According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), dachshunds rank as the ninth most popular registered dog. With good reason—these fierce yet affectionate dogs are relatively low maintenance. However, dachshunds can develop several breed-related health problems, with intervertebral disc disease, heart disease, and eye disorders the most significant.
The Veterinary Vision Center team and other veterinary ophthalmologists perform special screening eye examinations on purebred dogs to help the Orthopedic Foundation of America (OFA) and the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO) track the incidence of many presumed genetic disorders using the Companion Animal Eye Registry (CAER). Here, we discuss the most common genetic eye disorders in the dachshund breed.
Progressive retinal atrophy in dachshunds
Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) causes a slow, progressive degeneration of the light-detecting cells in the retina, which eventually leads to retinal thinning and blindness. No effective treatments or preventives exist—all affected dogs eventually lose vision. However, most dogs with PRA adapt well, because the loss is gradual and they learn to navigate using their other senses, and the process is not painful.
PRA signs are subtle when vision impairment is only beginning. In the most common types, dogs first develop night blindness that progresses to blindness in brighter light, but sometimes the opposite occurs, depending on whether rods or cones degenerate first. Dogs with PRA may hesitate on stairs, bump objects, or have an abnormal eye reflection, and many also develop cataracts that may require management with anti-inflammatory medications.
PRA is one of few disorders on this list with a known genetic basis, but we are far from a complete understanding. Several types have been identified in all dachshund varieties, some that begin affecting dogs at 1 to 2 years, and others that do not cause symptoms until middle or later ages—and researchers suspect several other types related to yet-to-be-discovered genes probably exist. Testing for the most well-known PRA types is available to help breeders reduce incidence but the tests are not a perfect disease predictor.
Distichiasis in dachshunds
Distichiae are extra eyelashes that often turn inward toward the eye surface, causing a condition called distichiasis. This often does not cause problems unless the hairs are stiff, which can lead to corneal ulcers or chronic scarring. Cryotherapy under anesthesia is recommended for dogs with distichiasis to remove the hairs and damage the offending follicles to prevent hair regrowth.
Congenital eye defects in dachshunds
Dachshunds are more likely than the general dog population to be born with a congenital defect called persistent pupillary membrane (PPM). Abnormal blood vessel remnants that should regress with development instead form tissue strands that may bridge the structures in the eye’s front chamber. A PPM can be mild or severe and, depending on the tissue location, can lead to vision problems or blindness.
Some dachshund lines also carry the Merle gene, which codes for a white-patterned and dapple-spotted coat. Dogs born with two copies of the Merle gene are often born mostly white and are at risk for developmental eye, vision, and hearing problems, with a significance that varies greatly from dog to dog. Merle gene inheritance patterns are extremely complex and unpredictable, but genetic testing may help breeders avoid the most severe problems.
Cataracts in dachshunds
Cataracts affect many dog breeds, including dachshunds, and probably have some genetic basis, with other factors likely involved. A cataract that forms inside the lens causes opaqueness and blocks vision partially or completely. The only cataract treatment is surgical removal, although many pet owners choose to monitor and medicate to prevent inflammation and secondary complications.
Corneal disease in dachshunds
Two corneal diseases occur commonly in dachshunds—corneal endothelial dystrophy and punctate keratitis.
- Corneal endothelial dystrophy — This type typically affects middle-aged dogs and is related to a functional breakdown of the bottom cell layer that normally regulates fluid balance. The fluid buildup that results causes a cloudy-blue appearance and obstructs vision. No effective treatments are currently available for this progressive condition, although a salt ointment can reduce complications.
- Punctate or immune-mediated keratitis — This inflammatory corneal disease causes multifocal inflamed corneal areas that can lead to long-term scarring. Treatment with topical medications is usually effective, but life-long disease management is required.
CAER screening examinations can help breeders and pet owners detect changes in their pet’s eyes and assist the OFA track eye disease and learn more about the genetics causing specific disorders. Contact our Veterinary Vision Center team to schedule a screening examination for your purebred dachshund, or schedule a regular visit and consultation if you notice any eye disease signs in your pet.