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Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Polo’s Story and Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) in Dogs

"Polo" was a handsome, young, pristine-white Samoyed dog. He was always very playful and bouncy, and he was extremely vocal. I could always hear him arriving in the car park before his appointment, barking away excitedly and continuously! 

He had been a rescued dog, as several previous owners had not expected the work that would be involved with his training and in keeping his coat well-groomed out daily. Samoyeds are Spitz -type dogs originally used for herding and guarding livestock and this breed of dog does need adequate, good early training and daily grooming. 

He had a wonderful thick, luxurious coat, which needed a lot of daily attention. His new owners daily brushing out and regular visits to his groomer kept him beautifully white and groomed to perfection. 

“Polo” was just 4 years old when his new owners started noticing some changes in his behaviour. Initially they noticed that he was overly cautious walking downstairs or steps and seemed to be very clingy at night. His owners brought him in when they had seen him start to bump into opened doors and trip over objects left on the floor. 

I heard “Polo” in the car park as usual for this visit, but this time he did not bounce into the surgery as usual. He was clinging closely to his owner and seemed very scared and shaky during his consultation. I put him at ease with lots of petting and talked to him gently. “He seems to be going blind” his owner relayed. “It is so upsetting, as he is so young”. On his examination I noted that “Polo” had widely dilated pupils that did not respond normally to the light I was using for his eye examination. There was an increased reflection noted from the back of his eyes, the Retinae, and some other abnormalities also noted within both his eyes on his examination with the Ophthalmoscope. I was concerned, and I advised that “Polo” have a referral appointment arranged at the local referral Ophthalmologist clinic to fully assess his eyes for a definitive diagnosis here. 

As I had suspected, “Polo” was diagnosed with Generalised Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), which had caused a progressive disease and a deterioration of the Retinal structure of his eyes. He did sadly have a progressive vision loss, hence the finding of his widely dilated pupils which were unresponsive to light and compromised sight. 

Sadly, there is no treatment for PRA. With “Polo’s owners help, devotion and understanding he did manage and adjusted to cope with his blindness remarkably well. Trips away from his safe, home sanctuary were tough for him though, and we tried to make his visits to the surgery for his check-ups as calm as we could for him. His other senses of hearing, touch, smell, and taste were all still very good, so talking more, handling, stroking and tasty treats all helped to make his visits less stressful. Also, his owners made sure that his home surrounding was always kept as he knew them and were not adjusted, and he was kept safely on a lead for his outdoor exercise and safety barriers were made around any potential obstacles. His owners did everything possible to help and assist him.

PRA is a genetic, inherited disease. “Polo” was a neutered rescued dog who had had numerous previous rescue homes. However genetic testing and advice to known previous breeding lines would have be advised, if known. PRA is a hereditary condition passed on from parents to offspring. Potential breeding stock should be screened for the markers of this upsetting disease before they are bred from. The British Veterinary Association and the Kennel Club run a testing scheme for PRA for certain dogs predisposed to this condition. Even if a dog does not have the symptoms of PRA, they be a carrier of the gene, with the potential then to pass this disease onto their offspring. 

“Polo” was a star, and he was a happy fellow with his wonderful, caring owners. He managed extremely well with his disability and his owners allowed him to have loving, safe comfortable life. 

If you are at all concerned about your dog’s eyesight, or any recent changes in their behaviour, then do arrange an appointment at your Vet Practice and they will advise and guide you from there. 


Alison Laurie-Chalmers, 

Senior Consultant, 

Crown Vets 

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