3 Common Golden Retriever Eye Problems – Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM

Golden retriever laid down

Golden Retrievers, like all animals, are genetically predisposed to many diseases.

Your pet may be experiencing an eye disease that you are unknowingly dismissing as minor redness.

The top three Golden Retriever eye problems are progressive retinal atrophy, pigmentary uveitis, and distichiasis. The common symptoms among these diseases are redness and irritation. If you suspect that your dog is suffering from an eye disease, contact a vet immediately.

As veterinary doctor, I’ll present three common eye disorders and their associated symptoms in this article. Additionally, we will discuss the treatment protocols that your veterinarian is likely to prescribe.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

pra golden retriever

Progressive retinal atrophy is an inherited condition caused by multiple mutations.

All Golden Retrievers carry this gene mutation, which makes up 30% of PRA cases.

PRA is generally a collection of degenerative diseases affecting cells of the photoreceptor.

The cells degrade over time with this disease and ultimately leads to blindness.

The cause is unclear, apart from being transmitted genetically. 

Common Symptoms

Since PRA is a non-painful condition, it is rarely recognized during its initial stage of development.

Typically, the first symptom that is detected is night blindness.

The initial sign in dogs with the hereditary variant may lack day vision or total blindness.

Pet owners who have dogs developing PRA often notice that their pet’s eyes have become highly reflective when exposed to light.

Additionally, there are the following symptoms:

  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Grey eyes
  • Clumsy behavior (this happens as a result of the dog’s vision deterioration)
  • Reduced pigmentation of the eyes
  • Cataract
  • Both eyes have dilated pupils

Diagnosis and Treatment

The most common method of diagnosing PRA is to examine the back of the eye with an ophthalmoscope for symptoms of retinal degeneration.

This procedure requires the expertise of a veterinary ophthalmologist

It is impossible to diagnose this disease at home. Therefore, for your pet’s safety, consult a professional for testing.

If a veterinarian cannot view the retina, they will conduct an electroretinogram under a brief general anesthetic.

The test determines the electrical activity of the retina and thus its function.

Additionally, DNA tests are available for many dog breeds.

DNA tests are particularly beneficial in young dogs because they can detect infected dogs before the development of PRA symptoms.

Regrettably, there is no suitable cure for PRA at the moment, and infected animals are likely to go completely blind.

While antioxidant treatment has been proposed to postpone vision loss in affected animals, there is currently no evidence that it is successful.

Gene therapy research is currently underway and could result in a cure in the future.

Pigmentary Uveitis

pigmentary uveitis golden retriever

Pigmentary Uveitis, also known as Pigmentary Cystic Glaucoma, is a bilateral eye condition that is inherited.

The disorder is estimated to affect between 5% and 10% of Golden Retrievers in North America.

The majority of dogs afflicted are older than five years, with an estimated age of eight to ten years at the time of diagnosis.

Although it is thought that this condition is genetic, the actual cause is unclear.

Generally, the disease will appear in Golden Retrievers with a family history of blindness.

Golden retrievers have been diagnosed with the condition in the United States and Canada.

Outside of North America, it is less prevalent.

Common Symptoms

While the condition is frequently referred to as pigmentary uveitis, it is a collection of clinical eye conditions that develop over time and eventually result in vision loss.

Cysts in the eye are one of the earliest symptoms.

Cysts of two different forms may develop in a dog’s eye: thin-walled cysts and thick-walled cysts. 

Thin-walled cysts are more concerning and are consistent with pigmentary uveitis.

These cysts are often transparent, large, and loose.

Other subtle symptoms include eye redness and irregular lens pigmentation.

Over time, these symptoms can lead to pigmentation within the cornea, posterior synechiae, cataracts, and finally, glaucoma.

Additional indicators that may be present include the following:

  • Squinting
  • Light sensitivity
  • Hyperpigmentation of the iris
  • Redness at the conjunctiva
  • Cloudiness of the eye
  • Darkly pigmented iris cysts

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your veterinarian can detect the problem with the aid of an ophthalmoscope, a device used to examine the eye’s interior.

Clinical symptoms include the following:

  • Blood supply to the eye is lower
  • An abnormally large volume of fluid in the eye
  • Lower intraocular pressure
  • Accumulation of blood
  • Iris enlargement
  • Particles of solid matter inside the cornea
  • Muscle constriction of the eye

This medical treatment is designed to reduce inflammation of the eye and avoid or postpone glaucoma.

Each patient’s prescription regimen will vary but may include:

  • An anti-inflammatory eye drop
  • An oral anti-inflammatory
  • An oral immunosuppressant
  • Glaucoma medication

If systemic drugs are given to the dog, your veterinarian may recommend routine blood work to check for adverse effects.

