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The 6 Most Common Inherited Diseases In Dogs

Written by: Dina Fantegrossi
Dina Fantegrossi is the Assistant Editor and Head Writer for HomeLife Media. Before her career in writing, Dina was a veterinary technician for more than 15 years.Read more
| Published on July 18, 2017

Whether your dog is purebred or a “Heinz 57” mixed breed, knowing which genetic conditions he or she is predisposed to can empower you to prepare for or even prevent a veterinary crisis.

For example, dogs with elongated spines and short limbs, like Dachshunds and Corgis, are more likely to suffer from back injuries and disc problems. Restricting them from jumping can help avert disastrous injuries.

The following conditions are the most common inherited diseases veterinarians diagnose in dogs.

1. Hip Dysplasia

Labradors, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Bulldogs, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, and Mastiffs are among the purebred dogs with a propensity for hip dysplasia, but mixed breed dogs often develop this painful condition as well.

The hip is a ball-and-socket joint. When healthy, the head of the femur (the “ball”) should fit inside the acetabulum of the pelvis (the “socket”). In dogs with hip dysplasia, the two aspects of the joint do not properly meet, causing the joint to rub and grind instead of slide smoothly during activity.

Dogs with hip dysplasia may show signs of pain or difficulty when running, walking, getting up, laying down, going up and down stairs, and jumping on or off furniture. The condition can sometimes be managed with weight control, pain medications, and physical therapy, but many dogs require surgery in order to live comfortably.

Dog lovers can minimize the damage by ensuring that at-risk dogs maintain a healthy weight. Also, never purchase a puppy genetically prone to hip dysplasia unless the parents have been certified by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA).

2. Bladder Stones

Bladder stones appear frequently in purebred Dalmations, Newfoundlands, Bichon Frises and Miniature Schnauzers, but any dog can develop these potentially dangerous mineral clusters. Some dogs show absolutely no symptoms of bladder stones, while others present with urinary accidents, straining to urinate, attempting to urinate without producing, bloody or dark colored urine, and licking the penis or vulva.

The stones are formed by a collection of mineral crystals and debris. A veterinarian can diagnose the presence of stones with X-rays or ultrasound and determine the type of stones through urinalysis. Some bladder stones may be treated with a therapeutic diet and antibiotics, while others require surgical removal.

Dogs with a predisposition for bladder stones are at risk for developing them again at any time in life. Vets recommend long-term therapeutic diets, filtered water and periodic check-ups to monitor the problem.

3. Epilepsy

Ideopathic epilepsy is the term used for recurring seizures with an unknown cause. It is difficult to diagnose in dogs because we cannot be with them every minute, and they can’t report seizure activity that we fail to witness.

While seizures can be caused by heat stroke, drug reactions, poisoning, organ failure, or any variety of other problems, research has shown that it can also be an inheritable trait. German Shepherds, Beagles, Belgian Tervurens, Keeshonds, Dachshunds, Labs, and Golden Retrievers are the most commonly reported breeds for idiopathic epilepsy.

Anti-convulsive drugs are used to prevent the cells in the brain from becoming overly excited. There is no cure for epilepsy and no way to prevent it, but drug therapy can minimize the frequency and severity of the seizures.

4. Heart Disease

There are several dog breeds that are known for their propensity towards different heart conditions including Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Dachshunds, Dobermans, Great Danes, Boxers and Bulldogs. Although the symptoms of each particular disease vary, common signs of cardiac distress include coughing, weakness, poor appetite, abdominal distention, difficulty breathing, collapse, fainting and even sudden death.

Educate yourself on the heart problems your breed may face, watch for signs and symptoms, and seek veterinary attention when necessary.

5. Degenerative Myelopathy

German Shepherds are the breed most commonly associated with Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), but the American Water Spaniel, Bernese Mountain Dog, Boxer, Borzoi, Cardigan Welsh and Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Kerry Blue Terrier, and Pug are also known to develop this devastating problem.

DM is a neurological condition most often seen in middle-aged and senior dogs. The myelin sheaths covering the nerve fibers slowly degenerate causing nerve signal transmissions to fail within the mid-to-lower spinal cord. This results in symptoms like weakness and wobbliness in the hind end, dragging of the back paws, inability to stand and even paralysis.

There is no cure for DM and since the disease is progressive, most dogs end up losing control of their hindquarters and developing problems with mobility and incontinence. Nerve degeneration from DM is not painful for the dog, but it can be heartbreaking and very labor intensive for owners to care for them as their condition declines.

6. Brachycephalic Syndrome

Squishy-faced dogs like the English Bulldog, French Bulldog, Boston Terrier, Pug, Pekingese, Shih Tzu and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are certainly adorable, but those short heads can be the source of several problems in brachycephalic pups.

Brachycephalic dogs are known for their signature snorts, but their noisy breathing sounds and night-time snoring are actually indicators of potentially serious genetic respiratory problems. They are often born with elongated soft palates, narrowed nostrils, everted laryngeal saccules, and narrowed tracheas.

All of these issues predispose brachycephalic dogs to exercise intolerance, collapse and heat stroke. Luckily, most can be repaired – or at least improved – with surgery. In addition to breathing problems, these dogs also tend to suffer from dental issues, skin issues and eye problems.


H/T to PetMD

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