Retinal Degeneration

Retinal Disease and Retinal Degeneration in Canines

Retinal degeneration in dogs can occur slowly, or very fast as with the case of SARDs (sudden acquired retinal degeneration).  It can be the result of an inherited condition or it can result from a disease such as glaucoma or inflammation.

Our dog Winnie has Progressive Retinal Atrophy which affects English Cocker Spaniels as well as other breeds of dogs.   The condition causes deterioration of the rods and cones in dog eye retinas.  You may first start to notice that your dog has poorer vision at night (deteriorating rods) that progresses to poor vision during the day (deteriorating cones)  as well.  The pupils may become dilated in a fixed position.

If you haven’t noticed yet that your dog doesn’t see as well at night, you may notice instead the development of a cloudiness in your dog’s eyes which are cataracts.  This is how we first were first alerted to Winnie’s vision problems – her PRA disease developed into cataract complications.

prcd-PRA, is inherited and is the official name of the disease Winnie has.  At this time, there is no cure or treatment for her condition.  Optigen is a U.S. company that has developed a test for inherited PRA which should be done on all dogs that are candidates for breeding so that the disease can be bred out of future generations.

SARDs can result in total blindness in dogs in as little as one or two days.  Some SARDs cases have been shown to develop in dogs with Cushing’s syndrome or that have liver disease.

What can you do?

As PRA causes irreversible vision loss, it is one of those diseases that you have to stay ahead of if you are going to be able to help your dog even in a little way.  If you own a dog that is one of the affected breeds, then seeing a veterinary ophthalmologist should be a regular part of your dog’s care.  All dogs should be monitored for glaucoma as this also can cause vision loss from retinal degeneration.  When your regular vet performs blood tests as part of your dog’s yearly checkups, make sure that he or she is paying attention to signs of liver disease or Cushing’s as these diseases are sometimes found in dogs that have retinal degeneration.

In Winnie’s particular case, we chose to go the route of having her cataracts taken out one at a time to try and preserve as much vision for as long as was possible.  The vet ophthalmologists we visited recommended that she take a daily regimen of Ocu-Glo Rx for the rest of her life.  Although there is no clinical proof that this product has slowed the progression of the disease, we believe that this product is working for our dog Winnie as she was predicted to have lost all vision 18 months ago and still has functional sight.  There are studies that show the efficacy of the product, but “proof” is hard to come by because dogs can’t read eye charts or do any of the normal tests that people undergo when evaluating eye function. In Winnie’s case, her doctors have not noticed any significant change in the deterioration of her retinas since she started taking Ocu-Glo and that’s good enough for us as her behavior confirms that she is seeing well enough to enjoy life and interact with her dog siblings.
Dog breeds affected by PRA