Canine Breeds

How Well Do You Know Your Breeds?

Are you looking/interested in getting a four-legged friend, or seeking more information about your current fur-baby at home? It is important to know that many canine breeds are predisposed to specific medical diseases. So, when searching for your new family member, be sure to do some research to gain knowledge about what diseases are common in that type of breed. Although, most medical conditions can affect any type of breed, there are a view diseases that are more common in certain breeds. Below is a list of a few breeds and the types of medical conditions that they are prone to, can you match them all?

Breeds: Medical Conditions:
1. Dachshunds A. Hip Dysplasia
2. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel B. Primary Glaucoma
3. Dalmatians
C.  Liver Shunt
4. German Shepherds  D. Intervertebral Disc Disease
5. Boston Terrier
E. Bloat (GDV)
6. Yorkshire Terrier
F. Congenital Deafness
7. Golden Retrievers
G. Mitral Valve Disease
8. Doberman H. Degenerative Myelopathy


1. Dachshunds (D): Most people are aware that the backbone is not just one long, tubular bone. The backbone (or spine) is actually made of numerous smaller bones called vertebrae that house and protect the spinal cord. The numerous vertebrae that make up the spine allow for flexibility of the back. The vertebrae are connected by joints called intervertebral disks. The disk serves as a cushion between the vertebral bodies of the vertebrae. It consists of a fibrous outer shell (called the annulus fibrosus), a jelly-like interior (the nucleus pulposus), and cartilage caps on each side connecting it to the vertebral bones. Ligaments run below and above the discs, with the ligament above the discs being particularly rich in sensitive nerves. Intervertebral Disk Disease (Disk Herneation) is a condition where disk material herniates and presses against the ligament above and spinal cord creating swelling and inflammation. The classic victim is a young dog of a breed that involves a long back and short legs. The damage to the spinal cord can range from mild inflammation to total destruction. Clinical signs include pain and the inability to walk/scuffing toes. Diagnosing IVDD typically includes a thorough neurologic examination, x-rays, and advance imaging including an MRI. Once disk disease is diagnosed, the decision must be made as to whether or not surgery should be pursued. Spinal surgery is very expensive and requires a long recovery period but may be the best choice if the dog is to regain normal function. The longer the neurologic deficits have been going on, the poorer the results of treatment. If the dog cannot walk, medical management may still have success though surgery is definitely more likely to yield success. (Other breeds predisposed- Beagle, French bulldog, Pekingese, and Pembroke Welsh Corgi)

2. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (G) Mitral valve disease is the most common cardiac condition seen in dogs. MVD is caused by an unidentified processes that leads to degeneration of the mitral valves (the valves on the left side of the heart between the left atrium and left ventricle). The degenerative process causes the valves to thicken and retract, creating a hole through which blood can flow back from the left ventricle into the left atrium when the left ventricle contracts. In most cases, MVD is a surprise for the owner, detected by the veterinarian at a routine evaluation. Often, a heart murmur is heard when listening to the heart. Other signs include coughing or exercise intolerance. It is important to note that MVD can progress and lead to Congestive Heart Failure. Diagnostics are important to determine the severity of MVD. This can often be done with chest X-rays and an echocardiogram. Treatment of MVD is aimed at slowing down the progression of the disease, by using medicine, to delay onset of CHF. (Other breeds predisposed- American cocker spaniel, Dachshund, Miniature schnauzer, and Toy poodle)

3. Dalmatians (F) Congenital, inherited sensorineural deafness can lead to complete hearing loss by 5 weeks of age when the auditory system is completely developed and cochlear degeneration is absolute. They occur most often in animals with excessive white coat color, pale irises, and forms of merle coloring or albinism. Diagnosing deafness can be performed using the brain stem auditory evoked response (BAER) test. This is performed by neurologists and used to objectively measure hearing. Deaf dogs may exhibit no clinical signs, especially if they are born deaf. Owners may notice that it is difficult to rouse the pet from sleeping, or the pet may not be able to orient the origin of sound. Puppies that are deaf may be more vocal and may play more aggressively than their littermates. Unfortunately, there is no treatment available if the deafness is congenital. (Other breeds predisposed- Jack Russell terrier, Border collie and Bull terrier)

