Progressive Retinal Atrophy/Degeneration

Gabby came to me as a foster, and not really a dog, but I've told that story before. One of the things I noticed from the start is that Gabby was either very clumsy, or had some vision loss. It really wasn't a pressing matter, as there were other, more time sensitive medical issues that needed to be taken care of. She needed a bath (or five), and to have the mats shaved out from between her toes. She needed to have her ear infection treated, and her urinary tract infection treated. She needed a dental, with a few teeth extracted. She needed soft places to lie so the callouses on her elbows would heal and her hair could grow again. 

And in the midst of her settling into my home, she became very good at navigating familiar places. I really only noticed her bumping into things in a completely new place, I would very occasionally see her not be able to locate where a sound came from, and even more rarely, she would hesitate to move forward when out walking at night. So, it took me a while to put the pieces together again. When I did, my heart sank. I know what an incredibly common cause of vision loss is called, especially when the dog is an English Springer Spaniel.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy
(from the ESSFTA and Canine Genetic Diseases Network)

  •  autosomal recessive disorder
  • degeneration of the retina in dogs
  •  results in permanent blindness
  • rods, responsible for night vision, deteriorate first
  • cones, responsible for bright light vision, deteriorate second
So, I scheduled her for an exam with a veterinary ophthalmologist I know and trust. Gabby's eye exam by Dr. Larocca of Animal Eye Speciality Center told us that Gabby has generalized retinal atrophy and bilateral diffuse retinal thinning; PRA

Unfortunately, it didn't stop there. Gabby also has distichiasis of both her left and right eyelids. 

"Distichiasis is a condition where eyelashes emerge from the ducts of glands within the eyelid (Meibomian gland) which does not normally produce hairs. These "extra" eyelashes often rub on the surface of the eye and may cause irritation. Distichiasis is considered to be a breed-related problem in dogs, and is most commonly found in retrievers, spaniels, poodles, Shih Tzus and Weimeranas."

And just so that we cover all the bases, she also has cataracts on the nucleus of both eyes.

I went in to the appointment knowing we'd find something wrong with her eyes. The more I thought about it, the more I realized she had to have some vision loss. I was hoping against all hope it wouldn't be PRA, but it is.

One of the reasons I take my dogs, and took Gabby specifically, to see Dr. Larocca is that I trust him. He always tells it to me straight. When he told me Gabby has PRA, he also told me that he knows of a drug trial study using Ocu-Glo to help halt the progression of PRA. He didn't know if her eyes were too progressed at this point, but he said he would make contact with the ACVO in charge of the study.

I've been giving her the human version of this supplement currently, because it's something I can do while we wait.

And of course, Gabby is just her happy self. I don't know how long this has been going on, but she's definitely coping well. PRA certainly won't stop us from having fun, but we'll probably have to make some modifications along the way!