What Are the Symptoms of Retinal Atrophy in Papillons?

The ears may be my signature, but my eyes are so soulful.
i papillon image by muro from Fotolia.com

Like all purebred dogs, the papillon is prone to certain hereditary ailments. Progressive retinal atrophy, an eye disease that eventually robs dogs of vision, occurs in two versions in this "butterfly" breed. Papillon is the French word for butterfly; the dog's ears resemble the wings of this beautiful insect.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

PRA's name succinctly describes the condition. The retina, the "camera" of the eye, consists of cells in the rear of the eye detecting light, allowing vision to occur. When these cells atrophy, affected dogs go blind. PRA is gradual, but progresses to the point of blindness. PRA affects both eyes simultaneously.

Types of PRA

Paps are subject to several types of PRA. The version known as PRA1 starts earlier than other forms, although the end result is the same. The PRA1 gene is inherited from both mother and father. In dysplastic PRA disease, cells do not develop normally, while in degenerative PRA, the cells begin developing normally but then change.


Initial signs of PRA include night blindness, when your dog obviously can't get around in the dark. You may notice a "shine" in your dog's eyes, along with pupil dilation. In paps, the disease first rears its head when the dog is between the ages of 4 and 8. As the disease is indeed progressive, your dog might become completely blind within a year of the first appearance of symptoms. However, the time line for sight loss varies.


Although there is no cure as of August 2012, scientific research may eventually unlock the key to stopping PRA's progression. Take your dog to a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist for the most up-to-date treatment. According to Animal Eye Care, a veterinary ophthalmology practice in Washington, antioxidant nutritional supplementation may delay progression in affected canines.


While relatively rare, PRA is a concern for pap breeders. Although there is no cure for PRA, the best way to prevent the condition in is to carefully screen all breeding dogs. A dog carrying the gene should be spayed or neutered and removed from the breeding pool. Since PRA shows up in older dogs, let your dog's breeder know that your dog is affected.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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