The purebred reality
- Certain breeds are more likely to develop health conditions than others — Before bringing home a puppy, it’s best to read up on what health conditions they could face.
- Purebred dogs are at a higher risk of some inherited diseases — Purebred dogs are bred for certain traits, known as breed standards. The inbreeding that has occurred as a result of trying to meet these standards has led to widespread health problems in purebred pups.
- Work with a responsible breeder — Responsible breeders put the health of their puppies first and are transparent about their breeding process. Make sure to ask about your pup’s health history and living conditions.
Here’s a breed-by-breed guide of a few of the health conditions popular dog breeds face, which is by no means a comprehensive list. Keep in mind that what works for one dog might not work for the next, so information about diagnosis and treatment will depend on your pup’s unique circumstances. And remember: Any dog of any breed could develop many of the following conditions. Whenever you notice changes in your pup’s health, it’s always best to reach out to your vet to determine what might be going on.
Possible health conditions in popular dog breeds
covered in this guide
Cocker spaniels | Australian shepherds | Beagles | Boston terriers | Boxers | French and American bulldogs | Cavalier King Charles spaniels | Dachshunds | Doberman pinschers | English cream golden retrievers | German shepherds | Great Danes | Fox red Labrador retriever | Miniature schnauzers | Pembroke Welsh corgis | Pointers | Rottweilers | Shih tzus | Siberian huskies | Yorkshire terriers
Primary glaucoma. Glaucoma happens when fluid builds up in dogs’ eyes, causing elevated intraocular pressure that leads to severe pain, as well as retinal and optic nerve damage. Glaucoma can progress rapidly and result in sudden blindness, which is why it’s important to take your dog to the vet regularly to get their eyes checked. Cocker spaniels are particularly predisposed to glaucoma when compared to other breeds.
- Cloudy eyes
- Redness in the whites of the eyes
- Discoloration of the eyes
- Blepharospasm (excessive squinting and blinking)
- An enlarged eyeball
If your dog shows signs of glaucoma, you’ll need to take them to a veterinarian immediately. Treatment will primarily focus on bringing down the pressure in their eye. Vets may also prescribe drugs that can reduce the amount of fluid buildup in your pup’s eye. Depending on the cause of the glaucoma, your vet may also decide that your pet would benefit from surgery. If the condition can’t be managed with medications, surgical removal of the eye is sometimes recommended.
Once discovered, glaucoma will need to be managed with medication and regular veterinary care for the duration of a pet’s life. Senior dogs with glaucoma may need their affected eye removed to relieve pain. Dogs with glaucoma can live long and healthy lives. However, each dog’s prognosis depends on when their glaucoma is diagnosed and how quickly the pressure within their eye decreases with treatment.
Cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates that approximately 6 million cancer diagnoses are made in dogs every year. While any dog breed can get cancer, Australian shepherds have a higher chance of getting two types: hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma. Like other breeds, Australian shepherds of any age can get cancer, but their likelihood of getting it increases with age. In general, Australian shepherds tend to be healthy dogs, living an average of 12 to 15 years.
- Lumps, bumps, and tumors underneath the skin
- Swollen lymph nodes on the neck
- Slow-healing wounds
- Weight loss
- Emotional changes, like being irritable
- Loss of appetite
- Abnormal bleeding
- Pale gums due to blood loss
Cancer in dogs can sometimes be managed with chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. According to our vet, Dr. Michelle Diener, DVM, your dog’s outlook often depends on the type of cancer and whether or not it has spread to other parts of their body. To craft a treatment plan specific to your pup, your vet will consult a veterinary oncologist and sometimes other specialists. They will need to do blood work, chest X-rays, and abdominal ultrasounds to see if the cancer has spread. Sometimes dogs can even participate in clinical trials.
Prognosis depends on the severity of the cancer, when it’s detected, and what treatment options are available. Dogs with hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive cancer, have a poor prognosis. According to The Australian Shepherd Club of America, dogs with hemangiosarcoma may live only a few weeks or months following diagnosis. The prognosis of dogs with lymphoma is better, but dogs still generally die of the disease.
