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08 September 2021

German Shepherd health issues: 21 diseases you must be aware of

Unraveling the 21 German Shepherd health issues which have a high chance of affecting your German shepherd pup and how to prevent them.

Not all German shepherds suffer from health problems. However, some health issues are more common in this breed compare to any other dog breed.

German Shepherds are one of the most loving and loyal dog breeds ever known. They live to protect and love. However, German shepherds also suffer from a ton of health issues. A lot of these health issues are due to improper breeding practices. The breeders try to live up to the breed standards which has been set throughout history. 

A lot of German Shepherd health issues are genetically transmitted as well. Some German Shepherd health issues arise due to their activity levels, body size or because of them just being dogs. In this blog post, I will be discussing 21 German Shepherd health issues as well as how you can prevent your dog from getting affected by these health issues.

German Shepherd health issues
German Shepherd health issues



21 German shepherd health issues


Hip dysplasia





Hip dysplasia is the most common of all German Shepherd health issues. This disease is also observed to affect Labradors, Rottweilers, Great Danes, etc. However, this disease is extremely common in the case of German Shepherds, especially amongst those dogs who were bred in kennels where health was not a priority.

Breeders are not supposed to breed dogs who are already exhibiting signs and symptoms of displeasure. However, due to the high demand for German Shepherd puppies, a lot of the breeders will ignore this and mate parents with hip dysplasia anyway, leading to another generation of German Shepherd dogs who have this problem.

Hip dysplasia affects the hip joints of the dog. This German Shepherd health issue leads to malformation in the ball and socket joint present in the hip causing instability. This problem has been observed to be accompanied by osteoarthritis as well as laxity.

Hip dysplasia can easily be prevented by following ethical breeding practices. Unfortunately, most breeders do not value the quality of life they are giving to the dogs. They only care about their sales and meeting the demands of the customers.

Hip dysplasia can become extremely painful and require surgery in advanced cases. However, this disease can be easily prevented by providing good nutrition to your dog and regular exercise.

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Elbow dysplasia


Just like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia is another disease that is not exclusive to German shepherds. This disease is found in many medium to large-sized breeds. Elbow dysplasia is a condition that results from the non-fusion of a bone to the elbow during the development of the dog. It can lead to intermittent lameness in the dog and surgery may be required in advanced cases. Your veterinarian may conduct x-rays of your dog's elbow to find out if your dog is suffering from elbow dysplasia. Just like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia is also a genetic condition and can easily be avoided by not mating parents who are already suffering from elbow dysplasia

If your dog has a mild case of elbow dysplasia, it may worsen during a dog's life, making it very uncomfortable for your dog to have a proper gate or walk normally. One way in which you can prevent elbow dysplasia in your dog is to make sure that you get dog gets the right nutrition as well as bone supplements to keep the joints lubricated and promote healthy bone growth.

Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDB) or bloating


Bloating is a common problem observed in a lot of dogs. However, it is very common in the list of German Shepherd health issues. If a dog has medium or short fur, bloating can easily be diagnosed. However, the long hair in the case of German Shepherds tends to hide this major symptom.

Bloating occurs when your dog eats too fast and following eating engages in an extreme amount of physical activity. This leads to a buildup of gas in your dog’s stomach. If this happens and your dog is unable to dispel the gas, the pressure buildup in the stomach can make it difficult for your dog to breathe and your dog's body can even go into shock.

In case you notice that your dog is trying to eat grass or trying to vomit but nothing is coming out, it is likely that your dog has a bloating problem going on. Bloating should not be taken lightly. It can turn into a life-threatening condition if not treated at the right time. The moment you notice your dog struggling to puke or eating grass, check your dog's stomach. If you notice that your dog's stomach is hard, immediately take your dog to the vet, otherwise, he may die.

Symptoms of bloating:

  • Your dog is restless immediately after mealtime
  • He or she is unable to lay down or sit comfortably
  • Your dog is pacing nervously
  • Your dog attempts to vomit but nothing comes out
  • The stomach is rounded, gas-filled as well as hard (you can tap the stomach. If you hear a hollow sound like a drum, then the stomach is filled with gas)
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Whining and excessive salivation
  • Rapid heart rate (a normal heart rate for dogs is 60 to 80 bpm)

The best way to prevent bloating in German shepherds is to prevent your dog from eating anything too fast or eating too much at one time. Do not give your dog one large meal in the morning and one large meal at night. Instead, divide the same meal into sections and give you a dog a small portion from time to time.

