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Progressive Retinal Atrophy in Dogs and Cats

What to Do When Your Pet Begins to Lose Their Vision

By February 25, 2014 | See Comments

A Dog And Cat Layiny Side By Side

Progressive retinal atrophy is an eye condition found in dogs and cats that eventually leads to complete vision loss. Although this may be difficult for your pet to adjust to, your pet can continue to have a long happy life.

Progressive retinal atrophy is a condition that affects dogs, and more rarely cats, in which vision degenerates and usually leads to complete blindness. The retina is the light-sensitive nerve area in the back of the eye that works like a camera, sending information to the brain. Over months or years these receptors die prematurely, leading to blindness. Although it can present some challenges, progressive retinal atrophy in dogs and cats causes no pain and many pets can live a happy and fairly normal life, even without vision.

What Causes Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Progressive retinal atrophy is usually inherited from parents, so it's important never to breed a dog or cat with the condition. Certain breeds are at greater risk: among cats, Abyssinian, Bengal, Persian, and short-hair breeds are more likely to develop retinal atrophy. It is much more common for dogs, affecting many breeds, including Akitas, Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, and Dachshunds.

Symptoms

Dogs and cats may show symptoms of vision loss as young as 12 months, but most only experience atrophy in their senior years. The progressive nature of vision loss gives pets some time to adjust, and they usually compensate quite well, so you might not even notice they are losing their vision.

Usually, the initial loss is night vision, and dogs may be hesitant to walk into a dark room or outside at night. Eventually, loss will also be apparent under bright lights and during the day. In some cases, pets will lose their focused vision but retain their peripheral vision.

Other symptoms may include bumping into walls, disorientation in a new place, and unresponsive pupils. If you notice your pet seems to be losing their vision, you should talk to your vet. They may determine that the vision loss is due to a treatable cause, rather than Progressive Retinal Atrophy. Cataracts or taurine deficiencies in cats can lead to similar signs of blindness.

Treatment and Supportive Care

Unfortunately, there is no treatment or cure for retinal atrophy. It will be important to make a few changes to help your dog or cat get around with reduced vision, but they can still lead a happy life. You may even be surprised by how easily they can get along without vision, because their other senses, particularly hearing and smell, are so strong. If you keep furniture in the same places, your dog or cat should be able to navigate the house fine by memory.

Your pet may get along so well you may even forget they are blind, but it's still important to keep them safe from threats. Cats will need to stay indoors, and dogs should stay on leashes to avoid running into traffic or other hazards. Using a harness instead of a simple collar may help you guide them while on walks.

In the home, try to keep boxes, toys, and other items out of walking paths and let your pet know who is approaching by talking and letting them smell you before you touch them. You may also find that stairs are challenging, and you might want to block them off to keep your pet safe.

While the loss of vision may seem difficult, you might end up feeling the loss more than your pet does. Cats and dogs can get along well with their smell and hearing senses, so a few lifestyle changes should be all they need to adapt to progressive retinal atrophy.

More on Pet Eye Health

What Causes Cherry Eye in Dogs and Cats?
Cat and Dog Eye Care Buying Guide
What Is Collie Eye Anomaly?

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Progressive Retinal Atrophy at a glance

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  • 1Progressive retinal atrophy gradually causes vision loss in dogs and cats.
  • 2The condition has no cure, but your pet can often adapt, especially if the surroundings are well- known.
  • 3Blindness in pets can have other causes, so consult with your veterinarian if you notice symptoms.
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