Epilepsy. Canine epilepsy is the most common neurological disorder dogs experience, according to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation. Epilepsy is a series of seizures sparked by abnormal brain activity. Seizures can be caused by genetic conditions and brain problems, but many causes remain unknown. In dogs older than 5 years old, seizures are typically caused by a brain tumor. In dogs under 6 months old, an infection is usually the cause of their seizures.
Dr. Michelle Diener
Seizure dogs that are between 6 months and 5 years of age are usually diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy, which means that an underlying cause of the seizures can’t be found.
- Muscle twitching
- Loss of consciousness
- Stiff muscles
Your dog’s vet will physically examine your dog and may require blood and urine tests. In addition, your pup’s vet will likely ask if your dog has had any accidents or illnesses, head trauma, or contact with hallucinogenic substances or poisons. An MRI or CT scan may also be required to look at your pup’s brain activity.
Dogs may be given an anticonvulsant medication to relieve their symptoms, which they’ll need to take for the rest of their life. Even when prescribed medication, dogs may need to participate in combination therapy.
Additionally, researchers are exploring CBD’s potential to help with canine epilepsy. In one clinical trial, researchers at Colorado State University found that 89% of dogs given CBD oil experienced fewer seizures.
There is no cure for canine epilepsy. Even with prescribed anticonvulsant medication, dogs will likely continue to experience seizures.
Corneal ulcers. Corneal ulcers are basically abrasions on the surface of the eye. According to the Boston Terrier Club of America, corneal ulcers are the largest eye problem Boston terriers face. One 2017 study found that brachycephalic breeds with flat faces and short snouts are genetically predisposed to corneal ulcerative disease.
Boston terriers have large, protruding eyes that are prone to injury, especially if their whiskers have been trimmed. Corneal ulcers can also be caused by trauma to the eye. This could happen whenever your Boston terrier comes into contact with something sharp, such as while playing with another dog or the family cat.
- Holding their eye closed
- Excessive blinking
- Rubbing or pawing at their eye
- Eye redness
- Excessive eye discharge
Treatment of the corneal ulcer depends on its severity. Medication, ointments, or antibiotics might be prescribed. Dogs may also have to undergo surgery to remove the corneal tissue. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) recommends that dogs undergo yearly eye exams. Proactively taking care of your Boston terrier’s eye health is important and can allow for the early diagnosis of any ulcers.
Veterinarians might see an ulcer when they look at your dog’s eye with an ophthalmoscope. A drop of stain is also sometimes applied to the surface of a dog’s eye in a test called a fluorescein eye stain, which makes ulcers visible.
Dr. Michelle Diener
If the ulcer is shallow, topical eye medication will be prescribed to treat the ulcer. Regardless of the size of the ulcer, pain medication is also prescribed.
To ensure your pup doesn’t scratch at their eye, they will have to wear an e-collar for the duration of their treatment. Most ulcers are small and can be treated with topical medication. Deep ulcers often require surgery.
Failure to properly treat your pup’s corneal ulcer can lead to eye loss. With treatment, most corneal ulcers typically heal within a few weeks.
Cancer. Though any dog can get cancer, boxers are more prone to cancer than any other breed. Unfortunately, there’s a lot we don’t know about canine cancer and what causes it. Genetics could be to blame, but environmental factors may also play a role. One 2020 study found that boxers with lymphoma are more likely to live within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant or 2 miles of a chemical supplier or crematorium.
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Weight loss
Veterinarians may take blood samples and perform diagnostic tests like X-rays, abdominal ultrasounds, or MRIs to determine if your dog has cancer and see how far it has progressed.
Treatment for canine cancer mimics human procedures. Dogs can undergo surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation depending on the type of cancer and where it’s located in your pup’s body.
Dogs with less severe canine lymphoma tend to have a good clinical prognosis. One 2019 study found that boxers with low-grade lymphoma had a better survival rate. Dogs with lymphoma can enter into remission, but most relapse.