Alternatively, you can also go for slow feeders, puzzle toys or treat dispensers to feed your dog. These will help dispense the food slowly and prevent your dog from eating too much at one go.

Make sure that your dog does not engage in any kind of strenuous activity post-meal. In case you have to change your dog's food, do it in a very gradual and slow manner and over a period of a week's time.

  • Do not feed your dog your human foods. They cause more stomach acids.
  • Do not exercise your dog immediately after having a meal or within two hours of eating.
  • Do not let your dog drink a ton of water just before or after he or she finishes eating.
  • It is best if you don’t leave your dog for two hours after mealtime. In case an emergency occurs, you will be around to help.
  • Have your veterinarians number handy and within reach in case of an emergency
  • Be aware of what is your dog's normal behavior is. In case there are any sudden changes you will be able to easily identify them.
  • If you notice any warning signs, get your dog to the vet within 60 to 30 minutes. Time is of the essence. Do not forget that.

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Epilepsy


It is not necessary that your dog will have convulsions or seizures. Unfortunately, this disease is most often genetic. There are also non-genetic causes behind epilepsy in dogs. However, epilepsy has off late become a German Shepherd health issue. The situation is a little ironic considering that German shepherds are trained to be seizure-detecting dogs for humans who suffer from seizure-related disorders.

Even though conditions like epilepsy are incurable and genetic, there are many medications that can help manage this German Shepherd health issue. If your dog is kept out of stressful situations, he or she may not even realize that he or she suffers from epilepsy.

In case your dog has been diagnosed with epilepsy, the treatment will depend on the cause of seizures. A lot of veterinarians prescribe phenobarbital to keep the seizures at bay. In case, your dog suffers from epilepsy or has a seizure-related disorder, it is best if you do not change the layout of the house and keep him or her as comfortable and stress-free as possible.

Related post: Seizures in dogs: causes, symptoms, types, and treatments 

Hemophilia


Unfortunately, hemophilia is a German Shepherd health issue that is most commonly observed in dogs who come from a long line of inbred genetic lines. In the case of hemophilia, the blood is not able to properly clot. This makes even a small cut or a tiny injury very serious for the dog.

However, there is no reason for a German Shepherd or any other dog to not live a long and healthy life even with hemophilia. It is your responsibility as a dog guardian to check your dog regularly for the presence of any bumps or lumps or formation of any blood pockets under your dog's skin. You must have a first-aid kit handy in case your dog gets injured or starts to bleed. One final thing to remember here is that you must not engage in very strenuous activities with your dog which may cause him or her to get injured.

Diabetes


Diabetes is a common German Shepherd health issue due to the large size of the breed as well as the tendency of such dogs to overeat. The primary symptoms of diabetes are
 
  • excess of urination and thirst
  • swelling of the feet
  • lethargy
  • fatigue

Some dogs may start to show symptoms in puppyhood while others may show symptoms later in their life. Diabetes can be easily brought under control by a proper exercise and diet plan, as well as regular checkups and vet treatment.


Cataracts


One of the common German Shepherd health issues which affect the eyes is cataracts. This is most often seen in German Shepherd belonging to the senior years. Most of the dog guardians are able to tell when cataracts start to occur in dogs because the eyes look start to look slightly cloudy and the dog's navigation skills become poor.

You will notice that your dog starts to bump into things which he or she was able to maneuver around very easily before. If the cataract is allowed to progress, it can lead to complete blindness. If your dog is suffering from a cataract, you can either opt for home remedies or you can get a companion dog to act as a seeing-eye dog for the dog who is suffering from a cataract. The option of surgery to cure cataracts is also available. Some dogs who are very familiar with their home learn to read navigate once they go blind. Cataracts can be prevented or delayed by giving your dog the right kind of supplements.

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Degenerative disc disease


This is a spinal disease that comes under the German Shepherd health issues spectrum. This is a progressive disease that affects the spinal cord. Breeders tend to not breed dogs who start to show degenerative disc disease because this disease is genetic There is a high chance that the parents will pass on the disease to their offspring.

Since degenerative disc disease is a genetic disease and is degenerative, there is not much a dog guardian can do to keep or his or her German Shepherd from getting affected by this disease. However, you can do a lot to prevent the disease from worsening any further. A proper diet, moderate levels of exercise, regular veterinarian checkups, and administration of NSAIDs/pain killers on time can provide your dog relief and allow him or her to live a long healthy life even with degenerative disc disease.

