HOW TO Treat Progressive Retinal Degeneration in Dogs

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dog eyeIf your dog’s eyes are a window to his soul, then you’re going to want to make sure that they are in tip-top shape.

Progressive Retinal Degeneration (PRD) or atrophy (PRA) is where the cells of the retina begin to decline in function, thereby leading to impaired vision or even blindness, states says, “When the photoreceptor cells deteriorate, vision is lost because the animal has no way to generate an image from the light reaching the retinal.”

“Many dogs are not seen until the late stages of disease and have advanced changes in their retinas because they compensate very well as their vision slowly deteriorates. Sometimes the blindness can appear to be sudden in onset, even though it has been developing for months, because the dog may show almost no clinical signs until the last bit of vision has been lost.”

According to, “Progressive retinal atrophy is a group of diseases that worsens over time, and is seen especially in ColliesIrish SettersMiniature PoodlesCocker Spaniels, Briards Labrador Retrievers, and Mastiffs. It is linked to the X chromosome in Samoyeds and Siberian Huskies.”

What Causes Progressive Retinal Degeneration? lists several issues that can lead to PRD:

i Love Dogs Genetic – Hereditary degeneration is common. This is characterized by the formation and development of a faulty group of cells, which gradually worsen in function over life.

i Love Dogs Degenerative – Long-term glaucoma, scarring inflammation or separation of the retina due to trauma, abnormal structure, abnormal structure at birth or abnormal development of the retina with age.

i Love Dogs Metabolic – Insufficient or excess amounts of certain enzymes.

i Love Dogs Cancer – Cancer from other parts of the body that has spread to the retina.

i Love Dogs Nutritional – Deficiency of Vitamin A or E.

i Love Dogs Infectious/Immune – Infections of the retina or infections that spread from other parts of the body.

i Love Dogs Idiopathic (Unknown Cause) – Unexpected blindness due to sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS).

i Love Dogs Toxic -  Adverse reactions to specific drugs.

PRAWhat are the Symptoms of Progressive Retinal Degeneration?

According to, these are the symptoms you should be on the alert for if you suspect your dog has PRD:

i Love Dogs Night blindness that progresses to blindness in light as well

i Love Dogs Dilated pupils

i Love Dogs Inability to see clearly in bright light

i Love Dogs In some conditions, only central vision may be lost; your dog may still retain peripheral vision

i Love Dogs The pupil (opening of the eye) has abnormal reactions to light

i Love Dogs The retinal structure appears abnormal when a doctor examines it with an ophthalmoscope; a cataract may be observed

i Love Dogs The liver may also be affected; obesity may be observed

i Love Dogs Unpredicted blindness may be due to sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS)

i Love Dogs Coma

How is Progressive Retinal Degeneration Diagnosed?

According to, “Standard laboratory tests include a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, an electrolyte panel and a urinalysis, in order to rule out other causes of disease.”

Your vet will also give your dog a physical exam that will include a full ophthalmic exam using a slit lamp microscope, where the retina at the back of the eye will be closely observed for abnormalities and the electrical activity of the retina will also be measured.

Here are the other methods that your vet will use to determine if your pooch has PRD, according to

i Love Dogs Tests to evaluate vision, such as observing the dog as he navigates an obstacle course in both bright and dim light, and certain neurologic reflex testing

i Love Dogs Pupillary light reflex testing

i Love Dogs A Schirmer tear test and fluorescein staining of the cornea

i Love Dogs Tonometry to measure the pressure within the eye

i Love Dogs Specialized examination of the front chamber of the eye, iris and lens, vitreous and retina. states, “PRD can sometimes be confirmed at the time of retinal examination because it causes characteristic changes in the appearance of the retina. Early stages of the disease can be more difficult to diagnose, and in that instance the disease can be detected through an electroretinogram to evaluate the function of the photoreceptor cells when they are stimulated with flashes of light.”

How is Progressive Retinal Degeneration Treated?

PRAUnfortunately there is no effective cure for retinal degeneration. states, “Since diet can cause retinal degeneration, providing your dog with a balanced (omnivorous), low-fat diet may improve or mitigate the degeneration which has already occurred. Surgery is not indicated if your dog’s eyes are blind and non-painful. There are currently no medications available that can reverse retinal degeneration.” points out that “early diagnosis of PRD using electroretinography or genetic testing is important in kennels to eliminate individuals from the breeding pool that are either clinically affected or represent genetic carriers of the disease.”

How is Progressive Retinal Degeneration Prevented? states that there is no preventative care that is available because PRD is genetic and therefore affected animals should not be used for breeding.

“Genetic testing is available for about 15 breeds of dogs affected with PRD. Testing performed on a blood sample can identify which dogs are affected and which are carriers of the disease. This information can then be used by breeders to decide which dogs may or may not be used for breeding.”

“In addition, dogs can be examined on a yearly basis by a veterinary ophthalmologist and certified to be clinically free of the disease. The certification is valid for a period of one year from the time of examination.”

PHOTOS: TheGiantVermin, Sam Bald, Orin Zebest

Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.

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Kara Ogushi

Contributing writer Kara Ogushi is a pet mom to two dogs and five rabbits. When she isn't writing travel tips for pooches, she's exploring new ways to share and create media.

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