4. German Shepherds (H) Degenerative myelopathy is a slowly progressive disease that affects the spinal cord and a dog's ability to walk. DM results in lost coordination of the hind legs, which progresses to weakness and then to paralysis of the hindquarters. Often the first signs noticed are difficulty in the hind quarters when the dog is getting up. This awkwardness is most noticeable when the dog walks on a smooth surface. The cause of the neurologic disease is a DNA mutation. It is similar to some forms of human amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, often called Lou Gehrig's disease). Diagnosis includes a variety of diagnostic tests (physical and neurological examinations, routine blood work, and spinal radiographs). DNA testing by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals can identify the DNA mutation that is associated with the development of DM. Unfortunately no treatment has been shown to reverse the signs; DM can be managed but not cured. Supportive treatment can help. (Other breeds that have the mutation include American Water Spaniel, and Bernese mountain dog)

5. Boston Terrier (B) Glaucoma is an eye disease where the pressure within the eye becomes elevated. It can cause significant pain and lead to blindness. Dogs with primary glaucoma are believed to have an anatomic or biochemical problem that affects how fluid drains from the eye, so the onset can be spontaneous. Early signs can include a bloodshot eye, cloudy cornea, dilated pupil, and squinting/holding the eye closed. Over time, the eye size can increase and it may bulge. Primary glaucoma is a bilateral disease, although both eyes are not always affected at the same time. Unfortunately in cases of severe glaucoma, the eye is often permanently blind by the time of diagnosis. Glaucoma can be detected by measurement of eye pressure using an instrument called a tonometer. The treatment requires aggressive and consistent application of eye medications. Some cases of primary glaucoma are also treated with surgery. Removal of the eye (enucleation) is sometimes recommended when a pet is not responding medical treatment. (Other breeds predisposed- Basset Hound, American Cocker Spaniel, and Shih Tzu)

6. Yorkshire Terrier (C) A liver shunt, also known as portosystemic shunt happens when a pet’s venous blood from the stomach, intestines, pancreas, and spleen bypasses the liver. Signs include stunted growth, not gaining weight, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, temporary blindness, and seizures. Sometimes the pet will just act odd after eating, or pace around or press their head against the wall. Liver shunts are diagnosed with blood tests and diagnostic imaging (ultrasound or CT scan). Treatment includes medical and/or surgical management. (Other breeds predisposed- Maltese terrier, Silky terrier and Miniature Schnauzer)

7. Golden Retrievers (A) Hip dysplasia is a common condition of large breed dogs which means abnormal growth or development of the hips. Hip dysplasia occurs during a puppy's growing phase and essentially refers to a poor fit of "ball and socket" nature of the hip. When a dog has hip dysplasia, the ball and socket do not fit smoothly. The socket is flattened and the ball is not held tightly in place, thus allowing for some slipping. This makes for an unstable joint and the body’s attempts to stabilize the joint only end up yielding arthritis. Diagnosis includes a thorough orthopedic physical examination by your veterinarian and radiographs (xrays) of the hip. Treatments available include long-term medical management or surgery. (Other breeds predisposed- German Shepherds, Labrador retriever, Rottweiler and American bulldog)

8. Doberman (E) Bloat, also known as GDV (Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus) is a severe, life threatening emergency that occurs when the stomach distends with food/gas and rotates on its axis. For reasons we do not fully understand, this distended stomach tends to rotate, thus twisting off not only its own blood supply but the only exit routes for the gas inside. The spleen, which normally nestles along the stomach, can twist as well, cutting off its circulation. The distended stomach becomes so large that it compresses the large veins that run along the back returning the body's blood to the heart, creating circulatory shock. If your dog is experiencing any of the following symptoms (restlessness, anxiety, pain, non-productive retching, or abdominal distension), please seek medical attention immediately. Preventative measures can be done including a Gastropexy. Preventive gastropexy is a surgical procedure usually done at the time of spay or neuter in a breed considered at risk. The gastropexy, as mentioned, tacks the stomach to the body wall so that it cannot twist and cause a life-threatening bloat. (Other breeds predisposed- Large breed, deep-chested dogs: Great Dane, Greyhound, Irish Setters and German Shepherds. Small breed dogs can even bloat too).

Author: Dr. Val Bender, DVM

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