How to Assist Your Pomeranian with Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

happy pomeranian in grass

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) in Pomeranians

If you have a Pomeranian, you aren’t alone. The Pomeranian is one of the most popular small dog breeds in the U.S. In fact, the Pomeranian breed is not only popular in the U.S. but has made its way into being a popular pet throughout the world. Their furry coats and perky personality make them a favorite for families. Sadly, they often suffer from a common eye disease called progressive retinal atrophy.

Progressive retinal atrophy (referred to as PRA) is a genetic eye disease. One of the gene mutations that cause progressive retinal atrophy is carried throughout the Pomeranian breed. In fact, 1 out of 8 Pomeranians carries the mutated gene, PDE6A. There are many different breeds that also carry their own gene mutations for progressive retinal atrophy, but a large number of dogs in the Pomeranian breed carry the gene. Unfortunately, this puts them at a higher risk of developing progressive retinal atrophy.

Pomeranian Progressive Retinal Atrophy Explained

Progressive retinal atrophy is a type of degenerative eye disease. PRA is also referred to as rod-cone dysplasia type 3 or rcd3 disease for short. Many breeds of dogs have eye problems including progressive retinal atrophy. The name rod-cone dysplasia is more specific to how the disease affects the rods and cones of the eyes.

When the affected dog contracts progressive retinal atrophy, both the rod and cones in their eyes diminish. The photoreceptor cells located in the eye have unnormal thinning and slowly degenerate until nothing is left.

First, the rod photoreceptors in the eyes lose sight. Rod photoreceptors are more photosensitive and have the ability to differentiate gray colors. This means a dog loses its ability to see at night and in dim lighting along with peripheral vision. After the loss of functioning photoreceptors in the rods of the eye, the cones are next to degenerate. Cones in the eyes are responsible for intermediate color perception. As the cone’s photoreceptors thin, all vision slowly deteriorates. This retinal degeneration always results in complete blindness.

When a Pomeranian is affected by this eye disease, there will usually be signs as young as four weeks old. Many dogs affected by this disease are blind by the time they reach one. However, there are a few known cases when a dog keeps limited sight until they reach three to four years old.

pomeranian sitting in front blue background

Causes of Progressive Retinal Atrophy in the Pomeranian Breed

Scientists have found genes that have mutated in a few different breeds of dogs. The Pomeranian breed has its own genetic mutation. The interesting thing about the mutation is that even if a dog has one gene of the mutation, they are not necessarily affected by progressive retinal atrophy. In order to have fully developed symptoms of progressive retinal atrophy, a Pomeranian must have both pairs of the mutated gene. They MUST inherit the gene from both parents.

The Pomeranian breed progressive retinal atrophy is one of the main eye problems this breed of dog has. Chihuahua, Cardigan Welsh Corgi, and Siberian Husky are all breeds with a higher risk of developing PRA. Some of these breeds carry their own version of the same genetic mutation. However, not all breeds carry a mutation. Even breeds that carry the mutation like the Pomeranian may contract PRA but might not have the mutation. Scientists are not completely sure what all causes PRA, but they do know having two mutated genes will give a dog PRA, while it is entirely possible for a dog with only one mutated gene to contract PRA for a completely different reason.

Because PRA is genetic, not many environmental factors contribute to the symptoms of the disease. It is true that allergies and long facial hair can affect a dog‘s vision, but changing these things in a dog that suffers from PRA will not prevent blindness. PRA does not work like other diseases; it can’t be treated or cured. Sadly, removing certain irritants from a dog’s eye will not rid them of the degeneration of their eyes.

How PRA Can Affect Pomeranians

A dog‘s strongest senses are their sense of smell, sense of hearing, and then their sense of sight. Because sight is only their third-strongest trait, they can adapt fairly easily to losing their eyesight. Also, because the process of thinning in the photoreceptors is not painful, dogs do not experience any kind of grief during the duration of their decreasing vision.

