Cyclic guanosine 3',5'-monophosphate (cGMP) levels were determined in retinas from a strain of Labrador Retrievers with inherited retinal dystrophy manifesting at early stages of retinal differentiation. The cGMP contents of dystrophic retinas of dogs from 1 to 4 months of age (n = 7) were significantly higher (p = 0.001) than in age-matched controls of the same breed (n = 11). Ultrastructure along the vertical retinal meridian was studied in developing retinas and findings were related to those of age-matched wild-type controls of the same breed. Slow central to peripheral progression of degeneration was observed in affected dogs. No differences were found in total cGMP-phosphodiesterase (PDE) activity, in PDE subunit composition as determined by Western blotting of 2-month-old homozygote affected retinas, or in the amino acid sequence deduced from the nucleotide sequence of the PDE beta-subunit as compared to controls. This model of photoreceptor degeneration thus is the first case of an apparent abnormality of cGMP metabolism that is not associated with a defect in the PDE catalytic subunits, and it is also the first reported model not associated with severe developmental abnormalities and rapid degeneration.