Panosteitis


This is one of the German Shepherd health issues which is also referred to as Pano or wandering lameness by veterinarians. This disease most often manifests in German shepherds by the age of 5 to 14 months. It is also referred to as growing pains. The dog guardian will notice that the puppy suddenly starts to use 3 out of 4 legs or is otherwise limping in one of the legs. 

This condition is most often visible on x-rays. It is not a genetic condition. Therefore, even if the parents have this disease, there is no guarantee that the offspring will inherit it. This condition is also not permanent. It has been noticed to heal on its own. with the growth of the pup.

This problem occurs because German shepherds are large breed dogs and they tend to grow very quickly from puppies to adulthood. Therefore, they suffer from growing pains like other animals who are large in size. 

Even though this condition can be sore and very painful for a young German Shepherd puppy, it is not permanent and will go away on its own by the time the puppy reaches one and half years to two years of age. If your puppy is suffering from this condition, it is important that you make sure that your pup does not run too much or participate in strenuous activities till the problem goes away.

If your dog is above the age of two years and still showing the same symptoms, it is an indication that you must consult the vet. There might be a real illness that is getting encompassed in the symptoms of panosteitis.

Allergies


One of the most common German Shepherd health issues is allergies. The most common food allergens have been observed to be chicken, gluten, rice, or corn. However, your dog may also be allergic to, environmental allergens like grass, pollen, etc.

In case your dog is suffering from a food allergy, you should specifically feed your dog hypoallergenic foods or a grain-free diet and make sure that the allergen is not in your dog food ingredients. There is also a chance that your German Shepherd may not be allergic to anything at all.

German shepherds are most often observed to have the following types of allergies

  • Food allergy
  • Skin allergies
  • Flea allergy dermatitis
  • Allergic inhaled dermatitis
  • Atopy

In case you notice that your German Shepherd's skin is irritated or red and he or she is often indulging in itching or scratching, it would indicate that you are dog is suffering from a condition that is more severe than just a normal allergy. Such a dog should be started on an allergy regimen. Your vet may recommend antihistamines for your dog. However, the over-the-counter medication available for allergies are Claritin as well as Benadryl. Both of these are safe to be given to a German Shepherd. However, before administering any of these drugs to your pup, have a discussion with your vet about any possible emergency situations and if these meds are okay to be given or not.

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Pancreatitis


Pancreatitis refers to a condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed. This condition is very commonly observed in German Shepherd and thus, comes under the German Shepherd health issue spectrum. Pancreatitis can either occur once in your dog's life or more than once. Whether pancreatitis will occur or not will depend on your dog and the diet he or she is kept on. Pancreatitis also depends on environmental factors like providing your dog food that is high in fat or giving your dog food that he or she is not accustomed to.

The best way to prevent pancreatitis in your pup is to give him or her a healthy nutritional and wholesome diet and avoid any sudden diet changes like feeding your dog a diet that is full of fat or human food.

Pancreatic enzyme insufficiency


The other common pancreatic issue which falls under the German Shepherd health issues spectrum is pancreatic enzyme insufficiency.

This condition has been observed to be exclusive to the German Shepherd breed. This is a non-curable disorder of the gastrointestinal tract. This is often but not always accompanied by severe weight loss and diarrhea in the dog. Pancreatic enzyme insufficiency is diagnosed by a blood test. In this disorder, the dog's pancreas does not produce the correct amount of digestive enzymes which are required by the dog's intestine to ensure the absorption of necessary nutrition from the dog food.

The positive part about this disease is that it is treatable. Your vet will prescribe a pancreatic digestive enzyme for your dog. This digestive enzyme must be given with every meal for the rest of your dog’s life to maintain the proper absorption nutrition from the food as well as to keep control of the weight. This German Shepherd health issue is almost always accompanied by bacterial overgrowth. This can be dealt with by providing an antibiotic course to your dog.

Thyroid problems


Another of the most common German Shepherd health issues is hypothyroidism. In most cases, hypothyroidism is manageable and the treatment is pretty inexpensive. However, the treatment must be continued for the entire lifespan of the dog. Hypothyroidism can cause your German Shepherd's fur coat to become thin, brittle as well as coarse.

The dog suddenly starts to seem lethargic, obese, and dull. In case your dog has a mild deficiency of thyroid, he or she may not show any symptoms of the same. This disease can be easily spotted at the early stages by getting your dog tested every year so that the problem can be nipped at the start. Unfortunately, since this condition is genetic, there is no way to prevent it from occurring. This is why males and female dogs who are suffering from thyroid disorders should not be bred.

Related post: Hypothyroidism in dogs

Urinary stones


Urinary stones is another one of the German Shepherd health issues. These are the most common types of bladder stones observed in the case of dogs. These can be extremely painful for dogs and can be very difficult to get rid of by passing. In case, the bladder stones are left unattended, they can cause serious health issues like kidney and urinary bladder damage.

There are many conditions that can contribute to the development of bladder stones in dogs. These stones form when there is an excess of crystalline material in your dog's bladder. If your dog passes acidic urine, the acid in the urine is enough to dissolve the crystals and remove them. However, this does not always happen. A lot of dogs have a hard time dissolving the minerals present in the urine and may require treatment to help remove the bladder stones. Alternatively surgery can we have performed to remove the bladder stones.

There are many prescription diets that help in preventing the formation of bladder stones. These diets prevent the formation of crystalline substances in the dog's urinary bladder. This reduces the chances of your dog developing kidney or bladder stones.

Urinary tract infections


Unity tract infection or UTI do not just come under the German Shepherd health issues spectrum. This is a common health issue and occurs in a lot of dogs. There are many factors that can contribute to urinary tract infection in dogs but the prime cause of UTI is the colonization of the urinary tract by bacteria that enters through the genitals of your dog.

How can your dog get infected?

If your dog has a compromised immune system, it makes it very easy for these bacteria to survive on entering your dog.

If your dog comes in contact with the genitals of another dog who is already suffering from UTI or if your dog comes with it in contact with any infectious material, there is a chance that the UTI get transferred it to your dog as well.

If you observe that your German Shepherd is experiencing any of the following symptoms, you must take your dog to the vet to rule out a possible cause of a urinary tract infection:

  • Discomfort or pain during the urination process
  • Blood in urine
  • Urine dribbling or urinary incontinence
  • Frequent urination or absence of urination
  • Changes in the smell or color of the urine
  • Presence of visible residue on your dog's urine which appears cloudy
  • Genital region sensitivity

You can prevent UTI in your dog by keeping his or her genital area clean, providing him or her a healthy and wholesome diet as well as a proper hydration schedule.

Nose infections


Nose infection is a pretty common German Shepherd health issue. It is also common in many other breeds of dogs. Nose infection can be very uncomfortable and irritating to your dog. In serious cases, it can also be very painful and cause other serious complications.

The most common of all nose infections is Rhinitis. Rhinitis refers to inflammation of the nose. Your dog may experience a change in appetite, frequent sneezing as well as a runny nose.

Sinusitis is the other most common type of nose infection. This is marked by inflammation of the sinus passageways in your dog's nose. This causes symptoms that are similar to the ones observed in the case of Rhinitis like discharge from the nose, reduction in appetite, coughing, and sneezing.

A lesser-known form of nose infection is Nasal Aspergillosis. This is caused by fungus. The symptoms of Nasal Aspergillosis are pretty similar to Sinusitis as well as Rhinitis. However, Nasal Aspergillosis also includes swelling and pain in the knees region, as well as bleeding from the nose. Your German Shepherd may also have a nasal discharge containing pus.

Megaesophagus


Megaesophagus is one of the German Shepherd health issues which is often seen only in the case of German shepherds. This condition is primarily characterized by esophageal (food pipe) enlargement. This causes the esophagus to become limp and this affects its ability to transport food from the mouth to the stomach when the dog swallows.

The primary signs of Megaesophagus are vomiting and malnourishment. The signs of Megaesophagus are first observed when the puppy is weaned away from the mother and is started on solid food. Unfortunately, there is no cure for Megaesophagus and this condition is genetic. However, you can carefully manage your dog feeding style. You should give your dog a completely liquid diet and elevate the food bowl when the dog is feeding so that the food may pass from the esophagus to the stomach by the action of gravity.

Osteoarthritis


Osteoarthritis is a very common problem in most large dog breeds. It also falls under the German Shepherd health issues spectrum. Osteoarthritis is primarily characterized by the wear and tear of the joints and it is observed in middle-aged to senior age dogs. The primary symptoms that your dog is suffering from osteoarthritis are lameness, slowing down, and becoming less active due to joint pain and discomfort.

Osteoarthritis can be prevented by providing regular supplementation to your dog's diet like fish oil as well as curcumin (turmeric) and a wholesome nutritious diet.

