Breed-Specific Health Concerns: Caring for Your Dog’s Unique Needs

Key Points

  • Certain dog breeds come with specific health concerns you should know about.

  • Knowing any breed-specific health concerns helps you take better care of your dog.

  • Even though dogs come with unique concerns related to their breed, not every dog experiences them.

Like humans, all dogs are different, requiring different nutritional needs, training styles, and behavior interventions. Depending on your dog's breed, health risks demand the most care and time at your veterinarian. Knowing your dog's breed is essential in educating yourself on potential health concerns.

Knowing these allows you to take better care of them. Remember that even though many health concerns are breed-specific, not every dog experiences them. Knowing your dog's breed, proper nutrition and exercise, and watching for early warning signs are excellent preventative measures for keeping your dog healthy and mobile.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is one of the most common health issues in large dog breeds, generally fifty pounds or heavier. It's often seen as a genetic condition but has numerous causes, including poor diet, lack of or too much exercise, muscle mass, growth rate, environment, or hormones.

It's a hip deformity often occurring during a dog's development. During this process, the pelvis socket or acetabulum must grow at an equal rate to the thigh bone. You'll get hip dysplasia when nonuniform growth occurs in your dog.

German Shepherd dog

This results in looseness of the joint, leading to osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. Dogs like German shepherds, golden retrievers, bulldogs, Saint Bernards, and Labrador retrievers have a predominant disposition to this problem.

Symptoms include weakness and pain in the dog's hind legs. Suppose your dog appears wobbly, reluctant to rise from a lying or sitting position, and hesitant to climb stairs. In that case, hip dysplasia may be the problem.

Brachycephalic Syndrome

If you own a pug, bulldog, Boston terrier, or Pekinese, then you may know of Brachycephalic Syndrome. Like many respiratory issues, this health concern is not one issue but a combination of abnormalities dealing with the upper respiratory tract in certain dog breeds.

It usually affects dogs with squashed faces or shortened skulls. It incorporates small nostrils, an elongated soft palate, a laryngeal collapse, and an everted laryngeal saccule. Your dog could have any or a combination of these conditions.

Symptoms include noisy breathing, exercise intolerance, snoring, gagging, vomiting, fainting, and difficulty breathing. An oral examination and chest X-rays help your vet diagnose Brachycephalic Syndrome.

French Bulldog breed

Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative Myelopathy is a progressive spinal cord disorder that affects middle-aged or older dogs. It is similar to ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease in humans. It's a degenerative disease of your dog's spinal cord and peripheral nerves, often considered a genetic disorder.

The onset age for dogs is around 8 to 12 years, equally affecting males and females. It affects dogs like German shepherds, Rhodesian ridgebacks, corgis, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, and poodles. Also, mixed breeds have a chance of inheriting Degenerative Myelopathy.

Symptoms of Degenerative Myelopathy include a weak hind end, which adds stress to other areas of the dog's body, like the neck and shoulders. Other symptoms include a loss of coordination or ataxia in the hind limbs, swaying when walking, difficulty standing, or rear feet dragging.

Collie Eye Anomaly

This anomaly — inherited and a developmental disease — affects dogs like collies, border collies, Australian shepherds, Nova Scotia retrievers, and Shetland sheepdogs. Collie Eye Anomaly, or CEA, is a gene mutation affecting eye development, resulting in a dog's eye layer defect.

The most common sign of Collie Eye Anomaly is blindness. However, vision loss varies depending on the severity of the condition during development. Most dogs have normal vision, but if the dog's retinas detach, some form of vision loss to blindness occurs.

Border Collie dog breed

Collie Eye Anomaly is one of many hereditary eye disorders often associated with dogs. It's more commonly associated with abnormalities like microphthalmia, where a dog's eyeballs are smaller than usual, or Enophthalmia, where a dog's eyeballs are sunken deep into their sockets. Each of these abnormalities is commonly associated with CEA.

