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Retinal Dysplasia in Dogs

Retinal Dysplasia in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments

Retinal dysplasia in dogs is a malformation of the retina. The condition is inherited or acquired and causes different levels of vision deficits. 

Dogs have three forms of retinal dysplasia, including multi-focal, geographical, and generalized. Multi-focal is the common benign form, and generalized is the most severe form. 

Faulty genes, toxin exposure, intrauterine trauma, neonatal viral infections, neonatal radiation, and nutritional deficiencies are common causes of retinal dysplasia (RD). 

English Springer Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, American Cocker Spaniels, Samoyeds, Yorkies, Chows, Beagles, and Miniature Schnauzers are predisposed to retinal dysplasia

Symptoms of retinal dysplasia in dogs are bumping into objects, reluctance to jump, refusal to use stairs, and poor night vision. 

Retinal dysplasia is non-progressive and no treatments have reversed the dysplastic in a normal dog retina. Environmental management is recommended for dogs with retinal dysplasia. 

Proper natal care, including updated vaccination and a high-quality diet, supports the health of the dog retina and prevents dysplasia. Dogs with retinal dysplasia must not be included in breeding programs.  

What is Retinal Dysplasia in Dogs?

Retinal dysplasia in dogs means malformation or abnormal development of the retina, the light-sensitive nerve tissue at the back of the eye. 

The dog retina receives light signals and sends them to the brain via the optic nerve as electrical signals. The brain interprets the signals as images. 

Retinal dysplasia causes the retina to be malformed and unable to send signals properly. Dogs with retinal dysplasia or eye disease have slightly impaired vision or significant vision deficits, depending on the type. 

Retinal dysplasia in dogs is inherited or acquired. The etiology of retinal dysplasia includes viral disorders, irradiation, X-radiation, intrauterine trauma and heritable factors, states a study, “Retinal Dysplasia in Dogs: A Review,” published in Nordisk Veterinaemedicin in 1985.

How does Retinal Dysplasia in Dogs Work?

Retinal dysplasia in dogs works by affecting the dog’s vision. There are three types of retinal dysplasia, multi-focal, geographic, and complete. 

Multi-focal retinal dysplasia occurs when the retina tissue has small folds. The folds tend to fade as the dog grows but leave blind spots. 

Irregular-shaped lesions along the folds characterize geographic retinal dysplasia. The lesions cause vision impairment or, in severe cases, blindness. 

Complete retinal dysplasia is when the retina completely detaches from the other eye layers. Retinal detachment causes blindness and triggers eye conditions such as glaucoma. 

How does the Retinal Dysplasia in Dogs Develop?

Retinal dysplasia in dogs develops as a growth-related problem. The condition starts in the intrauterine phase (while the puppy is still in the mother’s womb) or during early puppyhood. 

The retina and the sclera (the white coat of the eyeball) in normal dogs grow at the same rate. The retina has folds, and the sclera is smooth. Growing resolves the folds, allowing the retina and sclera to lay atop one another. 

Retinal dysplasia develops when the normal dog retina folds do not resolve, and the retina and sclera grow at different rates. 

What Caused Retinal Dysplasia in Dogs?

The causes of retinal dysplasia in dogs are listed below. 

  • Genetics: Retain dysplasia is a genetic condition in English Springer Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, Samoyeds, American Cocker Spaniels, and Beagles.  
  • Toxin Exposure: Pregnant female dogs exposed to environmental and chemical toxins are more likely to give birth to puppies with retinal dysplasia. 
  • Intrauterine Trauma: Traumatic events, like accidents and injuries, in pregnant bitches cause retinal dysplasia in the offspring. 
  • Neonatal Infections: Certain viral infections, like canine herpesvirus, adenovirus, and parvovirus, trigger retina malformation in newborn puppies.  
  • Intrauterine and Neonatal Radiation: Retinal dysplasia, in some situations, is caused when pregnant females or newborn puppies are exposed to intense or prolonged radiation (x-ray damage). 
  • Nutritional Deficiencies: Lack of vitamin A during pregnancy and early puppyhood increases the risk of retinal dysplasia and eye problems. 

How is Retinal Dysplasia Different from Glaucoma in Dogs?

Retinal dysplasia is different from glaucoma in dogs in terms of underlying causes, modes of action, and clinical manifestation. The two similarities between the conditions are that they are inherited or acquired and result in vision deficits. 

Acquired retinal dysplasia is due to malnutrition, toxins, radiation, or trauma during intrauterine development or early puppyhood. Severe forms of retinal dysplasia cause retinal detachment.

