Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM
It’s a breed known for its friendly personality and gentle nature.
But unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to see your Labrador Retrievers suffer from several debilitating eye problems.
Labrador Retrievers can suffer from various eye problems, such as progressive retinal atrophy, keratoconjunctivitis sicca, conjunctivitis, cataracts, retinal dysplasia, and entropion. Learning how to identify the symptoms of these conditions is a smart way to help your dog avoid long-term pain and illness.
Let’s review some of the most common eye problems that Labrador Retrievers encounter, including their symptoms.
This way, you can spot potential health conditions long before they become life-altering threats.
As a veterinary doctor, I’ll also help you explore some of the most common treatment options, helping you better understand your pup’s possible health care solutions.
Common Labrador Retriever Eye Problems
Labrador retrievers are a relatively diverse breed. These dogs can have many different coat lengths and colors, ranging in size between medium and very large.
Though mixed retriever breeds may be less likely to suffer from purebred health conditions, eye issues can be quite common among dogs of all breeds.
Some of the most common labrador retriever eye problems include:
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
- Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS)
- Retinal Dysplasia
By familiarizing yourself with these conditions, their symptoms, and their treatment options, you can prepare yourself for any doggie health emergencies.
After all, part of being a pet parent is understanding that sometimes our animals get sick.
In many cases, early detection can mean early treatment, which could save your lab’s eyesight. Let’s explore these illnesses in more detail so you’re as prepared as possible.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is primarily a hereditary condition that can lead to blindness.
It can present itself early on during puppyhood or become more evident with age.
Puppies with early-onset PRA may start exhibiting symptoms of the disease when they’re only a few months old.
But some dogs may not develop PRA until they’ve reached adulthood.
Labs are just one of many dog breeds affected by this condition.
PRA occurs when the cells inside a dog’s eyes (particularly the retina) begin to decay and are not replaced by healthy, new cells.
As these cells deteriorate, the affected dog’s ability to perceive light decreases.
This type of atrophy can lead to total blindness.
PRA is a degenerative illness, meaning it tends to become more debilitating over time.
However, by recognizing the symptoms and taking early action, pet parents can minimize the adverse effects of PRA.
Unfortunately, some of the most common symptoms of PRA only occur after many retinal cells have already decayed.
This means that your dog may already be partially blind by the time they start exhibiting noticeable symptoms.
Still, dogs that seem uncoordinated or that often bump into objects may be exhibiting early signs of this condition.
You may also notice that your Labrador Retriever struggles to find their toys or locate the entrance to your home.
Dogs that generally struggle with their vision may have PRA, but the only way to know for sure is to take your pup to the vet for diagnostic tests.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The best way to prevent PRA is to breed your labrador retrievers carefully.
High-quality breeders regularly perform genetic testing on their breeding pairs to ensure healthy litters.
Purchasing a pup from a disreputable or inexperienced breeder can result in puppies with PRA.
If you are getting your dog from a breeder, you have the right to ask for all their health forms related to the parents and even past litters.
They should be able to provide you with proof that the dogs are as healthy as possible.
If you suspect that your dog may have PRA, your vet will perform a standard series of eye tests.
If they cannot rule out PRA, they may recommend genetic testing to confirm or deny the diagnosis.
CNGB1, a gene mutation, is often linked to the presence of PRA, so you may want to test for this mutation.
Sadly, there are few ways to reverse or stop the damage that PRA causes. Still, this condition is not painful.
Pet owners can implement helpful tools, introduce new training tasks, and practice patience.
If your labrador retriever is diagnosed with PRA, you’ll want to do everything you can to help your pup comfortably transition into blindness.
This may mean introducing specific sound cues for everyday tasks, reducing home layout changes, and adding protective gates around your home or swimming pool.
Overall, the best possible treatment for dogs with PRA is thoughtfulness and affection.
Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS)
Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS) is sometimes called dry eye. It occurs when a dog’s eyeball lacks proper lubrication and becomes red, swollen, and agitated.
Many times, a blocked or inactive tear duct is to blame for this condition.
Some breeds are prone to inherited KCS as their genes lack the information to help their bodies generate and maintain healthy tear ducts.
However, an infected third eye gland can also cause KCS.
Additionally, canine distemper virus (CDV) may lead to bouts of KCS in some dogs.
Keeping your dog in an unclean kennel or boarding facility can result in KCS.
With that in mind, proper hygiene and grooming are two ways that owners can prevent infectious KCS.
However, inheritable forms are naturally far more challenging to combat.
When your vet checks for signs and symptoms of KCS, they tend to look for eye irritation and redness, as well as pus-like discharge near the corners of the eyes.
Unlike some other eye problems, KCS is almost always present in both eyes at the same time.
Still, to make an accurate diagnosis, your vet may perform several minor procedures.
