FAQ: For the Owner of the Dog Affected with Progressive Retinal Atrophy or PRA
Q: Should I be afraid to take my dog for an eye exam to find out if it has PRA?
A: No, early knowledge is a powerful tool in assisting an PRA affected dog in learning to successfully cope with its lessening vision.
Q: Would I be able to tell that my dog is losing it eyesight in the early stages of being affected with PRA?
A: No, not necessarily in the early stages and sometimes not even in a more progressed stage. As a dog slowly loses its vision, it compensates with its senses of smell, hearing and "memory". Sometimes the first things an owner notices is their dog tripping over a box left in the middle of the room, a lower dresser drawer left open or a piece of furniture moved to a new location.
Q: If my dog is diagnosed as PRA affected, what can I do to "help" my dog cope?
A: Having a good leash to keep your dog safe when not in a fenced area or house, socializing your dog very well and building a strong positive training relationship between yourself and your dog are key to the dog adjusting to his reduced vision. Do not isolate him by being overly protective. An affected dog needs socialization and training.
Q: Can I take my PRA affected dog to dog parks? They are fenced.
A: As your dog's vision decreases, it is probably not advisable to allow your dog off leash play with unknown or very casually known dogs. A PRA affected dog with reduced vision can’t see and therefore can’t properly react to another dog's body language and body language is very important in the communication between canines. The PRA affected dog may also become overwhelmed with numerous dogs it can’t see but can hear and smell approaching it from different directions.
Q: What about the other dog(s) I own which the PRA affected dog grew up with or that grew up with the PRA affected dog?
A: Generally with dogs that grew up together, the PRA affected dog will come to depend somewhat on "following" the other dog(s) in the household as it gets around its surroundings. Some people believe the sighted dog may almost become or act as a "guide dog" for the PRA affected dog.
Q: What do I do to help my PRA affected dog if I move to a new house or simply re-arrange the furniture?
A: If you re-arrange the furniture, put your dog on leash and walk it around the room letting it sniff and lightly bump into the furniture in its new location. Give treats/rewards as he confidently, with your help, explores the changes. Do this more than once to help him imprint on the changes. This is similar as what would be done for a person with loss of vision. Dogs are no different except their senses of smell and hearing are so acute they are great aids to them. Moving to a new home should be handled in much the same way including walking the dog around the yard for a few days "teaching" it where the trees, fencing, etc. are. If your dog has a trusted dog companion, that companion will help the PRA affected dog learn the new yard and to some extent the rooms of the house.
Q: I have stairs in my house, what should I do for my PRA affected dog?
A: As your dog's vision deteriorates, you may notice he is becoming hesitant or cautious on the stairs, especially going down them. Consider using baby gates at the top and bottom so that he can’t accidentally fall down the stairs and only travels the stairs under your supervision.
Q: What else can you tell me to help me with my PRA affected dog?
A: Use common sense. Build the dog's confidence, both in himself and in you as his owner by positive training and as much positive socialization as possible. Do not hide your dog away but insure his safety with a good leash when he is out and about with you, and take him often.
Q: Can my PRA affected dog still go swimming?
A: Yes. But again use common sense. If swimming in open water, it is advisable to have a long line on the dog as the currents and the sound of the waves can disorient and take him away from you. In a swimming pool, you should still provide supervision but the affected dogs usually learn the layout of the pool and steps leading out by orienting themselves often with the water flow from the return jets.