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11 Common Genetic Diseases in Dogs

Posted on 29th June 2020

German Sheppard dog with a leg cart walking in a field

One the major responsibilites of a breeder is to make sure they are breeding from healthy parents...

Breeders are responsible for ensuring that they breed puppies from healthy parents to mitigate the passing on of genetic diseases.

Similarly to humans, there are lots of conditions which can be passed down through a dog’s DNA. Some conditions are more common or hereditary in particular breeds and as a dog owner it is important that you recognise and understand these diseases so you can provide the care your do needs.

What should I ask my breeder about the puppy’s health?

Alongside the other important quesitons for your breeder which you can read here, asking questions about the health of your potential puppy and it’s parents is essential.

Going beyond evidence of a general health check from the vet and vaccinations, you should ask about genetic diseases, the tests that the parents may have had and evidence of these test results.

One way to protect you and your dog is to understand some of the more common diseases and problems:

Hip Dysplasia

Hip and elbow dysplasia is a condition where the ball joint of the hip/elbow does not sit wholly within the socket of the joint. This causes pain which can be exhibited as behaviour problems such as aggression, or as stiffness and difficulty lying down, sitting, climbing or jumping into or out of the car.

The dog’s parents should be Hip Scored and these results added to the family tree. Whilst a low score can give an indication of the likelihood in your puppy, it does not mean this won’t be a problem for your puppy.

If you need help to understand what the results mean, please discuss with a vet.

Hip Dysplasia is more common in German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Great Danes, Retrievers and Bulldogs.

Urinary Bladder Stones

These are stones of crystal which form in the bladder and get stuck in the urinary tract.

They can vary in size from a few millimetres to several centimetres.

They lead to leaking of urine, accidents, increased frequency, straining to go and pain. Whilst some diets can help with prevention, stones often need to be removed by surgery.

Urinary Bladder Stones are more common in Dalmatians, Newfoundlands, Bichon Frise, Miniature Schnauzers.


Epilepsy can come in different forms from big, violent seizures to small absences which look like vacant episodes. Some dogs can have seizures when they wake from a deep sleep which can be manifest in aggressive outbursts. Epilepsy needs to be managed by lifelong medication with frequent blood tests to check levels are correct

Epilepsy is more common in German Shepherds, Beagles, Dachshunds, Golden and Labrador Retrievers

Heart Problems

There are a number of heart conditions which can be seen in certain breeds.

Myxomatous Valve Disesase

This is a condition where pressure increases in the heart and eventually causes heart failure often seen by lethargy and difficulty breathing. MVD is more common in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Dachshunds.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

This is a condition where the muscle of the heart does not work properly resulting in heart failure. DCM is more common in Dobermans, Boxers, and Great Danes

Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy

This is condition where the heart tissue is replaced by fatty tissue and this results in irregular heart beats, heart faiure and can cause sudden death. ARVC is more common in Boxers.

Degenerative Myelopathy

DM is a neurological condition affecting the ability of muscles to receive messages from the brain.

It is similar to Multiple Sclerosis in humans and results in weakness of the hind legs which leads to eventual paralysis.

DM is more common in German Shepherds, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Corgis, Pugs and Boxers

Brachycephalic Syndrome

Brachycephalic Syndrome, also known as BS, is a set of conditions which result in difficulty breathing and pressure on the skull. It consists of narrowed nostrils, elongated soft palate, floppy windpipe and extra tissue in the windpipes to the lungs.

It is also associated with eye problems, dental and skin problems. Affected dogs will be exercise intolerant, have difficulty eating and chewing and have a limited life expectancy. BS is likely to require surgery for any quality of life.

BS is more common in any squash faced breeds – French Bulldogs, Boxers, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs and Pugs.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Progressive Retinal Atrophy, also known as PRA, is an eye condition where the back of the eye does not receive light when seeing.

It results in night blindness often seen by a dog becoming nervous of the dark, cataracts and eventual overall blindness.

PRA is more common in Australian Cattle Dogs, English Cocker and Springer Spaniels, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, Poodles and Labradors.

Von Willebrands Disease

Von Willebrands Disease, also known as VWD, is a bleeding condition where the blood does not clot properly.

This can result in excessive bleeding even from a minor cut and can often first be noticed when a puppy bleeds heavily after vaccinations.

VWD is more common in Dobermans, Poodle, Weimaraners, Miniature Schnauzers, Scottish Terriers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Corgis

What should I do if my dog suffers from a genetic disease?

The best option is to find a vet you have a good rapport with to support you and your dog over their lifetime. In some cases, you may be able to prevent worsening of the disease through diet and exercise plans, with other disciplines such as physio and hydrotherapy.

Medication may be lifelong and will require multiple vet visits so training your dog in co-operative handling is essential.

Please speak to your breeder. Most responsible breeders are devastated and will not breed again from that parental pairing.

Factoring in the costs of potential vet care and looking at insuring your dog is a high consideration for all dogs, but particularly those breeds where we know problems are more common.

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