Diagnosis and Treatment
To confirm a KCS diagnosis, your vet will need to ensure that they’re dealing with KCS and not a related type of infection (such as pink eye).
They might take a small tissue sample and have it analyzed for the presence of tear film, or they may utilize Schirmer Tear Test strips.
Pet parents can also purchase and use Schirmer Tear Test strips to test for eye dryness.
Not only are usage instructions included with every order, but each envelope features an easy-to-read scale.
And with each strip’s color-coding, it’s challenging to misread these test strips.
The majority of dogs with KCS need special eye drops to keep their eyes healthy.
Pups with congenital KCS will likely need daily drops for the whole of their lives.
However, dogs with an acute, infectious case of dry eye may be able to wean off eye drops once their infection has cleared up.
However, some dogs don’t react well to medicinal eye drops, and these pups may require tear duct surgery.
Still, you’ll need to confer with your vet to confirm a case of KCS.
Notably, this condition may not affect labs as often as it affects other breeds, particularly smaller ones.
Breeds such as the Boston terrier and English springer spaniel tend to develop or inherit KCS far more than their larger labrador retriever relatives.
There’s a good chance that you’re somewhat familiar with cataracts.
After all, dogs aren’t the only species that can develop cataracts – many older adults can also develop cataracts as they age.
Cataracts are far more noticeable than many other eye problems.
That’s because cataracts turn your eye lens milky white.
When this happens, it’s challenging for the lens to transmit light to the retina.
In turn, the retina may struggle to process the light coming into the eye, resulting in partial or complete blindness.
This condition often occurs during old age, but previous eye injuries and certain illnesses can increase cataract development.
¡For example, dogs with diabetes may be more prone to developing cataracts.
Additionally, some genetic markers may influence the onset of cataracts.
The HSF4 gene seems to be one of the most influential markers of canine cataracts. However, testing for this gene can be challenging and expensive.
Still, in most cases, the symptoms of cataracts are evident.
As mentioned above, cataracts are relatively easy to diagnose. In addition, unlike other forms of eye disease, cataracts are fairly noticeable.
However, catching cataract formation during its early stages could help reduce overall treatment times and costs.
Consequently, pet parents should watch for any discoloration in the eye, as well as any whitish change around the pupil.
Conferring with a vet can help you determine whether your labrador retriever has cataracts.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Like many other types of labrador retriever eye problems, one of the best treatment methods for cataracts is prevention.
Adopting a dog from a reputable breeder that screens for genetic diseases and abnormalities is crucial.
However, owners of labs that are currently developing cataracts should seek veterinary counsel.
Your vet may prescribe helpful eye drops or nutritional supplements to slow the growth of cataracts and help you keep your dog’s eyes healthy.
In some cases, canine cataract surgery may also be an option.
Vets often perform a physical examination to check for cataracts.
Because this condition causes discoloration around the eye’s lens, it’s relatively easy to identify and diagnose.
One of the more common inherited eye problems that labrador retrievers develop is retinal dysplasia (RD).
While breeders can test for RD, helping prevent its spread to future generations, some breeders opt-out of genetic testing.
If you’re a prospective pet parent, be sure to find a reputable dog breeder before spending money to adopt.
RD happens when a dog’s retina doesn’t form correctly.
This abnormal shape or design can result in partial blindness or vision difficulties.
In many cases, a dog with RD will have strange folds throughout their retina.
While many cases are mild and relatively treatable, severe cases can lead to total retinal detachment.
When this happens, your lab will go entirely blind.
In these extreme cases, puppies lose their vision before they’re ten months old, and, unfortunately, pups with RD cannot be cured of it.
That said, some dogs are born with a form of RD that disappears with time.
If puppies fall ill while still in the womb, they may be more prone to developing RD.
This can make it challenging to determine whether a puppy’s RD is acute or chronic.
Visiting your vet is the best way to diagnose and treat RD.
Consistent check-ups can help you determine the type of RD your labrador retriever has and how best to treat it.
Labrador retrievers with RD will likely show signs and symptoms before they’re two months old.
That’s because RD is inherited, and puppies with this condition will have it all their lives.
Generally, pet parents may struggle to identify the earliest symptoms of RD.
A vet can use precise medical instruments to test for eye conditions, including RD.
However, dogs that haven’t received consistent vet care, particularly older dogs, may have undiagnosed and untreated RD.
Depending on their age and the severity of their particular condition, these dogs may already be partially or totally blind.
Be sure to take note of any clumsiness or confusion your dog exhibits.
Walking into walls, getting lost, or bumping into new pieces of furniture are all signs of vision problems.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosing RD isn’t easy, and vets treating very young dogs may be unable to definitively diagnose until the pup is older.
That said, most vets will use an ophthalmoscope to check for retinal folds and attachments.
