Progressive Retinal Atrophy in Dogs

Picture of an older black dog

The retina is one of the most important parts of the animal or human eye. It is composed of a number of photoreceptors that are in charge of light reflection. In the absence of these cells, dogs can’t see properly and can gradually lose their vision.

In today’s article, we’re looking at progressive retinal atrophy and how it affects our canine friends. We’re also discussing which animals it tends to affect more often, how it is diagnosed, and whether or not it can be treated.

What Is Progressive Retinal Atrophy in Dogs?

PRA is a condition where the cells that we mentioned in the introduction degenerate with time. There are two main types that affect dogs, and they are categorized differently depending on the age they affect pets.

Retinal dysplasia is an inherited form that tends to affect dogs that are very young, with ages within the range of 2 to 4 months. The second type appears later on in life, but it depends on every dog – some can begin to develop progressive retinal atrophy when they are 3, while in others, it can show up when they are 8-years-old.

Unfortunately, since this is a degenerative disease, the dog’s sight becomes affected progressively. In the first type, the degeneration happens so quickly that the eye tissue in discussion doesn’t even have enough time to develop as the dog begins to grow older.

In the second form, the tissue might have developed normally, but the cells begin to degenerate in any case.

One of the first signs that pet owners can notice in their dogs is poorer eyesight at night. And while this species might not have the same superior nighttime vision that cats do, dogs can still see better in the dark compared to humans – and an animal with PRA is not going to be able to do so.

Breed Predisposition

Progressive retinal atrophy is a genetic condition that is transmitted from the parents to the offspring. For this reason, before deciding to buy a specific dog breed, we strongly suggest that you do your research.

Some of the breeds that have been found to have this inherited disease are the following:

  • Labrador and Golden Retriever
  • Bullmastiff
  • Old English Mastiff
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Rottweiler

The incidence of the disease largely differs depending on the dog breed. While those that we have noted above are generally predisposed to it, there are certain specifics, such as the Mastiff breeds carrying the gene more predominantly. In other breeds, while PRA is still inherited, it tends to affect specific genders, such as male dogs, more than it does their female counterparts (Samoyed).

In the past, breeders were not really focusing on the health of the animals they used for reproduction, which means that the gene ended up affecting many dogs.

If you are a lover of one of these breeds and still want to get a puppy, we suggest choosing a highly reputable breeder. Ask them to provide detailed information on the parents of the puppy and a health certificate from a veterinarian, according to which none of the parents exhibited any ocular conditions in the past 24 months.

There’s always the risk of getting a puppy that has inherited this health issue, so dogs that have PRA should not be used for breeding. The best decision would be for you to spay or neuter your dog right after they were diagnosed with the condition.

Diagnosis of Progressive Retinal Atrophy in Dogs

In most cases, pet parents end up at the veterinary clinic with their dogs because they might have noticed that natural or artificial light can reflect in a strange manner on the animal’s eyes (as if they were to have cataracts).

Some dogs can also be more clumsy and hit their bodies on obstacles throughout the home even though before, they were always capable of going around them.

An ophthalmological exam will be recommended and performed on your dog and will lead to a correct diagnosis of progressive retinal atrophy. Electroretinogram (ERG) is the test of choice for this condition.

Is There Any Treatment for PRA?

Unfortunately, there is no way of treating progressive retinal atrophy in this species. It is a degenerative disease, and to date, there has been no update made on ophthalmologic surgery to the point that a dog’s retina can be transplanted from that of a healthy dog.

Besides, there are many difficulties in this sense, considering that this is a very sensitive organ and that dogs tend to vary a lot in terms of size and other factors.

DNA testing can be available in some areas, so you can find out whether your dog is going to become blind at one point or the other.

The most important thing that you can do is to get used to the idea that you’re going to have to modify your lifestyle and habits because you will be a blind dog owner.

Living with a pet that has PRA is not challenging, and with a few simple changes, your dog can still benefit from a long, happy, and otherwise healthy life. You might have to use safety gates (such as for toddlers) or a fence in your yard or garden to make sure that your dog doesn’t accidentally end up getting in trouble.

If you live in a home with two dogs, the one whose vision is normal will sometimes act as the guiding dog for the blind one. You can also adopt another puppy if you are a single dog owner.

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