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Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)


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My rescued Border Collie, Shep, has been everything I ever hoped for. Shep's considered to be like my child since I do not have children. He's about 7.


He has been diagnosed with PRA and although he is not completely blind, I have to keep a super close eye on him as much as possible (always when he is outside). And, because of his lack of sight, I no longer am able to engage in his favorite game - frisbee. It's frustrating and taxing, and was so hard when the vision impairment started to become noticable. Watching Shep blindly run into obvious structures (the wall, doors, furniture) and unable to find his way to the deck stairs at night, running into the pickup truck in an open yard, etc... has been upsetting. I'm sure you can imagine if you have never experienced this.


I think the first obvious clue that he had an eye problem was when I told him to get up in the bed of the pickup, and he approached and stopped under the tailgate and jumped up, not knowing he was underneath the tailgate! Or him running into the legs of a standing horse (thank goodness, it was a good horse). It should have been more known however before the major signs when he started not being able to see the toy, constantly missing the frisbee or being delayed in playing.


I don't have any questions in regards to the disease itself. I have researched as much as possible and have had a good eye specialist doctor assisting in Shep's case.


I was just wondering if anyone here has ever had a beloved dog succumb to an eye disease? And what did you do to help your dog adjust? Shep's adjusting, esepcially since the sight loss was gradual. But, how were you able to help your pup stay active in the activities most enjoyed?


Shep is still fairly active... walks can be slightly difficult, he spooks at things (like a curb) that he seems to suddenly "see" beside him through his foggy haze. I do allow him outside with the horses still - he's not as active and is much more reserved, choosing to lay around the barn in a safe manner, instead of being rambunctious like he used to. Obedience training is still going well like always (he's already well trained), but forget teaching him to roll over. But, man, I sure wish he could play frisbee...


Any who, just wanted to express what I am facing right now and wanted to know who else has gone through similar scenarios and how best they physically, mentally, and emotionally coped with it.



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I am so sorry you and your beautiful boy are going through this! Have you looked into the blind dogs group on Yahoo? I had a dog with a very rare disease a few years back and received so much information and suggestions from a Yahoo group for owners of dogs with that illness. It really helped me be a good advocate for my dog.


This is how the Blind Dogs group describes itself:

"Welcome all owners of blind dogs! We are owners of blind/visually impaired dogs and offer support and information in an effort to help you and your dog adjust to their new challenge. Although it's difficult for you now-most dogs adjust well and live happy-full lives. Upon joining we ask you post a introduction. Welcome!"


They look like a fairly active group but not insane posters. That might be a good resource for you and Shep.

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I'm very interested in your dog's diagnosis. We have a dog with FMAR, which is a non-acquired disease which mimics PRA. It's also not as progressive as PRA.


Has your dog been seen by a Board certified ophthamologist who is familiar with FMAR in Border Collies as well as PRA? Here is an article on the difference by a renowned authority, Dr. Gregory Acland. http://www.sheepdog.com/genetics/eyes.html In it he says (and I'm not sure how current this is):


However, until proven otherwise, one should not regard it as established yet that PRA exists in the Border Collie. I would love to be proven wrong, and would appreciate hearing from anyone who has information on any case of PRA in a Border Collie.
I hope your dog is going to be all right - maybe you should contact Dr. Acland if you haven't already - it would be neat if he had better news for you.
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Gee, I don't know how to handle it.


It sounds like what my mother-in-law went throught with macular degenration. At least your dog has people who already know what is going on - and will not try to encourage the pup to do the usual crosswords, jumbles, and cryptoquotes.


We can accept what changes with oour pets better than we can accept what happens to our spouses?

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If I were in your position I would definitely take the dog to Dr. Acland. Even if he cannot offer any greater hope for Shep, the question of whether heritable PRA is present in border collies is a very important one for the breed. Dr. Acland is the most qualified person to give you an accurate diagnosis, and also the researcher that could best use information gleaned about Shep's condition for the advancement of knowledge about border collie eye diseases. He is at Cornell, but I believe he also sees clinical patients at the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, PA, which might be closer to you.


The look in your dog's eyes in that picture is beautiful, whether he can see or not. I wish all the best to you and him.

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I did not think PRA was in border collies. I thought it was much more common in the australian cattledog. I would do as Rebecca and Eileen suggest.


Then again, Shep looks all bc but since he is a rescue there could be something else mixed in there and that could be where the PRA is coming from...

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Hi there,


Sorry to hear about Sheps eyesight. As an aside I live in southern NJ about 1 hour south of you in Estell Manor.


I fostered (in my house that means adopted) a 9 year old dog that was about 90% blind from another disease whose names escapes me. It is like PRA but not inherited, comes from trauma to the eyes, overheating during the lifetime, lesions, etc. Anyway he did slowly and progressively go fully blind. What a dear he was though. Poor thing did not have the benefit of growing up with us so at 9 and almost totally blind he came to live with us.


He adjusted very well as he was very trusting. Amazing as he came from a neglectful situation. He listened very well and was off lead while he could still see shadows. I could even work him on sheep up close as he would listen to which way they were moving and take my flank commands. He did run into trees occasionally and I would cringe but he came to understand that when I yelled "CAREFUL!" he had to stop and he would and then slowly start moving again and feel his way around.