Unfortunately, canine cancer can be fatal. The prognosis depends on the stage of your dog’s cancer, how early it’s diagnosed, and what kind of treatments are available to your pup. Your pup’s prognosis will also depend on how well they respond to treatment.
Bulldogs (French and American)
Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS). BOAS refers to when a dog’s upper airways are shaped abnormally. Brachycephalic breeds like American bulldogs have short snouts and scrunched-up faces because their skulls are shorter in length than other types of dogs. This shape can also affect their airways, causing abnormalities that make it difficult for them to breathe.
- Nasal discharge
- Noisy breathing
- Difficulty breathing
- Cyanosis (gums and tongue that turn blue)
- Collapsing or fainting
Dogs with BOAS may develop other health conditions over time, like aspiration pneumonia. Dogs tend to be diagnosed between the ages of 1 and 4.
Bulldogs struggle with obesity, and since obesity worsens BOAS, your veterinarian may make weight loss a part of your dog’s treatment plan.
👉 Read our guide to weight loss in pups for our favorite tips and tricks.
Veterinarians may also prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs or oxygen therapy. Surgery is often needed to correct abnormal airways, such as widening the nostrils or shortening the soft palate to allow for better airflow.
Without treatment, BOAS progressively worsens over time. Surgery can successfully correct abnormal airways and lead to a higher quality of life. Generally speaking, younger dogs under the age of 2 tend to have the best prognosis.
Cavalier King Charles spaniels
Myxomatous mitral valve degeneration (MMVD). MMVD is the leading cause of death in Cavalier King Charles spaniels. It appears in half of all cavaliers by age 5 and nearly all cavaliers by age 10. Over time, the disease causes degeneration of the mitral valve, one of four valves in a dog’s heart.
👉 Cavalier King Charles spaniels need their hearts checked annually for heart murmurs starting at the age of 1.
MMVD will initially present without clinical symptoms, which is why it’s so important to get annual checkups. The most common symptoms of heart failure are as follows:
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid breathing
- Pale gums
- Rapid heart rate
- Decreased appetite
- Exercise intolerance
Veterinarians will perform a physical examination, blood pressure test, and urine test. They’ll likely also take X-rays and conduct an ultrasound and electrocardiogram to diagnose the disease. Oral medications will be prescribed to try to slow down the progression of your pup’s heart disease and prevent them from going into heart failure. They may also recommend a prescription diet, especially if your dog is obese. Dogs diagnosed with MMVD will have to receive treatment for the rest of their lives.
Your pup’s prognosis will depend on the severity of their MMVD, what treatments are available to them, and how they respond to treatment. Unfortunately, MMVD is the leading cause of death for cavaliers. If they don’t respond to treatment, their prognosis is poor. Many dogs improve with treatment and live with the condition for years.
Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD). Somewhere between 19 and 24% of dachshunds show signs of intervertebral disc disease, which causes their intervertebral discs to swell and rupture. Compared to other breeds, dachshunds are 10 to 12 times more likely to develop the condition.
- Back pain (arched back)
- Neck pain (holding neck down)
- Loss of limb function (dragging legs)
- Lack of coordination (wobbly on their feet)
- Loss of bladder control
- Inability to urinate (emergency situation)
Veterinarians will need to perform blood work and take a closer look at your dog’s spine with X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, or spinal taps. Surgery will likely be needed. The type of procedure your vet will perform will depend on the location of the disc and your dog’s overall health.
Prognosis depends on how early this condition is diagnosed and treated and how well your dog responds to treatment.
Dilated cardiomyopathy. Dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, is an acquired heart disease that affects large breed dogs like Doberman pinschers. In dogs with DCM, the heart muscles stretch and weaken, leaving the heart unable to properly contract and pump blood throughout the body. Male dogs are more likely to be diagnosed with DCM at a younger age than females. Dobermans are predisposed to DCM, making their prognosis less favorable than other breeds, but DCM is just as common if not more so in Portuguese water dogs, Irish wolfhounds, Great Danes, Newfoundlands, and standard or giant schnauzers.
