Blind Yorkie

Yorkshire Terrier Progressive Retinal Atrophy: How To Treat and Manage PRA in Yorkies

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Sean Green

Researched & Written by

Sean Green

At EasyPet, we are committed to presenting the most accurate and up-to-date information to assist you in your pet care journey. When appropriate, we consult licensed and practicing veterinarians to fact-check our professionally written articles.

Yorkshire Terriers, affectionately known as Yorkies, are a popular breed known for their small stature and loving personalities. Despite their many endearing qualities, Yorkies, like other dog breeds, can be prone to certain health issues. One such condition that affects Yorkies is Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), a degenerative eye disease that, if left untreated, can lead to blindness.

PRA affects the photoreceptor cells in a dog’s retina, causing them to deteriorate over time. This non-painful condition often starts with a decreased ability to see well at night and progresses slowly, eventually affecting the dog’s vision during daytime as well. Due to the gradual onset of PRA, many owners may not immediately notice the signs and changes in their Yorkie’s vision.

As a Yorkshire Terrier owner, understanding PRA and its implications is crucial for ensuring your dog’s well-being. Recognizing the symptoms of Progressive Retinal Atrophy and working with a veterinarian to manage the condition can help Yorkie owners provide the best possible care for their beloved pets in the face of this challenging disease.

yorkie eyes

Understanding Yorkshire Terrier Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Causes and Genetics

Yorkshire Terrier Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is an inherited autosomal recessive disease that affects the retina in dogs. This condition progresses over time, leading to eventual vision loss. PRA in dogs has been reported to be genetically similar to retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that occurs in humans. Various genetic variants are responsible for the development of PRA, with some breeds being more susceptible to the condition.

Retinal Degeneration

Progressive Retinal Atrophy involves the degeneration of the retina, the rear layer of the eye responsible for detecting light and visual information. The primary cells affected in PRA are the photoreceptor cells, specifically the rods and cones. In addition to the deterioration of these cells, the pigmented epithelium layer, which normally protects the rods and cones, can also become degraded. As a result, the affected dog’s vision gradually worsens, eventually leading to blindness.

Function of Rods and Cones

Rods and cones are photoreceptor cells in the retina that play crucial roles in vision. Rods are responsible for detecting light and movement, especially in low light conditions, while cones are responsible for detecting color and fine detail. In PRA, both rods and cones progressively degenerate, impairing the dog’s ability to see in various light conditions and discern colors. Ultimately, the mutation in photoreceptor cells leads to a decline in vision, and most affected pets become blind within 1-2 years of the onset of clinical signs.

Yorkie Eye Closeup

Diagnosing and Identifying PRA in Yorkshire Terriers

Common Symptoms

Yorkshire Terriers with Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) may exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Impaired vision
  • Greenish eyes
  • Hesitance to move in the dark
  • Low alertness
  • Inability to walk properly

The condition often begins with decreased night vision and gradually progresses to affect day vision as well.

Diagnostic Tools and Examination

A veterinarian or veterinary ophthalmologist will use various diagnostic tools and examinations to identify PRA in Yorkshire Terriers:

  • Eye exam: A thorough eye exam will be performed to assess the overall health of the dog’s eyes and rule out other disorders, such as cataract formation, glaucoma, lens luxation, or uveitis.
  • Electroretinogram (ERG): This test measures the electrical activity of the photoreceptors in the dog’s retina and can help determine if PRA is present.
  • Optic nerve assessment: The veterinarian will examine the dog’s optic nerve to identify any abnormalities related to PRA.
  • Dilated pupils: A dog with PRA may have dilated pupils that do not constrict properly in response to light.
  • Genetic testing: Since PRA is an inherited eye disease, genetic testing can be performed to identify the faulty gene responsible for the condition. This is particularly important for breeding purposes, as it helps prevent the further spread of the disease.
  • Choroid evaluation: The choroid is a vascular layer of the eye, and abnormalities in this area may be a sign of PRA. The veterinarian may use imaging techniques to evaluate the dog’s choroid.

PRA in Yorkshire Terriers can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages, so regular eye exams are crucial in detecting the condition and ensuring proper care for the dog’s vision.

Managing and Treating PRA in Yorkshire Terriers

Treatment Options and Limitations

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) in Yorkshire Terriers is an inherited eye condition that ultimately leads to blindness. It is important to note that there is currently no effective treatment or cure for PRA. However, management options do exist to help affected dogs maintain their quality of life as their vision declines.

In some cases, antioxidant supplements may be considered to slow down the progression of PRA. Research into gene therapy for PRA is ongoing, but it is not yet available as a treatment option. Furthermore, while some types of PRA might be associated with cataracts, removing cataracts will not treat the underlying retinal degeneration.