While no pain is felt because of PRA, it will still take some time for a dog to adapt to becoming blind. Of course, the process can take years to become fully blind have a lot more time to get used to their limited vision and continually adapt to what they can see. Because of how long this disease takes, most dogs adapt well to their new world. Since most dogs that develop PRA begin seeing the changes at four weeks old, it is unlikely dogs have a hard time adapting; it’s simply the only reality they’ve ever known. Even so, some dogs lose complete vision in just a matter of months. The dogs that lose their vision quickly might be a little clumsier than usual, may not be able to catch toys as much, and may be a little more nervous about jumping onto a bed or couch. After they adapt to the loss of eyesight, PRA doesn’t affect Pomeranians or any other breed for that matter.

In the first year of a dog‘s life, they learn most of their functions. They learn about socialization, what is okay versus what’s not, and other behavioral things. This is when dogs begin to search and sniff out other foods, animals, and dogs. Losing their vision does not prevent them from any of these activities. Since a dog‘s vision declines slowly during this first year as well, the dog learns more and more about how to function without their complete eyesight.

Keep in mind, PRA is a degenerative disease. There is no treatment for this eye condition although there are some methods that other owners may try. No matter what, a dog with PRA will eventually become blind.

Pomeranian puppy on grass

Life Expectancy of a Pomeranian with PRA

Pomeranians live an average of 12-16 years. While PRA takes away their eyesight, it does not take away any span of life for them. As long as you regularly take your Pomeranian to the vet and keep it healthy it will still live the average lifespan of any other Pomeranian. Pomeranians’ life expectancy is never limited solely because they experience PRA.

Signs That Your Pomeranian Might Have PRA

If owners want to know if their Pomeranian or any dog for that matter are at risk of developing PRA, owners can have a DNA test reveal whether or not the dog is a carrier of the mutated genes that cause PRA. However, some forms of the mutation are undetectable from the DNA test. It’s worth noting again that scientists do not know all the causes of PRA. Your dog might not have the genetic markers for PRA yet still contract the disease.

Owners can tell if a dog may have the beginning signs of PRA if their dog is scared of things normal dogs may not be. For example, if a furry friend is scared of going downstairs or scared of dark rooms, these may be signs they are losing part of their vision. If you can visually see cloudy areas in your dog’s eyes, this may also be a sign of PRA.

Of course, if a dog bumps into door frames, has difficulty catching toys, doesn’t like jumping, and can’t judge distances well these may all be pointing to symptoms of PRA. Keep in mind, though, nothing is certain until a vet examines a dog and establishes an official diagnosis. Some dogs do all of these things and simply have cloudy areas in their vision or are clumsy.

If a dog is experiencing the signs of developing PRA, it will lose its ability to see at night. This plays into the symptoms that a dog may be scared to go outside at night if it is experiencing PRA. After the loss of peripheral vision and night vision, dogs will lose more and more of their ability to see in bright lights. A dog may have a hard time getting around the house or jumping onto couches or beds. Cataracts may even begin to appear in your dog‘s eyes.

On average, Pomeranians that contract PRA lost their ability to see after about one year. As stated earlier, some lucky pups may maintain partial limited vision for three to four years before going completely blind; however, it’s rare for dogs to keep their vision for that long while suffering from PRA.

The only way to officially diagnose PRA is by taking your pup to a vet so the veterinarian can perform an ophthalmologic exam. This is the only diagnoses test and therefore the only way to officially diagnose progressive retinal atrophy. Even though there is no treatment for PRA it is incredibly important to get a diagnoses test done. If your dog has signs and symptoms of PRA it may have a different issue with its eyes such as entropion or ectropion. A diagnosis will only help you, the owner, know how to best care for your dog.

pomeranian sitting on rock in park

How to Care For and Treat Your Pomeranian with PRA

A change in diet will do little to affect a dog’s eyesight. Health is always important, but if a dog has PRA little can be done to stop or slow the symptoms. Of course, some things may make it harder for a dog to get around and function with blindness. Obesity will limit a dog that is also blind by making it harder to move and jump. So as far as vision goes, make sure you are feeding your dog food that keeps it in a healthy, energetic state.