- Collapse or fainting
- Weight loss
- Distended belly due to fluid accumulation
- Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing
- Problems sleeping
- Exercise intolerance
- Decreased appetite
- Sudden death
DCM in dogs is diagnosed with chest X-rays, echocardiograms, and electrocardiograms. Once your vet understands the status of your dog’s heart function, they will then decide on a treatment plan, which will include prescribed medications.
Some doberman pinschers respond to treatment. However, others only live for a few months after diagnosis.
English cream golden retrievers
Elbow and hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia usually affects large and giant dog breeds. It occurs when looseness in the hip joint causes problems that eventually lead to degenerative joint disease (also known as osteoarthritis).
Elbow dysplasia is a similar condition but affects the elbow joints. Elbow dysplasia is an inherited condition that affects large or giant breed dogs like English cream golden retrievers.
- Reduced range of motion in the affected limb
- Loss of muscle mass
- Grating noise during movement
- Decrease in activity since they’re less able to jump, run, or climb
Veterinarians may notice that something’s wrong during a regular checkup. A physical exam can reveal a decreased range of motion in the affected joint, but a vet will need to take X-rays to diagnose elbow or hip dysplasia. To treat the condition, most vets recommend a mix of physical therapy, medications or supplements, weight loss, or an exercise regimen. Your dog may also need surgery.
If your pup is diagnosed early on, their prognosis is generally good. In later stages, when severe osteoarthritis is present secondary to hip or elbow dysplasia, pain management can be challenging. Dogs with hip and elbow dysplasia can live a long time.
Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. Dogs with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) lack the pancreatic enzymes that allow them to break down food properly. German shepherds represent 70% of dogs with this condition. EPI can develop at any age but often develops in dogs that are 4 years old or younger. When dogs develop EPI after the age of 5, it might be because of an underlying condition like pancreatitis.
- Weight loss
- Foul-smelling, greasy feces
- Stomach pain
- Dry coat and dandruff
Veterinarians will take fecal samples and perform a blood test called a serum trypsin-like immunoreactivity test to diagnose EPI. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is typically treated with a low-fat diet and dietary supplementation.
Treatment is life-long. Most dogs respond well to treatment and live long lives, though others never return to a healthy weight. Without treatment, your dog’s symptoms will recur.
Gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV). Great Danes have a deep chest — an attractive asset that unfortunately makes them more likely to experience dog bloat, or GDV. Dog bloat occurs when a dog’s stomach rotates and twists. Great Danes are five to eight times more likely to experience bloat than other breeds. If left untreated, the condition is fatal.
- Frequent vomiting, often after eating or drinking
- Swelling of the abdomen (bloated appearance)
- Pale gums
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid heart rate
- Abdominal pain
- Sudden death
Dog bloat is a serious and life-threatening condition, so immediate treatment is required. Veterinarians will get your dog into surgery to deflate and rotate their stomach, as well as correct any damage they can.
The faster a vet can treat dog bloat, the better off a dog will be.
Fox red Labrador retriever
Exercise-induced collapse. Fox red Labrador retrievers are an extremely popular dog breed that is unfortunately at risk for exercise-induced collapse, or EIC. This is a medical condition that occurs when dogs experience sudden hind leg limb weakness after vigorous exercise. Scientists are still exploring this condition, which is believed to be a genetic disorder. It usually affects young, athletic dogs.
Symptoms usually resolve quickly but can include:
- Sudden collapse
- Weakness in the limbs (hind legs are usually affected first)
- Lack of coordination
- Temporary paralysis
- Elevated body temperature
The only way to treat EIC at present is by avoiding extreme, strenuous exercise that triggers the disorder. Dogs can still do moderate activity, like walking or quiet games, but they will need to relax more often.
There’s a lot that’s unknown about this condition. Most dogs are fine and recover in as little as 30 minutes. However, severe cases can be fatal.
Diabetes mellitus. Miniature schnauzers are one of the breeds most likely to develop diabetes mellitus, a condition that occurs when their body doesn’t make enough insulin. Diabetes is more common in older dogs but can develop in younger pups, too. Diabetes can also result in urinary tract infections, cataracts, and seizures.
