Updated May 28, 2017
Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is an inherited condition in Labradors that affects the retina of the eyes.
There are two main types of PRA in dogs: retinal dysplasia and retinal degeneration. Usually, the photoreceptors (cells in the retinas responsible for capturing light) are fully developed by 2 months of age. However, dogs with PRA either have retinal dysplasia, which is when the photoreceptors and retina don’t form normally, or the retina deteriorates (retinal degeneration), causing the cells to die.
Also, retinal dysplasia develops as early as 2 months of age and leads to blindness within a year or so, whereas retinal degeneration usually appears when the dog is older and slowly becomes worse.
Symptoms of Progressive Retinal Atrophy
There are not very many symptoms associated with PRA, as it does not cause pain or external changes such as irritation, swelling, etc.
In most cases, owners notice behavioral changes such as not wanting to go for a walk at night or avoiding dark areas such as a room. This is due to the photoreceptors in the retina not being able to absorb what little light is available, making it even harder for the dog to see in the dark. As the condition becomes worse, your Labrador will eventually have difficulty seeing during the day as well.
In its more advanced stages, progressive retinal atrophy can also cause symptoms such as; dilated pupils, eye cloudiness, and in coordination or even bumping into objects due to poor vision.
How is PRA diagnosed?
A veterinary ophthalmologist can diagnose PRA in Labrador Retrievers with a simple eye exam by identifying retinal changes and other abnormalities in the eyes. An electroretinogram, which is a test used to evaluate the photoreceptors, may also be necessary to confirm the diagnosis. Fortunately, these tests do not require the dog to be under anesthesia, and they’re not painful.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy treatment
Currently, there is no treatment available for progressive retinal atrophy in dogs, and the disease eventually leads to blindness. On a positive note, most dogs adapt quite quickly to being blind and are able to live a happy life. Guidance and support from the owner are also important in order for the dog to adapt to his or her new life.
Can Progressive Retinal Atrophy be prevented?
Progressive retinal atrophy is a genetic health condition in Labrador Retrievers, which means it can be passed on to the puppies from the parents. There is no way to guarantee that a puppy will not be born with PRA, but making sure that the parents aren’t affected by the disease greatly reduces the risk. Once the parents are examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist, they can then be registered by the CERF and granted a certificate stating that they’re clear of genetic health problems pertaining to the eyes.