What is Progressive Retinal Atrophy in Dogs

Kate Barrington
by Kate Barrington
Just like us, dogs can suffer from a variety of vision problems. One of the most serious is called Progressive Retinal Atrophy, which can cause blindness in dogs.

Your dog’s senses are much stronger than yours. While that is most true about his sense of smell, your dog’s ability to see is stronger as well. Unfortunately, many dogs are prone to eye problems that can hinder their vision or even leave them blind – progressive retinal atrophy is one of them.

What is Progressive Retinal Atrophy?

Commonly referred to as PRA, progressive retinal atrophy is an eye disease characterized by gradual degeneration of the retina in the eye. The retina is the part of the eye that receives light from the cornea and converts the light into signals sent to the optic nerve which the brain interprets as vision.

Related: Living Well With Your Blind Dog

Though it is a single structure, the retina contains other structures called photoreceptors, more specifically, rods, and cones. Rods help the dog to see at night while cones help him to see color. Progressive retinal atrophy causes degeneration of these photoreceptors which can lead to your dog eventually going blind.

Causes and Symptoms

There are several different forms of PRA, typically classified by the disease’s age of onset and rate of progression. In a healthy puppy, the photoreceptors in the retina develop after birth but before the puppy reaches 8 weeks of age.

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Dogs with PRA will either exhibit arrested development in the retina or they will exhibit early degeneration of the photoreceptors in the retina. The first of these is known as retinal dysplasia and, when it happens, it usually affects the puppy before 8 weeks of age and the dog will typically be blind by one year. Retinal degeneration can develop anywhere from one year to eight years and the symptoms progress much more slowly.

Unfortunately, progressive retinal atrophy is typically a genetic condition – if your puppy has it, there may not be much you can do to stop it. If you catch the symptoms early, however, you may be able to make adaptations for your dog. Signs of PRA begin with night blindness and eventually progress to a reluctance to go down stairs, sluggish pupillary response, cloudy surface of the eye, bumping into walls or furniture, and tripping or stumbling. The condition is not painful or irritating, however, so you won’t see any redness or inflammation of the eye.

How is it Treated?

There is no cure for progressive retinal atrophy and there is no way to slow the progression of the disease. While it might be a tricky transition for your dog, most dogs adapt well to a loss of vision since they still have other senses to rely on. If your dog develops PRA you’ll need to take certain precautions to keep him safe by keeping the furniture in the same arrangement and keeping him on a leash when you take him out of the house.

Watching your dog slowly go blind can be heartbreaking but it helps to understand that the condition isn’t painful for your dog. In fact, many dogs adapt quickly to a loss of vision, so you may not even notice much of a change to his personality. Even so, it is best to seek veterinary care at the first sign that your dog is having vision problems.

Kate Barrington
Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington is the loving owner of two cats (Bagel and Munchkin) and a noisy herd of guinea pigs. Having grown up with golden retrievers, Kate has a great deal of experience with dogs but labels herself a lover of all pets. Having received a Bachelor's degree in English, Kate has combined her love for pets and her passion for writing to create her own freelance writing business, specializing in the pet niche.

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