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Perianal fistula


Perianal fistula is a very common German Shepherd health issue. This disease mainly affects the region around the dog's anus. Dogs suffering from such disease have drainage openings in the skin region around the anus part. A dog suffering from Perianal fistula will find it very hard to defecate. He or she may also suffer from bloody stools, diarrhea and may lick the area very frequently.

The first sign of Perianal fistula would be a foul odor in the dog's bedding. Unfortunately, this condition also predisposes your German Shepherd to getting affected by secondary infections in that region.

Since the anal region has many nerves, this health issue can be excruciatingly painful and have a huge negative impact on the quality of life of your dog. A proper diet, nutrition, and check for allergies may help combat this disease in your dog.

Degenerative myelopathy


Degenerative myelopathy is another of the German Shepherd's health issues which are genetically transmitted. This disease is most commonly observed in middle-aged to senior dogs and it has been observed to affect the spinal discs. This leads to progressive weakness of the back legs which can eventually cause paralysis of the back legs of your dog.

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Potential German Shepherd health issues
Potential German Shepherd health issues


Dental problems


This is possibly one of the German Shepherd health issues which get ignored by the guardians. German shepherds are known to suffer from gum infections and periodontitis. However, you can easily prevent any dental issues in your dog by regularly brushing your dog's teeth and maintaining proper dental care.

If you adopt a German Shepherd dog from someone else, you must check the health of the gums as well and check the teeth for any kind of discoloration. In case, there is any discoloration in the dog's teeth or gums, you should take your dog to the vet and get a check done. Maintaining proper dental care and regular brushing of your dogs should help prevent plaque buildup and keep those pearly whites white for a longer period.

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What can you do to help prevent German Shepherd health issues?


Unfortunately, there are over 50 genetic disorders that affect German shepherds. However, most of these can be prevented via responsible breeding.

The risk and severity of many of the German Shepherd health issues can be reduced by providing them with proper care. Following are the steps which you can take as a dog guardian to reduce the risk of the aforementioned health issues in your dog:

If you are thinking of purchasing a German Shepherd puppy, go for a responsible breeder. Do not go for breeders who run puppy mills. Dogs from puppy mills not only have a series of health problems, they also suffer from a lot of psychological issues like eating poop, drinking urine, and training problems.

Maintaining a proper weight is very essential in the case of German shepherds. A lot of these diseases affect your dog because of obesity. Therefore, always keep a check on your dog’s weight and discuss with your vet if you feel that your dog needs to lose a few kilos/pounds.

Do not overwork your dog till he or she is fully grown. Overworking can’t put a lot of pressure on the joints. Overworking when the dog is still growing can lead to severe bone issues later in your dog's life.

Do not miss out on the daily exercise and outdoor walks. These are crucial not only for your dog's physical health but for your dog's mental health as well

Make sure your dog is properly socialized and vaccinated.

Go for annual or biannual health checkups with your veterinarian.

Provide your dog a high-quality diet and supplements needed according to the breed or health conditions your dog is facing.

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Conclusion


As a dog guardian, the first and foremost thing that you must do is pay attention to your dog. Observe his or her behavior, habits, and keep an eye out for any changes in the same. Dogs are very resilient creatures. If there is a mild problem, your dog will not show it to you. Thus, it is very important that you learn the signs and symptoms of the most common conditions in which your German Shepherd might get affected so that you can get treatment at the earliest possible time.

Do not depend on your vet to diagnose the problem when you go for the check-up every six months or annually because you are the one who sees your dog on a regular basis. It will be easier for you to spot any differences in your dog's behavior compared to the vet who sees your dog maybe twice a year.

In case you notice that there is anything weird or wrong with your dog, discuss it with your vet. It is better to feel safe than sorry especially when it comes to your furry kid.

Acting quickly can improve your dog’s health and give him or her a longer lifespan.

See you in my next blog post
Shruti

Frequently asked questions


Are German Shepherd prone to suffering from health issues?
German Shepherds are purebred dogs. They have a higher risk of suffering from certain genetic and health conditions compare to other dogs. The most common health issues they suffer from are cataracts and dysplasia

What type of health issues does a German Shepherd have?
German Shepherds have been observed to suffer from various medical conditions like

Which is the most common disease observed in German Shepherd?

The most common disease in German Shepherd is hip dysplasia. It is a congenital disorder like elbow dysplasia but hip dysplasia has primary effects on joints. This leads to the malformation of the ball and socket joint which causes hip instability.

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