” published in Veterinary Ophthalmology in 2004. 

How common is Uveodermatologic Syndrome in Dogs?

Uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs is not common. The disease is sporadically diagnosed. A higher incidence of UDS is observable in Nordic breeds, primarily the Akita.

“Uveodermatologic syndrome or VKH-like syndrome of dogs may affect as many as 4.1% of Akitas,” according to a study, “Clinical Findings and Outcomes for Dogs with Uveodermatologic Syndrome,” published in JAVMA in 2018. 

Uveodermatologic syndrome is not reported in cats or other domesticated animals based on current data. 

What breeds are more prone to developing Uveodermatologic Syndrome?

The breeds more prone to developing uveodermatologic syndrome are listed below. 

  • Akitas: The number one affected breed is the Akita. Around 80% of reported cases are in Akitas, according to a post titled “Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada-Like Syndrome in Dogs published in the Veterinary Report in 2023. 
  • Nordic Breeds: UDS is widespread in Nordic breeds. High-risk groups include Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds, and Chow Chows. 
  • Certain Terriers: Uveodermatologic syndrome is common in Fox Terriers, Jack Russel Terriers, and Rat Terriers. 
  • Some Sheepdogs: UDS is occasionally diagnosed in sheepdog-type breeds, including the Old English Sheepdog and the Shetland Sheepdog. 
  • Other Breeds: Other risky breeds are Saint Bernard, Basset Hound, Brazilian Fila, Irish Setter, Golden Retriever, and Dachshunds. An uveodermatologic syndrome Husky is more common than UDS in these breeds. 

What does Uveodermatologic Syndrome in Dogs look like?

Uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs looks like a combination of ocular and dermatologic symptoms. Affected dogs exhibit red, inflamed eyes with vision changes and skin depigmentation, resulting in hair loss patches and inflammation on the skin and coat.

What are the Causes of Uveodermatologic Syndrome in Dogs?

The cause of uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs is an overreactive immune system. UDS in dogs develops when the immune system mistakenly identifies the pigmented skin and eye cells called melanocytes as a threat. 

The dog’s immune system produces autoantibodies and attacks the melanocytes. The targeted pigment cells lose their coloration and become inflamed. 

Understanding the immune system's role in uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs is complex. Pet owners asking “what causes vitiligo in dogs” or “what causes UDS” must know the answer is a flawed immune system. 

What are the Symptoms of Uveodermatologic Syndrome in Dogs?

The symptoms of uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs are listed below. 

  • Bloodshot Eyes: Red eyes are the primary sign of eye inflammation. Dogs with uveitis have pinkish eyes or easily visible, swollen, and elevated blood vessels in the cornea. 
  • Increased Tearing: Eye inflammations cause increased tear production, called epiphora. Watery eyes have a protective effect. 
  • Blepharospasm: The term blepharospasm describes frequent and involuntary squinting. Dogs with UDS squint due to light sensitivity. 
  • Photophobia: The inflammation makes the eye more sensitive to light. Increased light sensitivity is defined as photophobia. The issue manifests with excessive squinting in brightly lit environments.  
  • Pupillary Reflex Changes: The dog pupillary reflex with uveodermatologic syndrome is diminished or absent depending on the severity of the uveitis. Changes in the pupillary reflex indicate severe vision damage. 
  • Cloudy Cornea: Corneal clouding is a telltale sign of cataracts, which causes the cornea to lose its transparency and form a hazy or milky layer over the eye. Cloudiness indicates that the eye inflammation has advanced. 
  • Bulging Eyeball: The dog’s eyeball bulges and appears larger than normal in cases of secondary glaucoma or increased intraocular pressure (IOP).
  • Bumping into Objects: Bumping into objects and the inability to successfully navigate the surroundings are indicators of significant vision loss or blindness. 
  • Leukoderma or Vitiligo: Skin depigmentation occurs in half of the dogs affected by UDS and starts with whitening of the lips, nose, eyelids, hard palate, footpads, anus, and genital area. Some dogs develop generalized vitiligo. 
  • Leukotrichia: The vitiligo in dogs symptoms are accompanied by whitening of the coat. The premature loss of pigment and whitening of hair is medically termed leukotrichia. 

When does Uveodermatologic Syndrome in Dogs Symptoms usually occur?

The uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs symptoms occurs without warning. Eye inflammation develops first, causing redness and light sensitivity. Skin and hair whitening manifest as the disease progresses. 

Depigmentation of the skin and hair becomes apparent between three and six months after the eye inflammation. 

Specific environmental triggers are not associated with the occurrence of uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs based on current data. 

How does Uveodermatologic Syndrome affect a dog's eyes?

Uveodermatological syndrome affects a dog’s eyes by causing uveitis or inflammation of the uvea. The uvea is the eye’s middle layer and lies beneath the sclera or white part of the eye. 

The uvea, commonly known as the uveal apparatus, has three main structures: the iris, ciliary body, and choroid. These structures control vision functions such as distance and light level adjustment. 

Dogs with uveodermatologic syndrome produce autoantibodies that attack the uvea. The attack triggers inflammation, which spreads and causes panuveitis (complete uveal inflammation). 

The inflammation progresses and results in vision-threatening complications such as cataracts, glaucoma, and retinal detachment if left untreated. UDS is an autoimmune eye disease in dogs that culminates in blindness. 

What changes occur in a dog's skin with Uveodermatologic syndrome?

Changes that occur in a dog’s skin with uveodermatologic syndrome include pigmentation loss in the skin and coat and inflammation. 

The loss of skin pigmentation is known as vitiligo or medically termed leukoderma. The loss of hair pigments or coat whitening is called leukotrichia. 

Untreated UDS-prone skin develops crusts. The blemishes appear as open sores or crusts, depending on their stage of development. 

Can Uveodermatologic Syndrome lead to blindness?

Yes, uveodermatologic syndrome can lead to blindness. Uveitis is progressive and causes complications if left untreated. 

Common complications include cataracts, secondary glaucoma, and retinal detachment. Serious complications result in partial or complete vision loss in many dogs.  

Dogs with UDS are blind in both eyes at the time of the initial examination in 57% of cases, according to a study titled “Clinical Findings and Outcomes for Dogs with Uveodermatologic Syndrome,” published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2018. 

What are the Risk Factors of Uveodermatologic Syndrome in Dogs?

The risk factors of uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs are listed below. 

  • Immunity Defects: Flawed or overreactive immunity is a risk factor for uveodermatologic syndrome. The exact triggering mechanism behind autoimmune diseases in dogs is unknown. 
  • Genetic Factors: The high incidence of uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs of certain breeds indicates genetics as a risk factor. Akitas and Nordic dog breeds are at high risk. 
  • Sex Predisposition: “Male dogs are affected more than female dogs,” reports Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP, in an article on “Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada-Like Syndrome in Dogs,” published in 2023. 

Is Uveodermatologic syndrome hereditary or contagious?

Uveodermatologuc syndrome is hereditary and not contagious. UDS is believed to have an autoimmune and hereditary component. 

A genetic component of the condition is reported in the higher prevalence of uveodermatologic syndrome in certain dog breeds, including Akitas, Huskies, and Malamutes. 

Uveodermatologic syndrome is not contagious. Dogs with UDS do not transmit the condition to other healthy dogs. 

What are the complications of Uveodermatologic Syndrome in dogs?

The complications of uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs are listed below. 

  • Cataracts: Uveitis or eye inflammation progresses and causes cataracts when left untreated. Cataracts is a hazy veil over the cornea that reduces vision. 
  • Secondary Glaucoma: Glaucoma or increased intraocular pressure (IOP) is a common complication in many eye conditions. The IOP rises due to inflammatory processes. 
  • Retinal Detachment: Escalating eye inflammation detaches the retina from the blood vessels, causing significant vision deficits. 
  • Blindness: Unmanaged cataracts and secondary glaucoma in severe cases culminate in complete blindness. The vision loss is bilateral, meaning it affects both eyes. 
  • Skin Ulcers: Depigmentation is accompanied by skin ulcers in some dogs. Ulcers are crater-like defects that affect several skin layers. Healing ulcers form crusts. 

Is Uveodermatologic Syndrome in Dogs contagious to other animals or humans?

No, uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs is not contagious to other animals or humans. UDS is a complex condition with a hereditary and autoimmune component. 

