Understanding Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) in Cocker Spaniels

Causes, Symptoms, and Management

CockerSpaniel.org Volunteer Staff

2/19/20242 min read

Understanding PRA:

PRA is an inherited condition caused by a mutation in one or more genes responsible for the development and function of the retina. In Cocker Spaniels, PRA is typically inherited in an autosomal recessive manner, meaning that both parents must carry the defective gene for their offspring to be affected. Dogs with PRA may show signs of vision loss as early as a few months old, although symptoms often become more pronounced as they age.

Symptoms of PRA:

The symptoms of PRA in Cocker Spaniels typically manifest gradually and may include:

  • Night blindness: Dogs may have difficulty seeing in low-light conditions or navigating in dimly lit environments.

  • Increased clumsiness: Dogs may bump into objects or display hesitancy when moving around familiar spaces.

  • Pupillary dilation: The pupils may appear dilated or have a reflective appearance, known as "eyeshine," when exposed to light.

  • Loss of visual acuity: Dogs may become hesitant to engage in activities that require precise vision, such as fetching toys or navigating obstacles.

As PRA progresses, affected dogs may eventually experience total blindness, although the rate of progression can vary between individuals.


A veterinarian can diagnose PRA in Cocker Spaniels through a combination of a thorough eye examination and specialized diagnostic tests. These may include ophthalmoscopy, electroretinography (ERG), and genetic testing to identify the presence of the mutated genes responsible for the condition.

Management and Treatment:

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for PRA in Cocker Spaniels or any other affected breeds. However, several management strategies can help improve the quality of life for affected dogs:

  • Regular veterinary check-ups: Schedule regular eye examinations with a veterinarian experienced in diagnosing and managing inherited eye conditions. Early detection of PRA allows for timely intervention and supportive care.

  • Environmental modifications: Make adjustments to your home environment to accommodate your dog's vision loss. This may include removing obstacles, using non-slip surfaces, and maintaining a consistent layout to help your dog navigate safely.

  • Training and enrichment: Engage your dog in mental stimulation and enrichment activities that do not rely solely on vision, such as scent work, auditory cues, and tactile games. Training can help build your dog's confidence and strengthen their bond with you.

  • Dietary supplements: Some veterinarians may recommend dietary supplements containing antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients that support retinal health. While these supplements cannot reverse vision loss, they may help slow the progression of retinal degeneration.

  • Genetic counseling: If you plan to breed Cocker Spaniels or any other breed predisposed to PRA, consider genetic testing for both prospective parents to assess their carrier status. Responsible breeding practices can help reduce the incidence of PRA in future generations.


Progressive Retinal Atrophy is a challenging condition that affects many Cocker Spaniels, but with early detection, appropriate management, and supportive care, affected dogs can lead fulfilling lives despite their vision loss. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and management strategies associated with PRA, Cocker Spaniel owners can provide the best possible care for their beloved companions while working towards reducing the prevalence of this genetic disorder in the breed.


Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is a genetic eye disorder that affects many dog breeds, including Cocker Spaniels. This condition gradually leads to the degeneration of the retina, ultimately resulting in partial or complete blindness. While PRA is a serious concern for Cocker Spaniel owners, understanding its causes, symptoms, and management strategies can help mitigate its impact on affected dogs.