Dog breeds and common health issues

By Jennifer Tilman
Mobile grooming business owner, former veterinary technician

Many dog breeds have congenital health issues.  Small breeds commonly possess a tendency for weak knees.  This can lead to painful injuries like torn ACL which requires surgery to repair. If one hind leg knee is injured at some point in the dog’s lifetime, odds are extremely high that the other hind leg knee will also suffer the same injury and require the same treatment eventually. This is especially true with older dogs, or those dogs who are overweight. This injury is caused most often by dogs jumping from furniture, leaping down stairs, or rough house play with other dogs or humans.

Other congenital health issues include seizures, and rage syndrome.  Some breeds who are prone to seizures include pekinese, poodle, shih tzu, and cocker spaniels.  Depending upon the intensity and frequency of the seizures, medication such as dilantin or phenobarbital may be recommended by a veterinarian to control this health issue. Seizures are a serious matter which can be fatal to your pet. Their intensity can vary and change as your pet ages. Quirky behavior such as a rigid body and staring off into space at nothing can be indicative of minor seizures. Constant monotone barking while staring off into space often prompted by loud noises or other unconventional stimuli is indication of a mild to moderate seizure.  Flipping around uncontrollably (convulsions), eyes rolled back in the head, salivation, urination and defecation, and unconsciousness are all symptoms of grand mal seizures, the most intense and serious kind of seizure. Also bear in mind that seizures themselves may be a symptom of other health issues, brain tumors, for example,  that require immediate veterinary attention.  If you suspect your pet may be suffering from seizures, it’s imperative to visit your veterinarian immediately.

Rage syndrome is comparable to bi-polar disease in humans.  It’s symptoms are rather similar and include calm behavior one minute, followed by sudden unexplainable aggressive and explosive behavior the next minute.  There seems to be no connection reflecting what stimuli prompt the aggressive behavior. Rage syndrome runs genetically throughout the spaniel breeds. Therefore caution should be exercised when choosing one of these dogs for a pet. Breeders do their best to keep these genes from transferring to offspring when breeding, but are not always successful, and may not disclose any unwanted behavior tendencies of puppies to prospective buyers.  If your veterinarian suspects rage syndrome may be inherited by your pet, he may recommend putting the animal down so the pet doesn’t become a danger to you or other members of your family.

Large dog breeds are prone to hip dysplasia. This condition is the abnormal development in anatomic structure of the hip joint. Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, and Rottweilers are three such breeds of which this condition is common. Hip dysplasia is a congenital defect which can be present at birth, and becomes more pronounced with age. Some dogs have had successful surgery to correct the hips, but this can be a dicey solution because of cost and post-surgical challenges. Also the severity of the dysplasia will make this proposition a gamble.  If your pet has dysplasia, it’s best to consult your veterinarian about what can be done to keep your pet comfortable as he/she ages.

Large dogs are also prone to death by stresses, some are related directly to their size.  Heart failure is common among large breed dogs.  Great Danes typically die from heart failure. Boxers, Labrador retrievers, and German shepherds all are prone to cancer. Another common malady is bloat. Bloat can strike most any large breed dog and is one of the most common killers in dogs. Bloat is the result of gas accumulation in the stomach and, in severe cases, twisted or flipped stomach and pinched intestines which block the escape of gas either by burping, or through the anus as flatulence.  It is extremely painful. Some key symptoms of bloat include agitated, pacing behavior, a distended belly, whining, the inability to stand and walk properly, unsuccessful attempts to vomit, salivation, excessive water drinking, dog having a hunched over appearance, dog looking for a hiding place, and pain in the abdomen when gently touched. Rapid pulse and breathing may also be present.  Immediate surgery is the best treatment for this condition. It is not always successful because odds are likely the animal will suffer from bloat again in its lifetime.  The cause for bloat is not altogether understood.  However, there does seem to be a link between hard exercise directly following a big meal. Another cause may be a diet comprised of mostly grain, instead of high amounts of proteins. If you suspect your dog is suffering from bloat, see your veterinarian immediately. Time is of the essence!  Bloat can cause death within a couple hours of the onset of symptoms.

Still other health issues are breed specific.  Shih Tzu’s, for example, are commonly prone to eye problems such as corneal ulcers and ingrown eyelashes. Dogs possessing these ailments will require surgery to prevent further injury to the eyes. Hernias and hypoglycemia are other health anomalies to be aware of when considering commitment to the Shih Tzu as a pet.

Furthermore, it is not uncommon for all breeds to suffer from allergies, whether it be dust, carpet in your home, grass, pollen, mold, or even food.  The types of allergies dogs suffer from varies and is an individual thing.  Some don’t suffer from any allergies.  Others may suffer from a myriad of allergies.  Relatively inexpensive tests can now be performed by your veterinarian to determine what your pet is allergic to. If you find the allergy is something controllable within the dog’s environment, the allergen can be removed or minimized, and the dog will be much more comfortable as a result. Steroids are often recommended to treat allergies, but long-term use of steroids is risky, and in itself can be the catalyst for a number of health issues down the road.

Food allergies are common, however. The dyes in processed foods are one culprit. The gluten from wheat and other grains can also be a concern for allergens.  Constant licking of paws until they are bloody is one symptom of a present food allergy.  Food notorious for red dyes includes gains burgers, for example. Beneful also contains dyes within it’s dry food.  Though its marketing stresses the food contains vegetables and real beef, it is wise to read the ingredients label on the bag to determine if in fact this is true.  If the label reads corn meal, beef byproducts, wheat,….dye # 2,3, etc., beware. Although buying this food is likely done with pure intentions to provide a balanced diet for your pet, it’s best to supplement his/her food with real vegetables bought in the grocery store.  Feed raw or steamed carrots, zucchini, broccoli, peas, or green beans. These veggies are also a good replacement for cookie treats.  They keep your pet’s weight better under control.