Von Willebrand's Disease

The most common bleeding disorder with inherited diseases is Von Willebrand's Disease. This disorder makes blood clotting difficult, and you see it in different breeds, but most common in Doberman pinschers. It also affects Pembroke Welsh corgis, Irish setters, poodles, and Bernese mountain dogs. With proper care, your dog has a normal lifespan.

Signs of Von Willebrand's Disease include skin bruising, abnormal bleeding from gums or nose, and excessive bleeding during surgery. Dogs with this disorder have a reduced protein called Von Willebrand Factor or VWF. Because of this reduced lack of protein, dogs take longer to form clots.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated Cardiomyopathy is the degeneration of a dog's heart muscle. Because of this, the muscle walls become thinner, especially the left ventricle. The blood pressure inside the dog's heart causes these walls to stretch, resulting in a larger heart.

This condition affects dogs like boxers, Doberman pinschers, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, and Irish wolfhounds. It's also known to affect German shepherds and medium-sized dogs, with a diagnosis in more males than females. Dilated Cardiomyopathy has a progressive or sudden onset.

Great Dane dog breed

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Signs include rapid breathing while your dog rests or sleeps, an increased effort in breathing, weakness, coughing or gagging, and leads to congestive heart failure.


Your dog's thyroid is one of the most essential organs in their body, located near its trachea. This gland helps regulate a dog's metabolic rate. If it's overactive, your dog's metabolism elevates. If it's underactive, then your dog's metabolism slows down.

Lymphocytic thyroiditis or idiopathic thyroid gland atrophy causes hypothyroidism in dogs, with the former cause being the most common. These two causes account for 95 percent of cases in dogs, and it is often an inherited disorder.

Some signs of hypothyroidism in dogs are:

  • Weight gain even though there is no increase in appetite.

  • There is no desire for exercise or lethargy.

  • They have excessive shedding with dull or dry hair.

  • They have a slow heart rate.

  • A thinning coat or baldness occurs.

  • They have high blood cholesterol.

Hypothyroidism in dogs is treatable with proper medication for the rest of their life. It's usually in the form of an oral synthetic thyroid hormone which the veterinarian based on the dog's weight. They adjust this hormone over time because the dog's tolerance changes.


Canine cataracts happen to dogs, young and old. Many causes include genetics, trauma, nutritional imbalances, metabolic disturbances, and chronic uveitis. A dog's healthy lens is clear and transparent, so light passes through toward the retina without an issue.

Cataracts in dogs

In canine cataracts, these lenses get diffused or cloudy because of proteins clumping together in the dog's eyes. Cataracts lead to vision loss or blindness if left untreated. However, the proper animal doctor corrects this with surgery, which is called phacoemulsification. The sooner the surgery, the greater the success rate, and it reduces complications and risk.

Dr. Kelly Knickelbein states, "The ideal time to perform cataract surgery is before the cataract becomes mature, as more advanced cataracts are more likely to cause lens-induced intraocular inflammation, lens instability, and loss of lens capsule integrity."

Chronic cataracts prove painful for dogs or cause other issues that prompt eye removal. As the lens degenerates over time, it sparks inflammatory changes around it, leading to glaucoma, lens luxation, or retinal detachment resulting in blindness.

Questions To Ask Your Veterinarian

If you have a pure-bred or mixed-breed pup and are worried about possible breed-specific issues, speak to your vet. Ask them the following questions:

  • What condition does your dog have the highest risk of acquiring?

  • What can you do to reduce or prevent this risk or condition?

  • How can you fix the cause once your dog is diagnosed?

Taking part in your dog's health ensures their comfort and strengthens your bond. Additionally, your vet is always happy to see a pet owner take their dog's health seriously.

Bulldog at the veterinarian

Breed-specific health concerns come with the territory of dog ownership. Knowing your dog's breed is essential in taking preventative measures to keep your best friend healthy. Regular vet visits and knowing the signs of these specific disorders keep your dog strong and happy.

Whether it's respiratory issues, hereditary eye disorders, or more, taking care of your canine companion leads to better care and longer life. Proper care ensures they get the best diagnostic and treatment processes and live fuller lives.

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