In general, any visual loss that has appeared is irreversible.

Additionally, glaucoma occurs in 46% of Golden Retrievers with Uveitis. Therefore, obtaining expert assistance is an essential step in prevention.


distichiasis golden retriever

Distichiasis is caused by extra hairs growing within the eyelid and rubbing against the eye’s surface.

This is among the most common hereditary disorders in dogs. Golden Retrievers are more prone to acquire it than other breeds.

These irregular hairs, if left untreated, can result in corneal ulcers and chronic eye pain.

Common Symptoms

The seriousness of the condition regarding the number of extra eyelashes, duration, and stiffness, will dictate the symptoms.

In some instances, especially when the extra eyelashes are amazingly soft, the patient exhibits no symptoms.

In other instances, the lashes irritate the eye and can result in the following:

  • Inflammation
  • Eye discharges
  • Ulcerated corneas
  • Redness
  • Excessive tearing
  • Excessive blinking
  • Squinting
  • Bluish spots on the eye (this symptom appears when there are infected corneas)

Diagnosis and Treatment

Typically, the diagnosis is made by observing lashes emerging from the meibomian gland openings.

Additionally, a detailed eye examination is required to determine the degree of any accompanying corneal injury.

This examination may include fluorescein staining of the cornea and an evaluation of tear output.

It is safer to bring your dog to a veterinarian for diagnosis.

Distichiasis only requires treatment if the hairs irritate the eyes, cause conjunctivitis, or trigger corneal ulceration.

Numerous treatment options are available.

Your veterinarian may recommend an ocular lubricant in mild cases.

You must treat your dog indefinitely to ensure their comfort.

Another possibility that your medical professional could pose to you is epilation forceps plucking.

Epilation is a temporary procedure that must be repeated every four to six weeks for the remainder of the dog’s life.

Electrolysis is another possibility. However, only hairs present at the time of treatment can be detected and handled.

New hairs can emerge and cause discomfort later, but the treatment can be repeated when appropriate.

Surgical techniques are usually reserved for the most severe cases or those where the previous procedures failed.

A vet may use surgical dissection to remove hair follicles permanently.

Or they may turn the eyelid margin outward to guide hairs away from the eye’s surface.

Final Thoughts

The majority of golden retriever breeders are meticulous in their testing of breeding dogs for pigmentary uveitis.

However, many owners are unaware of the other prevalent disease and seek attention only when their dogs exhibit significant eye changes.

It is essential to closely monitor your dog’s eyes and not dismiss minor redness and discomfort that persists.

If you’re interested in learning about other diseases to which your Golden Retriever is predisposed, check out this video by Cory Ektar exploring other conditions:


  • BMC: A Novel Mutation In TTC8 Is Associated With Progressive Retinal Atrophy In The Golden Retriever
  • Columbia University: Posterior Synechiae
  • YouTube: What Common Health Problems Do Golden Retrievers Have
  • Epilator Authority: Check Out The Epilator FAQ And Beginner’s Guide!
  • Eye Care For Animals: Pigmentary Uveitis In Golden Retrievers
  • Eye Care For Animals: Progressive Retinal Atrophy
  • Medicine Net: Electroretinography – What Is An ERG Procedure?
  • Michigan State University: PRA FAQs | College Of Veterinary Medicine At MSU
  • Morris Animal Foundation: Understanding Golden Retriever Pigmentary Uveitis
  • MSPCA: What Is A Veterinary Ophthalmologist?
  • Northwest Animal Eye Specialists: Golden Retriever Uveitis
  • OFORA: Golden Retriever Pigmentary Uveitis
  • Scielo: Uveitis In Dogs Infected With Ehrlichia Canis
  • University Of Iowa: Fluorescein Staining Of The Cornea
  • VCA Hospitals: Distichia or Distichiasis In Dogs | VCA Animal Hospital
  • VCA Hospitals: Progressive Retinal Atrophy In Dogs | VCA Animal Hospital
  • Veterinary Partner: Distichiasis Requires Permanent Eyelash Removal In Dogs
  • Veterinary Practice: How To Make Best Use Of The Direct Ophthalmoscope
  • Wikipedia: Meibomian Gland
  • Wiley Online Library: Golden Retriever Cystic Uveal Disease – A Longitudinal Study Of Iridociliary Cysts, Pigmentary Uveitis, And Pigmentary/Cystic Glaucoma Over A Decade In Western Canada
  • Wiley Online Library: Golden Retriever Pigmentary Uveitis – Challenges Of Diagnosis And Treatment

Click here to read my post about common general Golden Retriever health issues

Veterinary Hospital Director at UCE
Dr. Marcelle is a general veterinarian with a Small Animal Medicine Specialty | Director of the UCE School of Veterinary Medicine | Certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society

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