Part of the official UK Kennel Club testing scheme in Retriever (Golden)
Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is the most common form of inherited disease affecting the retina in dogs; the retina detects light and sends images to the brain. Progressive degeneration of the retina at the back of the eye is characteristic of PRA and leads to vision loss and blindness. PRA is not painful to dogs, and the first signs of the disease tend to be bumping in to objects, such as a piece of furniture that has been moved. Mutations in different genes cause genetically different forms of PRA. It affects many different breeds of dog , but each genetically distinct form usually affects one or a small number of breeds.
At least two genetically distinct forms of progressive retinal atrophy are found in Golden Retrievers. Research suggests that there may be at least one form that has not yet been identified. This specific form of PRA is caused by a mutation in a gene called SLC4A3 and is indistinguishable from other forms of PRA in other breeds. The average age of onset of clinical signs is quite late, around 6 years, but can be variable. There is no cure for this form of PRA, but using the DNA test to identify dogs that carry the mutation in SLC4A3 will prevent further spread of this blinding condition in this lovely breed.
The single nucleotide insertion in the gene called SLC4A3 that causes progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) in many breeds is recessive. This means that dogs that carry two copies of the mutation (homozygotes) will almost certainly develop PRA during their lives. Dogs that carry a single copy of the mutation (also known as carriers or heterozygotes) will not develop PRA as a result of the SLC4A3 mutation, but they will pass the mutation onto about half of any offspring they have. Breeding dogs that will not develop PRA should be the breeder’s priority, with a reduction in mutation frequency within the whole breed being the secondary, longer-term target.
Carriers can be bred from safely, provided they are mated to a dog that has also been tested and is clear of the SLC4A3 mutation (i.e. carry no copies of the mutation). If a carrier is mated to a clear dog approximately half of the resulting puppies will also be carriers, so should be tested themselves prior to breeding. Breeding carriers to tested, clear dogs is safe, in terms of avoiding dogs affected with PRA, and will help to maintain the genetic diversity of a breed. It is therefore encouraged, particularly in the first few generations following the availability of a new genetic test, so that other desirable characteristics and traits can be preserved before the frequency of the disease mutation within the breed is gradually reduced.