Cocker Spaniels and Poodles are both prone to a disease called Progressive Retinal Atrophy, and as Cockapoo owners, it is important to be familiar with the disease, the symptoms, and how to proceed if your dog gets this disorder. This article aims to give you a working knowledge of PRA, specifically. We have also written an article on general eye health for cockapoos for those looking for further information.

PRA, or Progressive Retinal Atrophy is a group of medical conditions which, over a period of time cause dogs’ eyes to degenerate, eventually resulting in blindness. During the period over which degeneration occurs, your dog will not suffer any pain, and will probably adapt to his fading vision until it eventually fails.

PRA is a hereditary condition of which many dogs will be carriers. It is only when both parents are carriers of PRA that the puppy will develop the disease. If only one parent is a carrier, the puppy will not develop PRA but if he were to make with another carrier then the resultant offspring would have PRA.

PRA is a degenerative disease, meaning that it gets worse over a period of time. The area of the eye which is affected is the retina, which is the part of the eye sensitive to light. Diagnosis of the condition as it progresses is done through a veterinary ophthalmologist. For some breeds of dog, a DNA test may be available. Speak to your veterinarian if you suspect your Cockapoo may have PRA, and your dog may be referred to a specialist for testing.

As PRA progresses the ophthalmologist may diagnose the condition by means of a painless routine examination of your dog’s eyes. Additionally, an electroretinogram, or ERG, can be carried out which measures the retina’s electrical response to stimulation by light. Unfortunately, while the condition may be accurately diagnosed, at present there is no cure for PRA, and blindness at some stage is inevitable. 

It may be your intention to breed from your dog, in which case you may feel it beneficial to have your dog certified as being free from heritable eye disease. On the other hand, if your dog is unfortunate enough to have PRA, it would not be responsible to use him to breed from, since the risks of producing further dogs with PRA increase and only perpetuate the condition.

Some dogs develop PRA from as young as six weeks of age, with progressive retinal failure over the course of around two years. Other dogs may develop PRA between the ages of two and five, first losing their night vision, and then all their vision within a further year.

One of the first symptoms of PRA is a loss of peripheral vision, followed by hesitation in a number of situations. Your dog may be reluctant to go from a well lit room into darkness, such as a dark hallway or downstairs. Your dog may hesitate before he jumps out of the car, or may bump into things and generally display clumsiness. Ordinarily your dog may have been very familiar with the layout of your home, and since he knows the sound of your voice, he might adapt well to failing vision within the house. However, if you were to take him to an unknown place, he will probably stay close to you and is less likely to go off exploring on his own.

Blindness is not the end of the world for your pooch. Continue to treat your loving Cockapoo with all the love and kindness that you showed him as a puppy, and let him know you are always there when he needs you. He can continue to enjoy the sound of your voice, the varying smells and the sounds of the world around him. Dogs are very adaptable, and possess a skill called Cognitive Mapping which allows them to remember exactly where things are and move about with confidence in situations they are familiar with, even if they are blind. Provided you do not rearrange the furniture in the living room every month, your blind or partially blind dog can and will lead a comparatively normal life.

Is your dog blind or going blind? Here is some more information on living with and caring for a blind dog. There are also books available for support and detailed help, such as Caroline D. Levin’s well-reviewed book, “Living With Blind Dogs: A Resource Book and Training Guide for the Owners of Blind and Low-Vision Dogs.”