- Weight loss
- Increased appetite
- Cloudy eyes
- Excessive urination
- Excessive water drinking
Dogs with diabetes need to go to frequent vet visits, be fed prescription diabetic food, and receive insulin injections once or twice a day. You’ll also need to monitor your dog’s blood and urine glucose levels at home — which your vet will teach you how to do.
As long as dogs with diabetes receive regular treatment and monitoring, they can live long lives. And if they’re experiencing other concurrent diseases like pancreatitis or Cushing’s disease, these medical conditions must be managed in order to regulate a dog’s diabetes. If diabetes is left untreated, it can be fatal.
Pembroke Welsh corgis
Von Willebrand disease. This disease is an inherited bleeding disorder that both humans and dogs face. There are now genetic tests that allow responsible breeders to prevent von Willebrand disease from affecting other generations. In addition to this disease, corgis are also predisposed to certain cancers, such as lymphoma.
Many dogs will never show symptoms, while others start bleeding suddenly.
- Hemorrhage from the nose, vagina, bladder, gums, and gastrointestinal tract
- Prolonged bleeding after trauma or surgery
- Severe bleeding from a minor wound (even after simply chewing on a toy)
This disease is diagnosed through a screening test. In emergencies, dogs can receive blood infusions.
There’s no cure for von Willebrand disease. Some dogs can live long lives with this disease, but it can be fatal.
Pointers (German shorthaired)
Aortic stenosis. Some German shorthaired pointers are at risk of inheriting a heart condition called aortic stenosis that tends to affect large dog breeds. Aortic stenosis occurs when the aortic valve is narrowed, partially blocking blood flow as it exits the heart. As a result, the heart has to work harder to pump blood, which can lead to cardiac failure and other heart complications.
Sometimes dogs will not show signs of aortic stenosis. Dogs with symptoms can experience some of the following:
- Reluctance to exercise (or an inability to do so)
- Shortness of breath
Aortic stenosis is often discovered during routine physicals when a veterinarian hears a heart murmur. A veterinary cardiologist can diagnose the condition by taking your dog’s blood pressure and conducting chest X-rays and echocardiograms. It’s then treated with a combination of medication, exercise restrictions, and sometimes surgery.
In mild cases, dogs may only need to be monitored. Since the condition is progressive, dogs will need to be routinely examined. In severe cases, aortic stenosis can cause sudden death.
Osteochondritis dissecans. Rottweilers are predisposed to developing osteochondritis dissecans, or OCD, a disease that separates cartilage from bone. Though it mostly affects shoulder joints, elbows, hips, and knee joints can be affected, too. OCD tends to affect male dogs more than females and usually occurs in rapidly-growing large breeds like rottweilers. Aside from genetics, dogs may develop OCD due to rapid growth, trauma, or blood flow issues.
- Swelling of the joints
- Overly warm joints
- Inability or unwillingness to use or put weight on their leg
Your veterinarian will examine your dog’s legs and take X-rays to diagnose OCD. OCD can cause everything from a small crack to completely detached cartilage. While some dogs may only need rest, others can require medication, supplements, prescribed exercises, and even surgery.
The prognosis depends on which joint is affected. According to VCA Hospitals, a pup’s prognosis tends to be good if their shoulder joint is affected. Surgery typically minimizes the disease’s progression.
Patellar luxation. A fancy term for mobile kneecaps, patellar luxations affect mostly small breeds like shih tzus. Patellar luxations tend to affect both knees, leading to discomfort, pain, and loss of knee and leg function. This happens sometimes because of traumatic injuries. It can also be genetic, in which case it develops at a young age in dogs with shallow femur grooves that leave no place for the patella to sit.
- Hopping on the affected leg intermittently
- Shaking or extending of the leg
- The appearance of bowed legs
The condition can be found during a routine physical exam. There are four different kinds of patella luxations, ranging from a kneecap that barely moves out of place to a kneecap that can’t be manually moved into the correct location.
Treatment sometimes requires surgery to reconstruct soft tissue or realign bones. If the patellar luxation isn’t causing any pain or symptoms, surgery might not be required.
