Common Health Problems in German Shepherds
Each dog breed has its own set of common hereditary problems. These problems can be due to improper breeding. Genetic problems in German shepherds may have their origins with inbreeding early in the breed’s history. There are at least 50 hereditary diseases that have been identified in German shepherds—too many for the scope of this article—so only some common ones will be discussed.
- Bleeding disorders—Hemophilia and Von Willebrands disease are common in German shepherds. With both diseases, the dog’s blood has problems clotting properly. Hemophilia usually occurs in males and is passed on by females, and it’s often accompanied by hematomas, or pockets of blood under the skin. Von Willebrands occurs in both genders.
- Cancer—German shepherds are prone to different types of cancer, such as lymphoma, melanoma, hemangiosarcoma (tumor in the spleen), osteosarcoma (bone cancer), and other cancers. There is no cure for cancer, but sometimes treatments like herbal and dietary treatments can help reduce cancer symptoms in dogs.
- Digestion problems—Two common digestive problems in German shepherds are bloat and congenital megaesophagus. Bloat occurs when a dog’s stomach develops too much gas and swells up. It’s a life-threatening condition that must be treated immediately. Congenital megaesophagus occurs when the dog’s esophagus fails to contract properly, causing food to get stuck and the esophagus to enlarge. Complications may include weight loss, vomiting, and pneumonia. German shepherds also may face other digestive problems.
- Eye problems—eye problems in German shepherds include diseases like cataracts, cherry eye, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). Some eye problems may be corrected with surgery.
- Hip or elbow dysplasia—Hip and elbow dysplasia are common in other large breeds as well as German shepherds. Both diseases are characterized by abnormal bone formation, and they may cause pain, arthritis, and reduced mobility, especially later in life.
- Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD)—OCD in German shepherds (not to be confused with the mental disorder OCD in humans) occurs when a puppy’s cartilage skeleton doesn’t properly form into bone. This causes improper bone formation and excess cartilage. It can be treated with surgery and medication.
- Panosteitis—Called “pano” for short, this disease is also known as long bone disease, shifting lameness, and growing pains. It’s a spontaneous lameness in German shepherds that usually occurs between 5 and 14 months. Puppies usually grow out of it.
German shepherds may also be afflicted by diabetes, epilepsy, heart problems, spinal problems, pituitary dwarfism, pancreas problems, and other hereditary health problems.
Don’t be too discouraged by all these health problems in German shepherds. Countless owners have German shepherds that live healthy long lives. Scientists are continuously developing tests and screenings for these problems so that perhaps they can be bred out of German shepherds.
This is part of why it’s important to obtain your German shepherd puppy from a responsible, careful, knowledgeable breeder. Genetic problems are more likely to occur if German shepherds are bred incorrectly. The best breeders know their dogs’ bloodlines well and will be very careful not to allow these hereditary diseases to be passed on. If you own a German shepherd, visit the veterinarian frequently so any problems can be detected and treated early.