Acquired glaucoma is caused by increased intraocular pressure (IOP) due to eye injuries and diseases. Retinal detachment is a common cause of glaucoma in dogs.  

Retinal dysplasia is non-painful and non-progressive, while dog glaucoma is excruciating and progressive. 

Is Retinal Dysplasia Genetical Disorder in Dogs?

Yes, retinal dysplasia is a genetic disorder in dogs. Some dogs acquire the condition, but most inherit it. 

“Retinal dysplasia is a specific syndrome involving multiple congenital anomalies,” says a study, “The Pathogenesis of Retinal Dysplasia,” published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology in 1971. 

The inheritance mode for retinal dysplasia is considered autosomal recessive. The mother and father each pass one mutated gene copy to the offspring in autosomal recessive inheritance. 

The parents are carriers (one faulty gene copy) and do not have the condition. The offspring develops the condition by having two mutated or defective genes. 

“Canine retinal dysplasia occurs at 45-50 days' gestation and involves intrinsic abnormalities in neural retinal differentiation,” according to a study “Dysplastic Canine Retinal Morphogenesis” published in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science in 1991. 

What Types of Dog Breeds are Susceptible from Retinal Dysplasia?

The types of dog breeds susceptible to retinal dysplasia include certain Terriers, Spaniels, and Retrievers. 

English Springer Spaniels and Labrador Retrievers inherit retinal dysplasia as an autosomal recessive trait. Retinal dysplasia and detachment are inherited in Samoyeds and Labrador Retrievers in conjunction with short-limbed dwarfism. 

Mild forms of retinal dysplasia are genetic in American Cocker Spaniels, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Beagles, Yorkshire Terriers, Rottweilers, and Golden Retrievers. 

Severe forms of retinal dysplasia, retinal detachment, and blindness are inherited in Sealyham and Bedlington Terriers. The unique body structures of Sealyham and Bedlington Terriers, characterized by their short, stocky build and deep chest, contribute to Retinal Dysplasia by causing abnormal retina development due to genetic predispositions.

What are the Symptoms of Retinal Dysplasia?

The symptoms of retinal dysplasia are listed below. 

  • Bumping into Objects: Bumping into objects or being clumsy is a sign of vision impairment in dogs. The bumping and clumsiness are more concerning if they occur in familiar environments. 
  • Reluctance to Jump: Dogs with retinal dysplasia are reluctant to jump on and off elevated surfaces. The fear is striking when the dog is supposed to go up or down furniture or the car trunk. 
  • Refusal to Use the Stairs: Refusal to use the stairs is another sign of visual deficit in dogs. Dogs with retinal dysplasia have blind spots or vision loss, making it difficult to navigate stairs. 
  • Poor Night Vision: Avoiding going outside at night and having trouble navigating a darkened stairway indicates poor night vision. Dogs with retinal dysplasia find it hard to focus in dim light conditions. 
  • Behavioral Changes: Vision problems make dogs confused, which, in some cases, results in behavioral changes. Dogs cope with vision issues and learn to rely on their other senses, but the condition is stressful in the initial phases. 

What does Retinal Dysplasia in Dogs Look Like?

Retinal dysplasia in dogs looks like lesions, detachment points, and bleeding in the fundus of the eye. The changes are not visible to the naked eye, but the veterinarian visualizes them upon ophthalmoscopic examination.

Dogs with multi-focal retinal dysplasia have small, dark grey, and linear or round hyporeflective lesions in the tapetal region and white-gray lesions in the non-tapetal region. 

Geographical retinal dysplasia in dogs causes hyperreflective to hyperpigmented lesions at the branching of the central retinal vein. 

Dogs with generalized retinal dysplasia and retinal detachment have a free-floating or partially separated retina. Bleeding on the detachment sites is common. 

An experienced veterinarian easily differentiates dysplastic from normal retina in dogs based on the changes. 

How is Retinal Dysplasia Diagnosed?

Retinal dysplasia is diagnosed based on an ophthalmoscopic examination. The official term is “fundic examination,” as it focuses on the back of the eye where the retina is located. 

Pet owners of severely affected puppies report low activity and bumping into objects. Retinal dysplasia is an accidental diagnosis in puppies with milder forms of the disease. 

The veterinarian performs the first ophthalmic exam when the puppy is 12 to 16 weeks old, and the retina matures. The vet recommends a second examination at 6 to 12 months in cases of acquired retinal dysplasia. 

What are the Treatments for Retinal Dysplasia?

The treatments for retinal dysplasia are listed below. 