He liked to sit and paw at everyone and the best was when I caught him giving his paw to the vacuum that I had left in the middle of the room. Oh yeah, I would come home and he'd be waiting backwards in his crate for me to let him out, tail wagging, all excited, facing the wrong way for the crate door. I miss him!


We have a fenceline that runs from our house to our barn and I could walk him out to the barn and let him go and he would enjoy his walk along the fence back to the house and wait on the deck for me.


As he aged and began to lose his hearing it got much harder. I would much prefer a blind dog over a deaf dog and I have had 2 deaf dogs. As long as they are obedient to your voice it is not too hard. Eventually he had to be on a flexilead most the time. It gave him the freedom to run a bit and still be safe.


We let him go just about a year ago now at 14+ as he was totally blind, totally deaf, arthritic and becoming disoriented but what a great 5 years he had with us. He enjoyed his retirement!


Sorry this is so long, thanks for letting me share some memories.

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Sorry to hear about Shep's diagnosis.


I've never had a blind bc, but I did have a cocker go blind - first in one eye and then a couple of years later in the second eye. She had few limitations and her quality of life remained good, she seemed to "anchor" herself with landmarks - furniture in the house, fence line, patio posts, etc. in the yard. Her personality did not change change, she was still sweet-natured, playful, trotted around the yard, etc. I did, however, take extra precautions in introducing strangers and was protective about kids running up to her since I was afraid she might snap out of fear (but she never did).

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Thank you all so very much for your wonderful, and informative, replies in regards to my situation with Shep and your experiences also. I greatly appreciate the time you put into replying - thanks.


When the first signs began to appear in the last year and a half that Shep was having difficulty seeing - I took him to his regular veterinarian (mind you, he doesn't specialize in opthamology), and he said that there was no sight loss. Upon a second visit, when it was obvious at home that there was apparent sight loss, the same vet again said there was nothing showing. I believe he was only inspecting for cataracts.


So, I was recommended, upon my persistance, to an eye clinic in Medford, NJ. This was a certified opthamologist that examined Shep. He determined the cause to be PRA, which sadly is not curable. Then, Dr. Clinton discussed the disease with me at length, gave me several resources on the disease, and also discussed future options for Shep (i.e. if he ever developed cataracts, we wouldn't operate since he already has a known sight loss problem). I was relieved when I left that I finally knew that I wasn't paranoid and that there was a determined sight problem. I was disappointed and upset, however, that the diagnosis was something untreatable.


Upon further research, I found the misconception that PRA is only common in border collies in Europe. In one article I read, and I do not trust that it was a legitimate document, stated that there were no known PRA cases in the United States in the breed. That seemed absurd to me. However, Shep is a purebred border collie, he was purchased from a breeder by his previous owner. I do not have any papers for him however because GLBCR does not offer them. They're honestly not necessary anyway in the breed. I also read that some breeders "inbreed", especially in herding and show animals, to help produce the most desired qualities and characteristics. Quite possibly this was the situation with Shep. But who knows? Another fact playing into the diagnosis being correct is that Shep is male, which is the common sex of those dogs diagnosed with this disease.


On the other hand, Shep was a victim of severe head trauma by his previous owner, on one occasion, Shep was hit in the head with a shovel. This could have resulted in retinal degeneration possibly.


I'm going to try to scrounge up more information about his genetics. I don't know how far I will get, because the one person who would know probably did not inform the rescue and/or wouldn't cooperate now and willingly provide the information. I don't think I want to subject any one into that unpleasant situation. The most I'll do is contact Shep's foster mom and see if there was more specific information given about his parentage. Otherwise, I'll let the genetic question slip by and let sleeping dogs lie.


I am going to contact Dr. Acland (thanks so much for the information) and New Bolton is a short ride from me!! I believe he may be interested in Shep's case. If Shep is 110% truly suffering from PRA, than he could add to his research, if proved not to be, then that also helps. It's worth a shot.


I completely empathize for all of your experiences in this area. (And I felt deja vu with several of your experiences.) It is a difficult and trying time, extremely heart wrenching at times. Sometimes I question Shep's hearing, because at times he seems intent on a job and when I call him off, his recall's not as great as used to be... almost as if he hasn't heard me. However, I do believe he currently only suffers from "selective hearing" because he can hear all the way across the house when I'm reaching into the treat jar!! I hope that Shep will be able to keep his hearing, because I agree, a deaf and blind dog is a dangerous combination - even worse than a single ailment.


I also wanted to touch on the subject about the previous reply about adjusting better to the affected dogs, rather than to a spouse's demise. I agree. I believe that since dogs, and sometimes other animals, adjust better because of the resilient nature of survival, it's more difficult for us to watch as our spouses decline in health. Humans have a much harder time coping with the loss of a sense and do not seem to be as resilient. Maybe that's why?


