Retinal Degeneration in Dogs

Retinal degeneration in dogs occurs when the retina changes, causing blindness. The blindness may occur over time or happen suddenly with no warning. In some dogs, the deterioration occurs prematurely, but the disease can also occur when the retina forms improperly in puppyhood.

Certain breeds of dogs, such as Cocker spaniels, labs and poodles, are more susceptible to this eye disease, so owners of those breeds should make sure they monitor their dogs for symptoms. You can also ask your breeder if their dogs have been tested to see if they are a genetic carrier of retinal degeneration. Avoid purchasing a puppy from any breeder who refuses to run this genetic test.

Symptoms of Retinal Degeneration

Because the symptoms can occur gradually or suddenly, it's important to pay close attention to your dog's behavior. If you notice any of the symptoms, seek veterinary care and make sure your dog receives an eye exam to check for retinal degeneration. Symptoms include:

  • Blindness
  • Difficulty moving around furniture in darkness
  • Difficulty seeing in dim light or in the dark
  • Dilated pupils
  • Eyes/pupils seem excessively shiny, mainly because the dilated pupil allows more light to reach the back of the eye
  • Hesitance or refusal to go out at night or early morning before sunrise

Unless the cause of degeneration of the retina is genetic, symptoms usually occur very slowly. Most pet owners do not notice something's wrong with their pet until the latter stages of the disease.

Retinal Degenerative Deterioration vs. Dysplasia

The retina contains rods and cones. These components capture light and turn it into a signal that the brain translates to form an image. If the rods or cones deteriorate, vision impairment occurs.

With degenerative deterioration, the rods being to deteriorate. Because rods control vision in dim lighting, you'll notice your dog losing nighttime vision capabilities first before complete blindness sets in.

With retinal dysplasia, the rods fail to form properly in puppyhood. The puppy's vision in dim lighting is never good. As the puppy ages, the cones also deteriorate. Blindness occurs rapidly, usually by the time the puppy reaches his first birthday.

Caring for Dogs with Retinal Degeneration

There is no cure or treatment for degeneration of the retinas. This is why it's essential to test all dogs before breeding them.

Once blindness sets in, the only thing you can do for your pet is ensure his safety. Make sure you place his food and water in an open area where he will be able to eat and drink without bumping into tables or chairs. Keep the path between the dog's kennel or bed and food and water clear of any obstacles. For dogs that have limited vision, keep hallways and areas brightly lit in the night. Nightlights are especially helpful.

Do not move furniture around or change the location of your dog's bedding or kennel. Once the dog has his locations memorized, moving things will only prove to be frustrating to your pet.

If you have stairs, use baby gates to ensure your pet doesn't accidentally fall down them. Don't let your pet outside without supervision. If you have an in-ground pool, make sure there is a fence or pool alarm that will keep your pet from accidentally falling in.