Lifestyle Adjustments for Affected Dogs

Owners of a Yorkshire Terrier diagnosed with progressive retinal atrophy can make certain lifestyle adjustments to help their dog adapt to vision loss. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Consistent environment: It’s important to maintain a consistent layout in your home. Minimizing rearrangement of furniture and other items will help your dog navigate the space more comfortably.
  2. Tapetum reflection: While dogs with PRA experience night blindness in the early stages, the tapetum, a reflective layer behind the retina, can still help enhance their remaining vision in low light conditions. Providing some indirect, low level lighting in your dog’s environment may be helpful.
  3. Exercise adaptations: Dogs with PRA can still enjoy daily exercise and playtime. Keep their exercise routine consistent, and consider incorporating activities that rely more on their sense of smell and hearing, such as scent tracking games.
  4. Enrichment with sound: Use sound cues to help guide your dog, like speaking in their direction or using a consistent sound like a clicker when you want to get their attention.
  5. Safety measures: Consider using a harness when walking your dog, as it may provide more stability and control for a visually impaired pet. Be mindful of potential hazards, like sharp objects or steep stairs, to prevent injuries.

Remember that while PRA is a progressive condition, most dogs adapt well to their vision loss and can still enjoy a good quality of life with proper management and care.

Breeding Considerations and Preventing PRA in Yorkshire Terriers

Importance of Genetic Testing and Selective Breeding

When it comes to preventing Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) in Yorkshire Terriers, responsible breeding practices are crucial. Genetic testing can greatly aid in the identification of carriers, which helps breeders make informed decisions about their breeding pairs. Carriers are dogs with the defective gene for PRA but do not show symptoms themselves. Using DNA tests, such as those available at the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, can identify dogs carrying the PRA-prcd (progressive rod-cone degeneration) gene.

Selective breeding is essential to minimize the risk of producing offspring with PRA. By avoiding breeding PRA carriers together, breeders can reduce the likelihood of producing affected puppies, while still maintaining genetic diversity in their breed lines. By being proactive in genetic testing and selective breeding, breeders can work towards the goal of producing healthier dogs, free from the risk of PRA.

Yorkshire Terrier Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Other Breeds Prone to PRA

While Yorkshire Terriers can develop PRA, it is important to note that other breeds are also susceptible. Some of the breeds prone to PRA include:

In addition to purebred dogs, mixed breed dogs can also be affected by PRA if they have inherited the defective gene from an affected parent.


Early signs of PRA in Yorkshire Terriers can include difficulty seeing in low light or at night, increased shininess or greenish glow in the eyes, bumping into things, especially in the dark, and a decreased willingness to move or play in darkened areas. As the disease progresses, these symptoms may become more apparent and may start to affect the dog’s vision during the daytime as well.

There is no definitive frequency recommendation for PRA testing in dogs. However, it is generally advised that dogs intended for breeding should be tested for known breed-specific genetic disorders like PRA before they are bred for the first time. Additionally, if there is a strong history of PRA in the dog’s lineage, or if the dog shows signs of vision problems, more frequent testing may be advisable.

It’s important to maintain a consistent layout in your home to help your dog navigate its environment. Providing some low-level lighting can be beneficial, as the reflective layer in your dog’s eye (the tapetum) can still amplify this light and aid in vision. Consider adapting your dog’s exercise routine with activities that rely more on their sense of smell and hearing. You can also use sound cues to help guide your dog, such as speaking in their direction or using consistent sounds when you want to get their attention. When walking your dog, a harness may provide more stability and control.

As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, there is no known cure for PRA in dogs. However, researchers are looking into various potential treatments, including gene therapy, which could potentially restore function to the damaged photoreceptors. Another experimental approach involves using antioxidant supplements to slow the disease’s progression. It is always advisable to consult with your veterinarian or a veterinary ophthalmologist for the most recent developments in PRA research.

PRA primarily affects a dog’s vision, which can in turn impact their daily activities and behaviour. Early in the disease, the dog may be hesitant or bump into objects in low light conditions. As PRA progresses, the dog may show difficulty recognizing toys, people, or other pets, especially from a distance. They may also become more cautious or anxious, particularly in unfamiliar environments. However, with adjustments and support from their owner, most dogs with PRA can continue to lead happy and fulfilled lives.

To summarize, preventing and managing PRA in Yorkshire Terriers and other breeds involves the use of genetic testing and responsible breeding practices. By ensuring carriers are not bred together and consistently testing breeding dogs for the presence of the PRA-prcd gene, breeders can significantly reduce the risk of producing offspring with the condition and contribute to the overall health of their chosen breed.

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