After surgery, most dogs recover. However, if your dog is overweight and experiencing patellar luxation, their prognosis may be less favorable.
Dr. Michelle Diener
If your dog is overweight, it’s important to put them on a diet so there’s less strain on their joints and less risk for arthritis to develop.
Canine uveodermatologic syndrome. This is an immune-mediated disease that affects mostly Nordic breeds like Siberian huskies. It impacts male dogs more frequently than female pups and tends to occur in dogs that are young or middle-aged. The syndrome leads to blindness (or, in less severe cases, decreased vision) and can cause your pup to have a whitened coat.
- Whitening (depigmentation) of the nose, lips, muzzle, ear flap, and the area surrounding the eyes
- Hair loss, crusts, and ulcers of the nose, lips, muzzle, ear flaps, and the area surrounding the eyes
- Sudden blindness (bumping into objects)
- Bloodshot eyes
- Squinting, holding eyes shut, frequent blinking (all signs of pain)
- Cloudy eyes
Regardless of the cause, canine uveodermatologic syndrome is treated by suppressing the immune system. Dogs may need to take corticosteroids, either orally or topically, and may need eye drops or injections.
With treatment, dogs may be able to regain some of their lost vision, but most of the time the goal will be to reduce their pain. Most cases require life-long treatment and flare-ups can occur. If treatment is started early, skin lesions can heal, but scarring, hair loss, or depigmentation may remain. Blind dogs can have a good quality of life.
Portosystemic shunt. A portosystemic shunt, or PSS, refers to an abnormal blood vessel that shunts blood away from the liver so that the liver doesn’t obtain an adequate blood supply. This means that the liver is deprived of the nutrients it needs to develop normally, which then causes the liver to stop growing. PSS affects small and toy breeds like Yorkshire terriers but can happen in any breed of any age. Dogs can be born with PSS or develop the condition later in life.
- Ataxia (drunken swaying)
- Stunted growth
- Head pressing
- Walking in circles
- Increased thirst and urination
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
Dogs must receive treatment for PSS and will often need surgery to close off the abnormal blood vessel that causes the shunt. Dogs may also need a special diet to ensure they’re getting the nutrition they need.
Dogs can experience complications after surgery, and in very rare cases, develop seizures. Most of the time, as long as the dog survives surgery, their prognosis is good.
Four tips for finding a reputable dog breeder
Finding a reputable dog breeder takes time. Here are a few ways to discover the best breeders.
Check your pup’s medical history — Breeders can and should be able to provide you with your pup’s full medical history, including the results of any health screenings and the dog’s family history. They can also typically speak about health conditions commonly seen in their breed.
Inquire about the breeder’s credentials — Many reputable breeders have references or certifications, or are members of breed clubs. The American Kennel Club has a registry of Breeders of Merit and a searchable database of purebred puppies. Always obtain documentation of your dog’s pedigree.
Ask as many questions as you want — Many breeders will have a tour available so you can see the conditions puppies are raised in. Reputable breeders are always happy to answer any questions you have. A few good questions to ask include the following:
- Have my dog’s parents experienced any health issues?
- How do you socialize your puppies?
- How long have you been breeding?
- Are the puppies up to date on their vaccinations?
- Have you had to treat the puppies for any intestinal parasites?
Meet your pup’s parents — If possible, it’s always a good idea to meet with your dog’s breeder in person. While there, meet not only with your potential pup but also their parents, which will give you an idea of what your dog will be like when they’re grown.
Keeping your pup healthy
No matter what kind of dog you have, part of responsible pet parenting involves taking your dog to regular vet appointments, keeping them up to date on vaccinations, and monitoring your pup for unusual behavior.
You should also always do thorough research before you adopt a specific breed from a breeder or animal shelter to ensure that you’re aware of the diseases most likely to impact your pup. But remember: Just because your pup is prone to a condition doesn’t mean they’ll develop it. Stay aware of symptoms to look out for and contact your veterinarian if you notice any changes in your dog’s health. In many cases, early detection can be the difference between life and death.
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