SCIENTISTS in Suffolk have made a breakthrough in the bid to beat canine blindness after they discovered a genetic mutation which causes sight loss in golden retrievers.

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Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is a disease which leads to blindness and cannot be treated.

Canine health experts say the best way to combat the inherited condition is to identify dogs that carry the mutation and develop informed breeding strategies.

By identifying the mutation, the Animal Health Trust (AHT) team in Newmarket has been able to develop a DNA test which will identify golden retrievers which carry the mutation.

The mutation which causes a second form of PRA is still to be identified.

Cathryn Mellersh, head of canine genetics at the AHT, said: “Our research shows that this mutation is present in the UK golden retriever population, so it’s likely that several hundred new carriers are being born each year and that golden retrievers are invariably going blind as a result.

“Without the support of the Golden Retriever Breed Council and many owners who have provided DNA samples for us to analyse, we wouldn’t have been able to make this significant breakthrough.

“This new DNA test will enable breeders to learn whether their dogs are carriers of the mutation. This, in turn, will enable them to make better informed breeding decisions and therefore produce puppies which will not go blind as a result of this mutation.”

Mike Townsend, chairman of the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, which helps fund the work, said: “This is a real breakthrough and one which we hope will help to prevent blindness in many golden retrievers in the years to come.

“Every dog deserves to lead a healthy, happy life and it is important that we do all we can to ensure that future generations are given this opportunity.”

Information about the test will be available from the health trust’s website from November 15.

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