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Retinal Dysplasia in Labradors

Retinal dysplasia is a developmental abnormality in the dog’s retinas. The retina, which acts as an absorber of light so that the visual image can be transmitted to the brain for interpretation, fails to attach with another layer of the eye causing the occurrence of “retinal folds” which blocks the light from passing through. In worse cases, retinal detachment could occur when there is really no attachment between the two retinal layers.

Unlike other optic diseases that Labradors can have, like retinal atrophy or cataracts, there is less certainty with the visual prognosis of dogs with retinal dysplasia. It is established, however, that this optic disease is hereditary and congenital but it is not at all progressive. Therefore, if your dog was born with a mild form of retinal dysplasia, there is a very small chance for your dog to have a total vision loss. Unfortunately, Labradors are one of the breeds that carry the recessive gene that puts its offspring at risk of getting this disease, especially if paired with other breeds that also carry a recessive gene like Samoyeds.

When usually detected

Retinal dysplasia can be diagnosed pretty easily at the early stages of its development. At 6 to 8 weeks of age, retinal dysplasia could already be detected through a CERF examination by your veterinarian. If you haven’t gotten your puppy tested yet and you know that its genetic history includes retinal dysplasia, the 6th month mark is a good age to have a secondary CERF examination for the vet to confirm the presence or absence of the disease.

Types and the corresponding signs and symptoms

There are different levels of this optic illness that range from non-harmful to blindness. Most Labradors have focal or multi-focal retinal dysplasia where there are retinal folds between the gaps of the two unattached retinal layers. They are the mildest forms of retinal dysplasia where they only cause hardly noticeable, minor blind spots in your dog’s vision.

But when lesions appear along with the retinal folds, they cover a wider area of the dog’s eye severely impairing the dog’s vision and way of living. This is what is commonly known as the geographic retinal dysplasia. Unlike the first kind of dysplasia which still has a chance of lessening or disappearing, geographic retinal dysplasia could lead to blindness.

The severest form of retinal dysplasia is when there’s retinal detachment. Puppies born with detached retinas are born totally blind and this form of dysplasia manifest at the early weeks of life. Unfortunately, dogs affected by this type of retinal dysplasia will be blind for the rest of its life along with several other eye problems.

New research has found that besides the genetic factor that causes retinal dysplasia, the disease could also develop if the puppy’s mother contracts canine herpes and does not have proper nutrition during pregnancy.

As mentioned, retinal dysplasia is inherited and it could be difficult to identify the symptoms especially if your dog only has mild dysplasia. If inflicted with the worse cases, your dog will show obvious signs of vision loss and other problems at a very early age, like a lack of balance and constantly bumping into things.

So what do you do with a Labrador that has retinal dysplasia?

First of all, it would be best if your dog will be neutered or is prevented from breeding to ensure that this condition is not passed along to the next generation. And depending on the severity of the retinal dysplasia, the dog could still live a healthy and normal life without any problems. As of the moment, no treatment has been introduced to cure retinal dysplasia so the best that we could do as owners is to provide the best life that we can give for our dogs despite their health problems. To avoid these problems in the future, you should always check with the dog’s genetic/family background so that there wouldn’t be any surprises along the way.


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