However, I believe the individual animal's personality and nature affect its ability to cope with a situation. I knew a horse recently, a polo pony mare, that became temporarily blind due to an eye infection in both eyes. With time and treatment she was presumed to eventually get better. After a few weeks, it became apparent there was little to no progress. The discussion of whether to euthanize or not came about, because the mare was not adjusting well at all, she was even dangerous at her fright of not being able to see. It was determined to wait a few more days, but sadly, she paniced the next day and ended up having to be euthanized due to her injuries. So, I honestly believe that an animal is able to cope well with a problem if it comes on gradually (as did Shep's), but a sudden development can result in a traumatic outcome.


Sorry for this lengthy response, it's just such a subject that entitles a deep and thorough discussion!!


Thanks again, and thanks for the welcome!!

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Oh, if you do find out it is something like FMAR, I had another expert in THAT disease tell me the progress can be slowed or arrested with great caution not exposing him to heat, trauma, overexertion, and supplementing with antioxidants. Three years of yearly checkups reveal no noticeable change in his condition, so crossing our fingers there.


On the other hand, if this proves to be PRA in fact, please let us know.


On the point of inbreeding, there is an excellent article on calculated inbreeding coeffients here: http://www.dobermanns.info/info/PEDIGREE%20.htm In particular it addresses the usage of sires, which is part of the pressure on a breeder to inbreed (called "linebreeding", though less often a good bitch will be used in line breeding also).

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I just finished a lengthy letter to Dr. Acland himself. I was going to mail it but was too eager to hear a response, so I e-mailed him.


I think I came off sounding very informed... haha! Maybe he'll want to hire me.... :rolleyes:


Any way, I'll keep it posted on any changes in Shep's diagnosis or any interest Dr. Acland himself takes in my dog's condition.


Good luck with the treatment of your dog with FMAR, which I did discuss in my letter as a possibility (since it is often mistaken for PRA, just as SAR is also - Sector Acquired Retinopathy).


Best of luck to you and your dog and I would love to be kept updated on any progress shown in your treatment.

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I'm very sorry to hear about your dog's diagnosis.


I had a young bc with a very severe vision impairment. His name was Joshua. His diagnosis was CEA. He managed extremely well and was happy and active. We two leggeds were the ones who had to do the *adjusting*...just to make things easier on him.


One of the things you'll get used to doing is clueing your dog with words all the time. It just becomes automatic. For us, "careful" meant he needed to check himself, the urgency of the check being directly related to the ugency of the warning.


"Ready" was his clue to set up to catch something. One of my dog's absolute most favorite things was playing catch & fetch with one of those "holey ball" toys. I believe the rubber is scented, as he was always able to "find it" by tracking it like a scent hound. Because the toy is hollow & soft, he can't be hurt by it and even if it boffs him in the face, he'll have a chance to grab it and have a successful catch. From playing frisbee, you probably already know his mannerisms such as which way he's likely to lean into a catch thrown at him. Just use what you already know to help him be successful and learn to trust your signals. Your dog will even learn to gage his timing of his "catch" from the distance you are from him when you give him his "ready" signal. It's quite amazing.


Hopefully, you have an open safe space to walk him. As long as he knows where you are from frequent voice check ins, I bet you'll be amazed at how well he does and how confident he'll be.


"Wait" and "Ok" were really important. Like you described with your tailgate incident, Josh would jump into the side of a closed truck door if he thought we were getting ready to load. He got very good at "waiting" until he was told it was Ok to jump up.


Do you have other dogs? I found my other dogs to be great aides in managing Josh.


We lost Josh when he was 2.5 to one of his many other health problems, but we treasure our memories of him and don't remember him as the blind dog...just the very, very special dog.


Good luck.

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Shep will soon be a "patient" of Dr. Acland. The professor returned my letter immediately, saying that he's very interested in seeing and assessing Shep. So, we'll see where this takes off to...


I'm already planning the novel I'll base on it... :rolleyes: "Dear Doctor - What About Shep?" Ha.


And, I do have a younger dog, Adria, but she's not cutting her brother any breaks!! She'd just as soon stay with him as I am to be president (and I'm not in government...at all, no where near it, haha!). They play all the time, but she doesn't mind leaving him in the dust as a joke. She hasn't stepped up to be an aide of any kind to Shep's disability, but she does keep him entertained - especially when she runs loops around him and he can't tell what direction she'll be coming from next!


They're both wonderful dogs. I understand completely how you remember Josh. It doesn't matter what their ailments (just like people) it really matters only who they were individually. Shep's retinal disorder has only made him into a more beautiful soul...


It seems that quite a few border collie fans have experienced a time or two with the dreaded eye disorders... I didn't realize it's so common, although CEA is one of the most common.


Thanks again, everyone, for your wonderful input and especially for the advice to contact Dr. Acland.

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Painted1, you might want to send Jo&Tex a private message. Tex is completely blind not from a medical condition but was blinded deliberately.

Jo adopted Tex and has done wonders with him and I know she is willing to share her 'Tex' experiences.

I know Tex and he is a fantastic dog who really doesn't seem handicapped at all. And just to make life interesting, Jo also has Loki, who is completely deaf.

Good luck with Shep - I'm sure he will adapt since he has such a devoted owner.

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