Is my dog predisposed to Progressive Retinal Atrophy?

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is the scientific term for the degeneration of the retina. This disease is fairly common in certain dog breeds such as Bullmastiff and Husky. Progressive retinal atrophy causes a progressive loss of vision ultimately leading to blindness. 

Genetic Causes

In most breeds, the gene that causes PRA is autosomal recessive which means that a dog must inherit the defective gene from both the mother and the father. However, in some other breeds such as the Husky and Bullmastiff, the defective gene is dominant which means that if one of the parents carries this defective gene, it will be passed down to the puppies. In other breeds this defective gene is linked to gender and is most commonly found in male dogs.

The Retina and Progressive Retinal Atrophy.

As light enters a healthy eye, the lens focuses it on the retina. The retina is the part of the eye that senses light and converts it into electrical signals that be sent to the brain for processing. Compare it to the light sensor that can be found in any modern camera. Needless to say that if your camera's sensor breaks, no light can come in and your camera will not be able to take pictures. Similarly, any damage to the retina will stop it from sensing any light.

Types of Progressive Retinal Atrophy.

There are two main types of progressive retinal atrophy in dogs. The effects and end result of both types are the same. The only difference is the age at which the symptoms start to show.

Early retinal dysplasia is usually diagnosed by the time the puppy is five months old. Late onset retinal atrophy is usually diagnosed between the age of two and five years.

How does PRA Affect your dog?

As the condition worsens over time, the end result is that your dog will completely lose his or her vision. Remarkably though, although this poses restrictions on the dog's lifestyle, it is something that dogs can live with and lead a happy life. Keep in mind that dogs rely more on their sense of smell and hearing. Although being able to see is clearly better, dogs do manage quite well without their sense of vision.

Prevention & Treatment

If you purchased a purebred dog from a breeder you can usually check the bloodline to see if his or her parents exhibited this condition. Sometimes this is not possible as in the case of rescue and mixed breed dogs but a DNA test is a great method to learn if your dog is predisposed to Progressive Retinal Atrophy. 

  • Read as much about the breed and learn if it is prone to PRA. If your dog is mixed breed, make sure you read about all of the breeds in his/her genetic makeup.
  • Ask your breeder to provide the blood lineage and examine if any of the dogs in the bloodline suffered from PRA. Seek expert advice from your vet if in doubt.

How can I know if my dog suffers from PRA?

In most cases the owners would notice that their dog is acting strange and cannot really see things especially at night. If this is the case, then a general ophthalmic examination has to be carried out. A better in depth examination by means of genetic testing is available for those who would wish to dig in deeper into the matter.

In Conclusion

Progressive Retinal Atrophy is a genetic disease that results in loss of vision. Some dog breeds are prone to it more than others. Interestingly enough, cats do not suffer from Progressive Retinal Atrophy. There are two types of PRA, Early Retinal Dysplasia and Late Onset Retinal Atrophy but in either case most dogs will show symptoms well before they are five years of age. If you think that your dog suffers from Progressive Retinal Atrophy, you can carry out an ophthalmic examination at the vet for a definite answer. For additional information about the disease, check out this article from

Currently there is no cure for Progressive Retinal Atrophy. You can avoid PRA in your dog by buying dogs only from reputable breeders. Things are slightly more complicated with rescue dogs of unknown lineage although DNA tests can provide early warning if your dog is genetically predisposed to PRA. Check out our previous article about our experience with Wisdom Panel DNA testing for more information about DNA testing for your dog.

No matter the outcome, a dog that loses vision for any reason can still lead a normal and happy life. Barx Parx has several blind dogs that frequently enjoy the dog park with their canine pals.

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