Some owners try to give dogs with eye issues foods that are generally good for eyesight, but vets do not prescribe any special foods for dogs with PRA. The owners that give their dogs snacks that are good for their eyes are doing a great job at keeping their dogs healthy, but they will not prevent blindness from occurring. Some of the snacks they provide their pups are chelated zinc, beta carotene, vitamin c, and lutein. Some owners provide their dogs with antioxidant supplements and vitamins in hopes this will help their dog‘s eyesight. These supplements are not unhealthy for your dog and they may help them by lessening the stress in their eyes. Some of these antioxidants may even prevent the development of cataracts in their eyes.

Keep in mind, trying to prevent blindness in a dog that has PRA by feeding it these specific foods is like trying to fix a human’s bad eyesight by making them eat carrots. It’s good for humans to eat carrots, but it will not rid them of the need to wear glasses. None of these foods will harm your dog in any way, they will probably help their overall health, but you will not see changes in your dog’s PRA diagnosis.

It is important to keep in mind, cataracts are not the final factor that determines blindness in dogs with PRA. The thinning of photoreceptors causes blindness. So while these dietary supplements may prevent cataracts, they are simply delaying the process of going blind and there is no guarantee they will actually be able to delay it at all. Some owners opt to get their dogs cataract removal surgery. Removing cataracts will help sustain a limited vision for a little longer, but it will not stop the blindness from occurring.

Because there is no treatment for PRA, many veterinarians advise that dogs with PRA or dogs that carry a mutated gene for degenerative eye disease should not be bred. This prevents more dogs from carrying the mutated gene. Which, as you know, is one of the only ways we can tell if a dog is at risk of developing PRA.

The best thing owners can do to help dogs with this condition is to assist their dogs in adapting to a life without vision. It’s important to learn how to help a dog understand verbal cues rather than visual cues. Give your dog verbal praise for things it looks uncomfortable doing. For example, if you let your dog out at night and it seems scared, stay with your pup and give it verbal praise and pets to show that it’s safe and you are there.

It’s important to learn not to alarm your dog. Don’t wake him from naps abruptly, rather say his name to try to wake him and gently nudge him. Help him find his treats when needed and perhaps practice strengthening his sense of smell by hiding them for him to sniff out. Some owners get creative and use tactile and scent markers to help a dog orient itself in different locations. If your living room and bedroom have drastically different smells, it can help your dog recognize where it is by scent. If your living room is carpet and your kitchen is tile, this is also a tactile way to help your dog understand where he is in his home.

How to Help Your Pomeranian Live a Fulfilling Life with PRA

Because dogs can adapt rather well to life without vision, it isn’t hard to help them live their best lives possible. Try to keep your furniture in safe spaces and make sure there is nothing sharp your dog can accidentally bump into. If you ever move, make sure you repeatedly walk your dog through his new home to be sure he learns his new surroundings. Dogs can get used to the layout of their homes which helps them navigate their lives with blindness.

Dogs adapt well to blindness since it is a slow decline of their loss of vision and only their third-strongest trait. Their excellent hearing and sense of smell help them focus on other aspects of their life and surroundings. It’s always going to be important to make sure they get the right amount of exercise and eat healthily.

Always take your dog to their regular vet check-ups. This can help create a safe and secure environment for your blind dog. Consider getting your dog a security stuffed animal or blanket. Allowing your dog to have something he can feel while you are away, can help create a sense of safety in his home while he’s alone.

The most important thing to remember is as long as you go on caring, loving, and playing with your dog they will always be quite happy. They feel no pain from their retinal damage, so while they lost their eyesight the best thing for owners to do is maintain a healthy bond and relationship while keeping things as normal as possible for the dog. All dogs really want is snacks, attention, and love. Provide those and your dog will be living its best possible life.

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