Many of the medications that improve our daily lives were first found in nature — the discovery of aspirin began with willow tree bark, penicillin was first extracted from a common species of mold, and countless other life-improving compounds have roots in the natural world.

Dr. Erin Scott, an assistant professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, has found inspiration in the turmeric plant, a member of the ginger family known for its vivid yellow color that may have powerful anti-inflammatory properties useful in the treatment of uveitis in dogs.

“Uveitis is inflammation inside the eye that can cause discomfort and sensitivity to light,” Scott said. “It occurs commonly in dogs and has many causes. We can see uveitis secondary to infectious diseases, cancer and auto-immune diseases. Uveitis can also occur with longstanding cataracts and after cataract surgery is performed.”

Uveitis is a leading cause of complications after cataract surgery in dogs, Scott said, and the management of postoperative inflammation inside the eye is a major challenge in both veterinary and human ophthalmology.

Symptoms of uveitis include ocular pain and reddening of the eye. An owner might suspect their pet has this condition if they keep their affected eye shut by squinting and avoiding bright lights. A pet’s eye may also appear cloudy or exhibit excessive tearing.

“Current treatments for canine uveitis include a combination of systemic and topical anti-inflammatory medications, either in the form of steroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs),” Scott said.

While these medications are effective in the treatment of uveitis, they can cause unwanted side effects such as vomiting, diarrhea or stomach ulcers, negatively impact kidney and liver function, and increase glucose levels in diabetic patients.

For these reasons, Scott and her colleagues at the Texas A&M College of Pharmacy have investigated the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, and discovered that when processed to a special nanoparticle formulation that boosts absorption, this natural compound is safe and effective at managing uveitis without any known side effects.

Though the nanoparticle formulation of curcumin used by Scott in her research is not yet available to the public, she is optimistic that her findings will lead to advances in the management of uveitis for both humans and dogs.

For now, pet owners who suspect their dog is suffering from uveitis should contact their veterinarian, who will help determine the most current and best path of treatment for their furry friend.

“This formulation is something to look for in the future, as further testing is necessary for us to confirm our findings. At this time, pet owners should follow the recommendations of their veterinary care professional,” Scott said. “We do hope to start a clinical trial with this new medication in the near future.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be found on the Pet Talk website. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.