Uveodermatologic syndrome is not caused by infectious pathogens, and diseases not associated with pathogens are not contagious. Dogs with UDS do not transmit the syndrome to other animals or humans. 

How do Veterinarians Diagnose Uveodermatologic Syndrome in Dogs?

Veterinarians diagnose uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs based on clinical signs and skin biopsy. The vet starts with a complete body examination and documents the dog’s medical history. 

The dog’s breed and general presentation of skin and eye symptoms are sufficient for veterinarians to make a presumptive diagnosis. 

A definitive diagnosis is based on a skin biopsy. The lips are the ideal place for extracting a tiny skin tissue sample. A veterinary pathologist analyzes the sample under a microscope for changes specific to UDS. 

Where can you seek a diagnosis for Uveodermatologic Syndrome in dogs?

You can seek a diagnosis for uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs at a veterinary clinic or hospital. A general veterinarian refers certain cases of UDS to a veterinarian specialist in ophthalmology. 

The eye problems associated with uveodermatologic syndrome are more severe, while the skin issues are purely cosmetic. A veterinary ophthalmologist is best qualified to determine the extent of the eye damage. 

The collected skin tissue sample is sent to a veterinary pathologist or a third-party laboratory that performs tissue analysis. 

How long can a dog survive with Uveodermatologic Syndrome?

A dog with uveodermatologic syndrome can live a normal lifespan, depending on the severity of the condition, the efficacy of treatment, and the dog's overall health. UDS is not life-threatening and does not affect the dog’s lifespan. 

There isn't a specific average lifespan for dogs with UDS, as it varies widely based on each dog's circumstances. Some canines respond well to treatment and live for years with manageable symptoms, while others experience severe complications, such as blindness, that shorten their lives. 

Bilateral blind dogs learn to rely on their other senses and quickly adjust to vision deficits. The uveodermatologic syndrome life expectancy in dogs is unaltered by the condition. 

What are the treatments for Uveodermatologic Syndrome in dogs?

The treatments for uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs are listed below. 

  • Steroid Eye Drops: Topical therapy, including a combination of corticosteroids like prednisolone and atropin, is recommended for managing eye inflammation. 
  • Conjunctival Injections: The veterinarian injects steroids (prednisolone, dexamethasone, or triamcinolone) into the conjunctival membranes for a boosted effect in dogs with severe uveitis forms. 
  • Oral Corticosteroids: High and frequent doses of oral prednisolone are administered once or twice daily to suppress the immune system and aid with skin problems. Prolonged use of corticosteroids is linked to side effects and requires monitoring. 
  • Immunosuppressants: The veterinarian adds an immunosuppressing medication to the treatment plan to reduce the steroid doses and decrease the risk of adverse effects. Azathioprine and cyclosporine are the most commonly used immune system suppressants or modulators. 

Can CBD oil help manage Uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs?

Yes, CBD oil can help manage uveodermatologic syndrome in dogs. CBD is not a direct treatment option but part of a multimodal management approach for UDS. 

CBD, or cannabidiol, modulates the immune system in dogs. An overreactive immune system causes UDS, and modification benefits the dog’s health. 

The immuno-modulating effect of CBD in dogs is demonstrated in a study, “Effect of Cannabidiol (CBD) on Canine Inflammatory Response: An Ex Vivo Study on LPS Stimulated Whole Blood,” issued in Veterinary Science in 2021. 

CBD is a natural hemp extract and is safe to combine with mainstream treatment options in dogs. CBD oil is suitable for supplementation in dogs of all ages. 

How can boosting a dog's immune system help in the management of Uveodermatologic Syndrome?

Boosting a dog’s immune system can help in the management of uveodermatologic syndrome through the ways listed below. 

  1. Reducing Inflammation. UDS is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation. Strengthening the dog’s immune system helps modulate the immune response, reducing the inflammatory response and the severity of uveitis symptoms. 
  2. Supporting Tissue Repair. Immune-boosting strategies aid in the repair of damaged eye and skin tissues caused by uveodermatologic syndrome. Tissue regeneration is vital for healing and general health. 
  3. Preventing Secondary Infections. Boosting a dog’s immune system helps fight pathogens and prevent secondary infections. Dogs with weak immune systems are prone to secondary infections, worsening symptoms and delaying recovery.