Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is an inherited eye disease that is more common in certain breeds of dogs (eg., Labrador Retriever, Poodle, Cocker Spaniel) but it can affect any breed or even mixed breeds of dogs. The disease causes gradual blindness, which first affects vision in poor lighting conditions and eventually results in complete blindness months to years later. Since the vision loss is so gradual, many owners do not notice signs of a problem until vision is severely affected. There is no known treatment for PRA at this time. Current research is aimed at finding treatments for these devastating retinal diseases that affect both animals and humans.
Genetics play a vital role in causing this disease. If the relatives of your pet are known, they should have eye examinations performed in order to look for evidence of PRA. Affected animals should not be bred. There is now a blood test available to look for the genetic marker for this condition in certain breeds of dogs. The test can potentially identify affected dogs as young as puppies. This is particularly advantageous for breeders because otherwise an affected dog can be bred before there is any evidence for the condition. The test can also identify the carriers status for the disease. This is mainly of importance for breeding animals because carriers will not show signs of the disease but can pass on an affected gene. Normal results do not totally rule out the possibility of PRA because it could be present but due to a different genetic defect. For more information, please visit: www.optigen.com
An electroretinogram may be recommended for your pet in order to evaluate retinal function. This test will help to confirm or rule-out the diagnosis of PRA and will also help to quantify how much retinal function remains at this time.
Most dogs will eventually adjust to their blindness and their other senses seem to become more sensitive over time. It is important to keep the home environment as stable as possible and objects should be kept in consistent locations. Pets should not be left outside unattended unless they are in a confined space such as a yard. In the early stages of this disease, your pet may function better if you provide ancillary lighting at nighttime (e.g., light in the yard, nightlights in the house). For more information on helping your pet to deal with blindness, refer to the book Living With Blind Dogs by Caroline Levine.
This condition is painless and we at Northwest Animal Eye Specialists feel that a good quality of life is still possible with PRA.