  • Avoid Environmental Changes: Keep the dog’s living environment as consistent as possible and avoid re-arrangements in the house. Visually impaired dogs learn to navigate familiar surroundings with the help of other senses. 
  • House Pet-Proofing: Pet-proof the house and limit the dog’s access to unsafe areas. For example, consider installing baby gates on stairs, soft caps on sharp walls or furniture edges, and placing fences around swimming pools.  
  • Regular Exercise Routes: Create an exercise routine for the dog and stay consistent. Daily walking following the same route helps the dog familiarize itself with the immediate surroundings and feel more confident. 
  • Gradual Changes: Dogs with vision deficits thrive on stability and predictability. Do not introduce sudden changes in the daily routine. Be patient and give the dog time to adjust. 
  • Plenty of Patience: Patience is critical when managing a visually impaired or fully blind dog. Interact with the dog daily and ensure it is feeling loved and supported. Do not get mad if the dog makes a mistake, and give it time to learn to live with the vision deficit. 

How to Prevent Retinal Dysplasia in Your Dogs?

To prevent retinal dysplasia in your dog, exclude carriers of the condition from breeding programs. Dogs with any form of retinal dysplasia must not be used for breeding purposes or must be screened. 

“DNA testing may be useful for specific breeding advice in dogs with inherited retinal dysplasia,” recommends a study “Focal/multifocal and Geographic Retinal Dysplasia in the Dog-In Vivo Retinal Microanatomy Analyses” published in Veterinary Ophthalmology in 2019. 

Acquired forms of retinal dysplasia are preventable by ensuring proper prenatal care. Pregnant  dogs must be kept up-to-date on vaccines before the pregnancy to prevent intrauterine viral infections. 

Pregnant dogs require high-quality diets rich in vitamin A to avoid retinal dysplasia caused by deficiency. Proper nutritional balance helps prevent retinal dysplasia by supporting health and development, including ocular function. Regular check-ups with a veterinarian enable early detection and management of ocular issues.

Is Retinal Dysplasia Inherited?

Yes, retina dysplasia is inherited. Dogs inherit or acquire retinal dysplasia, but the inherited type is common.  

Retinal dysplasia is inherited alone or with other conditions with autosomal recessive inheritance. 

For example, retinal dysplasia alone is common in English Springer Spaniels. “Retinal dysplasia in English springer spaniels occurs predominantly in the sensory retina,” according to a study, “Retinal Dysplasia of English Springer Spaniel Dogs: Light Microscopy of the Postnatal Lesions,” issued in Veterinary Pathology in 1983. 

Retinal dysplasia combined with multiple ocular defects is inherited in Australian Shepherds, Akitas, Old English Sheepdogs, Doberman Pinschers, Saint Bernards, and Chows. 

Generalized retinal dysplasia and short-limbed dwarfism are inherited in Labrador Retrievers and Samoyeds. 

Generalized retinal dysplasia together with PHPV (persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous) is inherited in the Miniature Schnauzer with an autosomal recessive mode of inheritance, says a study “Inherited Retinal Dysplasia and Persistent Hyperplastic Primary Vitreous in Miniature Schnauzer Dogs” published in Veterinary Ophthalmology in 2004.  

Does Retinal Dysplasia Cause Blindness?

Yes, retinal dysplasia causes blindness. Certain types of retinal dysplasia trigger mild visual impairment and other severe vision deficits or blindness. 

Vision issues are least pronounced in dogs with multi-focal retinal dysplasia. Geographical dysplasia causes moderate vision loss to blindness. Generalized retinal dysplasia results in complete dog blindness

Do dogs have trouble seeing at night with Retinal Dysplasia?

Yes, dogs have trouble seeing at night with retinal dysplasia. Retinal changes affect the dog’s vision in dim lighting conditions. 

A dog with poor dim light vision is reluctant to go outside at night and struggles using darkened stairways. 

Dogs can compensate for vision loss with their other senses, like smell and hearing. The offset makes it hard for owners to notice dog behavior changes. 

Can CBD Oil Help Treat Retinal Dysplasia?

Yes, CBD oil can help treat retinal dysplasia. CBD does not cure retinal dysplasia but helps dogs cope with its effects. 

CBD, or cannabidiol, is an extract sourced from the hemp version of the Cannabis sativa plant. Cannabidiol interacts with the dog’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), supporting natural health and wellness. 

CBD benefits dogs with retinal dysplasia but supports calmness. Vision deficits, in some cases, make dogs nervous. Cannabidiol has anti-anxiety features and helps dogs stay relaxed. 

Consult the vet before using CBD oil for dogs with retinal dysplasia as part of the management plan.