The presence of folds doesn’t necessarily indicate RD, though extreme retinal abnormalities are red flags.
Unfortunately, retinal dysplasia is not treatable, so if your labrador retriever is diagnosed with severe RD, the first course of action should be to have them spayed or neutered.
Doing this will help future puppies from inheriting the condition.
Secondly, you should do everything you can to ensure your dog has a happy and healthy life.
For example, you may want to set up protective gates around your house, especially if you live in a multi-story dwelling.
And it’s also a good idea to implement audio-based commands for your pup.
Otherwise, you’ll want to continue playing with your dog, socializing them with other pups, and feeding them a healthy diet.
RD isn’t a death sentence, even when it does lead to total blindness.
Entropion might be the most common eye problem that plagues labrador retrievers.
Sadly, it’s also one of the more painful eye conditions. Entropion is when the upper or lower eyelids roll inward toward the eye.
When this happens, the eyelid’s natural hairs and oils can irritate the surface of the eye.
Additionally, tiny particles of dust or dirt can become trapped between the eyelid and eye surface, causing pain and discomfort.
Labrador retrievers may be prone to developing a case of entropion due to excess skin around the eyes.
Older dogs may be slightly more at risk of developing this condition, as the skin around the eyes occasionally forms small folds.
Left untreated, entropion can result in long-lasting vision damage.
That’s why it’s essential to keep an eye out for some of the most common signs and symptoms of entropion.
When your pup has entropion, they’ll usually try a few things to stop the pain.
This often means pawing at the affected eye or repeatedly rubbing it against surfaces.
Unfortunately, these methods typically only add to the problem.
Dogs with entropion may also produce an excessive amount of tears and appear to be crying.
In addition, their eyes may be swollen, red, and irritated. Additionally, some dogs squint and repeatedly blink when suffering from entropion.
This is similar to how you might react if you got a small piece of sand in your eye.
Being observant of your dog’s typical behaviors can help you spot their atypical behaviors more quickly.
Early treatment often results in few veterinary costs, as mild acute cases might only require a few days worth of lubricating eye drops.
The real damage of entropion is when it’s left to continue over time.
Sadly, deciding to wait for veterinary care could cause your dog lasting pain and vision loss.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Vets can spot entropion from a mile away. The more challenging aspect of this condition is determining the level of damage caused to the cornea.
Still, your vet can use a dye test to determine the condition of your dog’s corneas.
If things look good, they may prescribe a brief-usage eye drop or eye cream to help your dog’s eye recover and stay lubricated.
Severe, long-term cases may require surgery, removing some excess skin around the eye, much like an eye lift.
To minimize your dog’s discomfort and help them stay in tip-top shape, always seek immediate veterinary assistance at the first sign of entropion.
When Should I Visit My Veterinarian?
The best time to visit your vet is pretty much any time! While most labrador retriever eye problems are either present at birth or the result of a years-long disease, it’s crucial to seek veterinary care and advice whenever necessary.
Labrador retrievers may inherit specific eye problems, including progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and retinal dysplasia.
Older dogs also have a relatively high risk of developing cataracts as they enter their senior years.
Dogs with malformed or injured eyelids can also suffer from entropion.
Keeping your dog’s eyes bright, clean, and healthy starts with a healthy diet, and pups that consume nutritious diets tend to develop fewer health problems.
That said, some conditions are hereditary, making them challenging to prevent.
Still, there are helpful treatment options that can help labrador retrievers with eye problems enjoy a happier, more comfortable life.
- 1-800-PetMeds: Schirmer Tear Test
- American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists: Dry Eye (Keratoconjunctivitis sicca)
- American Kennel Club: Labrador Retriever
- American Kennel Club: The Most Popular Dog Breeds of 2020
- American Kennel Club: Tips for Finding and Working With a Responsible Breeder
- Michigan State University | Veterinary Medical Center: Cataract Surgery
- Modern Dog: How to Help a Blind Dog Adapt
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: A CNGB1 Frameshift Mutation in Papillon and Phalène Dogs with Progressive Retinal Atrophy
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: The genetics of eye disorders in the dog
- PetMD: Labrador Retriever
- Saint Francis Veterinary Center: Retinal Dysplasia
- ScienceDirect: Retinal Dysplasia
- The Spruce Pets: How to Spot and Treat Eyelid Entropion in Dogs
- The Spruce Pets: How to Identify and Treat Progressive Retinal Atrophy in Dogs
- Veterinary Centers of America: Cataracts in Dogs
- Veterinary Centers of America: Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS) or Dry Eye in Dogs
- Veterinary Centers of America: Progressive Retinal Atrophy in Dogs
- Veterinary Centers of America: Eyelid Entropion in Dogs
Click here to read my post about common general Labrador 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