3 yo, Poodle X
Condition(s): Progressive Retinal Atrophy, Separation Distress, Generalised Anxiety
Family: 2 Adults
Fur family: None
Lifestyle: Indoor, City Apartment
What is Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)?
PRA is a genetic condition affecting vision, and is common in Toy Poodles (among other pure-breeds).
The retina is a part of the eye that captures light and converts it into electrical signals for the brain to process. In PRA, there is a gradual degeneration of the retinal cells responsible for detecting movement and colour, ultimately resulting in complete blindness.
Signs that your dog may be gradually losing their vision due to PRA include: knocking into things, bumping into people, trouble finding toys, lack of confidence in dim lighting and seeking out well-lit areas. Typically, these dogs begin to rely heavily on other senses, such as smell & touch.
Read more about PRA from Melbourne Eye Vet.
In addition to signs directly related to vision loss, it is possible that these changes may result in anxiety.
Managing Sully's Anxiety
Sully developed significant Separation Distress as his vision deteriorated. Sully would howl constantly after being left alone for 15 minutes, and would growl at the male owner. In addition to implementing changes to help manage Sully's vision loss, Dr Channy worked with Sully's parents to understand the origins of his behaviour, and engage with multiple strategies for supporting anxiety. Using multiple strategies for anxiety is far more likely to result in success than any one strategy alone.
Management - making changes to the environment to avoid/prevent unwanted behaviour from happening
Switching to toys that have a scent or auditory stimulus
Switching to a 'Blind Dog' leash and harness to let other pet parents know that Sully has special needs & to keep boisterous dogs away
Taking walks slower so Sully can be guided by his sense of smell
Modification - making changes to training and the environment to encourage alternative, acceptable behaviours
Sticking to positive interactions with Sully to help build confidence
Interacting with Sully verbally before touching him
Using verbal cues like 'find it' and 'up up' to navigate toys and steps, & practicing tricks he already knew to build confidence
Threat perception by the brain triggers a cascade of neuro-hormonal changes within the brain and the body i.e. anxiety. Medication aiming to help build resilience to these changes was implemented.
This resulted in a reduction of the intensity & duration of Sully's anxious behaviour, meaning he could be left alone for longer periods of time, and no longer displayed signs of aggression toward the male owner.