Virtually all purebred dog breeds suffer from one or more inherited diseases. And although the Tibetan
Spaniel is generally a healthy, hardy breed, they do have a predisposition to some problems.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
This is a genetic, inherited disease that occurs in both eyes simultaneously, affecting the retina - the surface
on the back wall of the inside of the eye. This tissue is composed of two classes of photoreceptor cells, called
rods and cones; the rods function in dim light, and the cones in bright light. A dog affected with PRA starts by
having trouble seeing in a dim light, and then gradually loses the ability to see in bright light as well.
Eventually he will become completely blind.
PRA occurs in most breeds of dogs, but is a little more common in Tibetan Spaniels. It was first documented in
Tibbies in 1988 and affects them as a late onset form of the disease. Affected dogs appear normal when young,
but develop PRA as adults. It is not painful, but there is no cure for it, although a nutritional antioxidant
supplement for retinal health may help to slow the progression of the disease.
The first sign of PRA is usually the dog being hesitant about moving from light to dark areas, as he is aware
that his vision is impaired. With Tibbies this is often seen between the ages of 18 months and 4 years, but the
onset can occasionally be much later.
At the moment there is no way to predict which dogs will be affected, and no cure for those who are, but
fortunately, most dogs very quickly adjust to the loss of sight and cope remarkably well.
Another potential problem related to the eye is a condition known as "cherry eye". The medical term for
this is nictitans gland prolapse, or prolapse of the gland of the 'third
eyelid'. Dogs have a third eyelid located in the corner of each eye. The nictitans gland is
responsible for the production of tears, and is not normally visible. In cherry eye, the gland comes out of its
normal position and swells, creating a visible red lump.
The exact cause of the problem is not known, but it is thought that it is due to a weakness of the tissue that
attaches the gland to the surrounding structures of the eye. Once the gland prolapses it can become infected and
begin to swell, becoming irritated, red, and swollen. There is sometimes a mucous discharge associated with the
condition as well.
The treatment of cherry eye is very straightforward and consists of surgically repositioning the gland.
This procedure consists of tacking the gland back in place with a suture that attaches it to the structure of
the eye socket. The surgery is usually quick and easy and has very few complications.
Liver Shunt - Portosystemic Shunt
More properly called a portosystemic shunt, this is an
abnormal connection between blood vessels, that allows blood to bypass the liver. The portal vein
is a major vessel in the body that enters the liver and allows toxic components of the blood to be
detoxified. When a shunt is present, the portal vein is connected to another vein which allows the blood to
flow around the liver, instead of into it.
If a shunt is present it will usually be apparent by the time a dog is a young adult but occasionally it might
be diagnosed later in life. Depending on how much of the blood flow is being diverted, there can be a large
variation in the clinical signs of the condition. Failure of a puppy to grow at the normal rate is often an
early indicator. Other symptoms include:
- Abnormal behavior after eating
- Pacing and aimless wandering
- Poor appetite
- Stunted growth
- Excessive sleeping and lethargy
- Straining to urinate (because of bladder stone formation)
The treatment is usually surgical intervention to correct the shunt - after the dog has been medically
stabilized by the veterinarian.
This is a non-specific term that covers a number of problems referring to excessive tearing. In the
Tibetan Spaniel the configuration of the face can push the facial hair against the eyes, irritating them and
causing tearing. The tears will naturally drain away through the nose but if there are too many tears, they
will overflow onto the face.
Facial hair also sometimes acts like a "wick" to draw the tears onto the face. In most cases this really
isn't anything to worry about and doesn't have any long term consequences. Attention to cleaning the area
around the eyes when grooming will help to prevent infection and discoloring.
As with a number of purebred dog breeds, susceptibility to allergies in Tibbies appears to be increasing.
The signs to watch for are similar to those in people, such as watering eyes. This will usually be a
temporary, seasonal affliction, but if the problem is acute, it may be necessary to consult your veterinarian.
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