Don’t give up!
PRA is no longer a hopeless disease. Have your dog examined by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist to determine if PRA is indeed present. Even before this appointment takes place, we recommend that you start your dog on specific antioxidant vision supplementation (see our Veterinary Supplementspage). The sooner the better. Even if your pet ends up not up having PRA, supplementation is a good thing to do to help support vision. If you are located in the Pacific Northwest or in British Columbia, you may contact our office to schedule a comprehensive ophthalmic examination. For a list of board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists, please visit www.acvo.org. Dogs with PRA should not be bred, and the breeder that you received your dog from should be notified that the dog is affected so the breeder can alter their breeding program.
Dogs with PRA usually develop cataracts that are termed “toxic cataracts”, in the mid to late stages of PRA. Cataracts are opacities within the lens, and usually both eyes of dogs with PRA develop cataracts. There are many causes of toxic cataracts, but the most common cause in dogs is PRA. As the retinal tissue slowly dies, it releases toxic by-products of cell death that are absorbed by the lens, causing lens damage and cataract development. The cataracts can be severe enough to aggravate vision loss.
In addition to supporting retinal health in dogs with PRA, specific antioxidant supplementation helps reduce the severity and slow the progression of toxic cataracts. If retinal function is completely lost in a dog with PRA but toxic cataracts are mild, specific antioxidant supplementation can be continued in these patients to help support lens health in an attempt to delay cataract progression. This is because while vision cannot be restored if the cataracts progress, the mature cataracts themselves can cause OTHER problems— there can be painful complications (i.e. glaucoma) from the development of advanced cataracts. Cataract surgery would not be considered in patients with secondary glaucoma, as it would not help restore any functional vision.
If the toxic cataracts interfere with vision but reasonable retinal function is still present, cataract surgery might be considered. Traditionally, cataract surgery has not been performed in dogs with PRA because the retinas die. It is the belief of Dr. McCalla, however, that a dog with PRA that is on daily specific antioxidant supplementation supplementation AND still has some viable retinal function at the time that the cataracts progress, can undergo cataract surgery. It is also important to know that advanced cataracts can cause not only increased vision loss but also inflammation, pain, and further damage to the eye. Therefore, if cloudiness and/or pain develops in the eye(s) of dogs with PRA, re-examination by a veterinary ophthalmologist is recommended ASAP. Secondary painful complications that might occur include glaucoma and lens luxation.
It is VERY important that dogs with PRA are given the recommended dose of the canine antioxidant vision supplement every day; in our experience, PRA is a disease that does not forgive underdosing. AND—do not even consider using an over-the-counter human supplement (such as OcuVite®, Preser-Vision®, or ICaps®). These supplements are not suitable for adequate support of retinal function in dogs.
It is also important to realize that it is OK to grieve about your pet’s vision loss, but you must not put your sad feelings in your dog’s head—they aren’t really there! Your dog is not suffering. They adjust well to their vision loss, and it is by far hardest to deal with on the owner’s side. Your dog’s job description has not changed. Your blind dog is happy as long as its routine is stable. From your dog’s point of view, life continues to be great– you are there as always, and they just need to use their other keen senses a bit more to get the same information they used to view. Keep household furniture in its place, and consider purchasing the book “My Dog is Blind but Lives Life to the Full” by Nicole Horsky. Other helpful websites: www.blinddogs.net and www.blinddogsupport.com
There are DNA blood tests available, to determine if dogs are likely affected with PRA, are likely carriers for PRA, or are not likely carrying the PRA gene. These tests are usually performed on purebred showdogs and breeding animals. Please visit this web site for further information: www.Optigen.com. If your dog is DNA-tested and found to be affected with PRA (but still has functional vision), it might benefit from specific antioxidant supplementation to support retinal and lens health. Additionally, if your purebred dog has been diagnosed with PRA by a veterinary ophthalmologist, the dog might be eligible for free DNA testing by Optigen as part of their ongoing research program. Any purebred dog that has been examined by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist (ACVO, ECVO) and that has been definitively diagnosed with PRA is eligible for review for possible inclusion in the Free Testing Program. Visit www.Optigen.com for more information.