Written by Ella White
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is an inherited eye disorder in dogs that causes gradual sight loss, and can eventually lead to blindness. It’s important for all dog owners to understand PRA and its symptoms so that they know how to spot the disease and prevent breeding animals that are prone to it.
In this article we’ll explain everything you need to know about PRA, and what to do if you think your dog has the disorder.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is a group of genetic eye disorders that affect dogs, and can lead to the progressive degeneration of the retina – the innermost layer of the eye which detects and processes light so they can see. PRA causes the gradual loss of retinal cells, which ultimately leads to partial or complete blindness.
PRA is an inherited condition, and the specific genetic mutations associated with it can vary between different breeds. Depending on a dog’s unique genetic mutation, the age of onset and progression, symptoms for PRA can differ significantly. And while PRA is typically considered a bilateral condition, which means it affects both eyes, it can progress at different rates in each eye.
The signs and symptoms of PRA vary depending on the stage of the disease, and the breed of the dog that is affected. Dogs with PRA could display subtle symptoms like night blindness or have difficulty seeing in low-lit conditions. However, these could also be symptoms of aging or other eye issues in dogs, and can make it harder for owners to spot quickly.
As PRA progresses, the dog’s eyesight can get progressively worse until they are totally blind. In some cases, you might notice that the visual appearance of your dog's retina has changed and become reflective.
Some dog breeds are considered to be more likely to carry the genes that lead to PRA. While this does not mean that all dogs of these breeds will develop the disorder, owners of these breeds should be aware that their pets are considered more likely to have it, and might want to have them genetically tested if they are concerned about their eyesight.
To diagnose PRA in dogs, vets will carry out an extensive eye exam, which includes a visual assessment, ophthalmoscopy, and other tests to see how the retina functions. Genetic testing can also help to identify specific mutations associated with PRA in certain dog breeds.
Unfortunately, there is currently no known cure for PRA. The best way to prevent the condition is through responsible breeding and genetic testing to stop it being passed down through lines of affected dogs. If you think your dog might carry the genes that cause PRA, speak to your vet or breeding club. Various guidelines have been developed to help dog breeders understand whether their animals carry PRA.
While treatment for PRA is not available as of 2023, there are steps you can help to help your dog maintain a good quality of life. Create a safe and consistent environment that they know well. This means that, as their eyesight gets worse, they can still find their way around without bumping into furniture or other new additions to the home.
You might also consider adding supplements to their diet, although there is no proof that eyesight-boosting vitamins and minerals can actually slow the progress of degenerative disorders like PRA.
It's important to understand that PRA is a complex condition, and the specific details and symptoms can vary greatly depending on the breed and individual dog. Some breeds may have late-onset PRA and not show symptoms until they’re old, while others may have early-onset PRA, with symptoms appearing at a young age.