In general it is highly recommended for people to carefully research breeds for health issues, and breed traits before making a commitment to pet ownership. Dog/human compatibility in any household will greatly be influenced by the combination of breed temperament and disposition, and the lifestyle of the humans living in the home. Many dog breeds are good looking on the outside, but may not be the right match for everyone.  Each dog breed was bred to do specific tasks like herding, for example. These dogs include shelties, Australian shepherds, German shepherds, Bouvier de Flanders to name a few. Behavioral instincts possessed by dogs will remain with the dog throughout its life and cannot be modified with any amount of training.

When selecting a pet, it’s also important to consider health issues to further investigate how much money a potential owner is willing to commit to the animal’s health and well being throughout its life.  It’s not fair to discard the dog upon becoming ill because the owner figures out THEN that he doesn’t have the finances to afford the animal.  Also potential pet owners are encouraged to factor in how much time they are willing to commit to grooming the pet of their choice.  Some breeds require more maintenance than others, and it’s important to realize that executing proper, consistent grooming procedures is not only part of the commitment to pet ownership, but also is beneficial to the pet’s health.  Consider grooming as preventative health care because many ailments requiring vet visits can be avoided by consistent grooming. To enjoy the happiness of dog/human companionship, remember to be fair to both the dog and yourself.

For further information about this article or similar topics go to
“Grooming Tales” can be purchased online at, or
The following two tabs change content below.

8 thoughts on “Dog breeds and common health issues”

  1. This is excellent overview of important dog information, and any person even thinking about introducing a dog in their family should read this post.

  2. Thank you Jennifer Tilman for an insightful article. I am not sure if you are up to answering specific breed questions, but I have a spoodle (cockapoo) and notice that you have noted that both the poodle and spaniel are prone to seizures. Does having a breed created from two that have this genetic disposition increase my dogs chances much? Do you know of any other specific ailments that I should be aware of?

    The main issue that we have noticed (which may occur for many of the poodle crosses) is high skin sensitivity. He has had hot spots in the past including continued ear issues (long ears trapping moisture and growing fungi) and bacteria on paws causing continual licking. We have addressed the skin allergy with anti histamine (seasonally) and medicated shampoo on feet twice a week, ear flush once a week.

    We mostly feed him cooked meat (chicken and red meat secondary) and give natural dried treats (beef jerky, liver etc) so the exposure to coloring may be less of an issue. We are looking at getting him professionally tested for allergies and de-sensitized, knowing that it is not guaranteed.

    Any further advice or opinion you could give would greatly be appreciated.

    1. Bruce,
      Any mixed breed (designer dogs) are going to inherit traits common in both breeds. However, this does not necessarily translate into health issues. Every dog is an individual and the composition of the gene pool will be a unique mix with every breeding effort as well. If you suspect your dog has the potential for seizures because signs of such are present, do not hesitate to take your dog to the vet for a checkup. Remember that seizures can be fatal to your pet, but they can be controlled with medication.

      The itchy, skin is a cocker trait. Cocker spaniels have many issues with their skin including frequent skin infections. The ear infections are also common with cockers. Poodles and cockers both have long pendulous ears which don’t allow air flow into the ear canal to keep moisture collection, and resulting bacteria growth down. As a result, ear infections from bacteria will be a challenge this dog will have to live with its entire life. Sounds from what you described that you are taking the right precautions. Treat him regularly with ear flush to keep the ears clean and minimize the moisture collection within the ear canal. (The moist environment is what attracts bacteria.)

      I would recommend getting your pet tested for allergies. Believe it or not, some dogs are allergic to some types of meat, like beef for instance, even though they are part of the carnivorous family of animals. The paw licking and hotspots can both be indications of food allergies. This test will verify what the allergy is so you can make an effort to minimize that allergen exposure to your pet. If it is meat, find out what kind so you can avoid buying dog food containing that allergen as well. Some dogs do fine with venison, or lamb as substitutes, as opposed to chicken or beef.
      Good luck.

    2. Bruce,
      I’ve also thought of a couple more tactics to help your dog.
      1: Have your vet or groomer lift the dog’s ears one at a time and shave down to the skin all the hair within a 2 inch radius of the ear opening.
      2: Have your vet or groomer pluck out any hair growing within the ear canal. This hair also gives bacteria something to adhere to, therefore making it difficult to keep the ears clean. Hope this all helps. With your continued good care and diligence, your dog should live relatively comfortably for the rest of his life.

      1. Hi Jennifer,

        Thank you for the good advice. He finished his latest anti-biotic dose a few weeks ago, but has just started a little shaking of his head again. Testing definitely will appear in his near future. He doesn’t seem to have any particular episode after eating a specific kind of meat (unless he eats a a lot of fat from a roast). But of course testing will pin point any issues if it exists.

        I think that the ear shaving and ear plucking is the trickiest ongoing maintenance thing we do. Of course he hates ear plucking (with our vet scissors), and we were told that excessive plucking can cause irritation itself which can invite bacteria and/or fungi. The hair just grows so fast. Some groomers have even warned us not to pluck as they say it encourages extra growth. I don’t personally believe that. So even though its summer here in Australia, our guy has had several ear shaking episodes, and infections. I think the best thing I can do now (after having three full body shaves to the skin for the summer) is try and cut the hair back to near the skin where his ears hang down. Not an easy (without $300 clippers) task, nor an attractive one, but if it can help his health, we press on.

        Thank you for a such a great site and answering these questions!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *