What is retinal degeneration?
The retina is the part of the eye that takes light and converts it into electrical nerve signals, which the brain interprets as vision. The retina has rods that interpret darkness and cones that interpret light and colors. When there is retinal degeneration, there is deterioration of these rods and cones. This disease can be inherited. The breeds that are most common are: Akitas, cocker spaniels, collies, Irish setters, Labradors, mini daschunds, mini schnauzers, poodles of all sizes, Norwegian elkhounds, papillons, Portuguese water dogs, and Tibetan terriers. Typically, the disease is carried as a recessive trait; however, it is thought to be a dominant gene in mastiffs.

What are the symptoms?
In most dogs, night vision is often one of the first symptoms noted, which can include a reluctance to go up or down stairs, walk down a dark hallway, etc. Once the degeneration has progressed, bumping into walls, etc is often noted. There may also be cloudiness to the lens, dilated pupils, or light reflecting from the back of the eye.

How is it diagnosed?
If any of the above symptoms are noted, an examination should be scheduled with an ophthalmologist. After a thorough eye exam to rule out other issues, an ERG (electroretinography) may be recommended which tests how the retina reacts to light.

What is the treatment?
Unfortunately, there is no treatment for retinal degeneration. The disease is non painful, and most dogs do tolerate blindness well.

How to help your pet at home live with retinal degeneration
Most pets adapt well to blindness. The best thing on owner can do for their pet at home is to keep things consistent. Pick a specific place for the food and water dishes and try and keep them in the same area. Try and keep the furniture in the same area. Put up barriers around stairs and the pool/hot tub. Nightlights can help in the early stages, since day vision is the last to go.

Here are some resources dedicated to those that have dogs living with this condition:

www.blinddog.info
www.blinddogs.com
www.petplace.com
Living With Blind Dogs, by Caroline D. Levin.