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Denali Kennels - Known German Shepherd health concerns

Health disorders (some genetic) seen in GSDs


d = dominant
r = recessive
p = polygenic
% = may not always be genetic
^ = suspected genetic
? = unknown

achalasia (r)
dilated esophagus; vomiting begins at weaning

ankylosis (?)
fusing of vertebrae in tail (or spine) reducing range of motion

aubaortic stenosis (?)

bilateral cataract (d)
opague lens form in both eyes, usually after 2 years

calcium gout (^)
calcium gout, lumps in skin caused by calcium deposits
(calcinosis circumscripta)

cerebellar hypoplasia (^)
abnormal gait and loss of control starting at 12 weeks

chronic pancreatitis (^)
lack of enzymes that digest fat and protein;
chronic weight loss

cleft lip and palate (%)
nonclosure of bones of upper jaw and roof of mouth

corneal dermoid cyst (^)
congenital cyst on eye surface

cryptorchidism (^)
undescended testicle(s)

cystinuria (r)
high cystine in urine; prone to stone formation (males only)

Degenerative Myelopathy
This condition can appear in a young dog, but generally appears at middle age. The degeneration occurs over time, beginning with hind limb weakness. Eventually other weakness can occur, including the lower portion of the esopheogus, which makes complete swallowing difficult and can lead to recurrent pneumonias. Although initial signs resemble hip dysplasia, in actuality, it is the degeneration of the spinal cord rather than hip joints.

diabetes mellitus (r)
onset of insulin deficiency at 2-6 months

distichiasis (^)
extra row of eyelashes irritate eye

ectasia (r)
optic nerve/retina abnormalities (aka "Collie eye")

Elbow Dysplasia (d)
Elbow dysplasia is characterized by an onset of severe lameness at between 4 and 6 months of age. It almost always affects only one of the elbows but occasionally will affect both. There are three different types of elbow dysplasia: UAP (ununited anconeal process), FCP (fractured coronoid process), and OCD (osteochondrosis). OCD more resembles arthritis in the elbow that may or may not be brought on by trauma or looseness of ligamentation at the elbow. Final diagnosis can only be made by radiograph. OFA certifies elbows as well as hips.

eosinophilic colitis (^)
Chronic bouts of diarrhea

eosinophilic myositis (?)
acute, relapsing inflammation of the muscles

epilepsy (r)
This may possibly be genetically transmitted. At the least, the tendency exists in a few lines. The disorder may not express itself until the dog is about three to four years old. There is no way of testing for the disease until the dog has a seizure. (cm)

hemophelia a (r)
(factor VIII deficiency) slowed blood clotting, hemorrhages

hip dysplasia (p)
The hip joint is not constructed properly, usually with a shallow acetabulum. Dysplastic dogs can vary from minor problems to severe dislocation of the hips. This condition is generally considered to be inherited. Breeding stock should be OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) certified (look for an OFA number) or given an "A" certificate if from Germany. (Canada OVC) Current statistics indicate that over 20% of x-rays sent in for OFA certification fail.

Although HD is thought to have a genetic base, pedigree, diet, exercise and so forth can play a role in the extent that the dog exhibits a existing predisposition to HD. Even dogs from long lines of certified parents can still produce HD puppies. The inheritance factor of HD is not fully known. This is why it has so far been impossible to eradicate the condition and why even pups from long lines of certified parents can still have HD. However, pups from generations of certified dogs are less likely to have HD.

intervertebral disc disease (^)
slipped disc, pain, weakness to paralysis of limbs

malabsorption syndrome (^)
inability to absorb digested food leads to starvation

nictitating membrane eversion (r)
third eyelid rolls back; treated surgically

osteochondritis dessicans (^)
growth disorder of shoulder cartilage; pain, lameness (OCD)

pannus (^)
vessels, skin and pigment migrate over eye surface, leading to blindness (Chronic Superficial Keratitis (inflammation)) Pannus is an eye condition in which blood vessels grow onto the cornea. It can lead to blindness if untreated. It is not curable, but is controllable with medication. Some studies suggest an autoimmune problem. (lm)

panosteitis (^)
acute shifting lameness of growing dogs,
deep bone pain,
(Commonly called "long bone disease," "wandering lameness," or simply "pano.") Generally seen between 5-12 months of age, it is caused by excessive bone production on the long bones. Dogs will generally grow out of the problem, but it is a painful condition. Pano is, for unknown reasons, common in GSDs. If the dog is x-rayed during a bout of pano, lesions on the growth plates will be visible. However, pano leaves no lasting ill affects on a dog. Diet is thought to play a role. High protein puppy diets may make the puppy grow too fast and increase the chance of the pup experiencing pano (sometimes described as "growing pains"). Pano is also called "Shifting Leg Lameness" as it can show up in any leg and may come and go without warning. Pups usually completely outgrow Pano by 18 months. Enforced rest is usually prescribed. Painkillers are contraindicated since the pup will play more without pain, and may exacerbate the condition

patent ductus arteriosus (p)
aortal development defect in fetus,
loud heart murmur,
exercise intolerant

perianal fistuala (^)
open draining tracts around anus

peripheral vestibular disease (?)
defect of the middle ear causing puppies to circle
A congenital defect of the middle ear. Puppies will generally circle in an unbalanced way, holding their head back or to one side. Dogs rarely recover, and as afflicted adults, there will still be some head tilt.

pituitary dwarfism (^)
normally proportioned dwarf, mentally retarded, usually fatal

renal cortical hypoplasia (^)
degeneration of both kidneys, beginning at about 1 year

retinal atrophy (^)
(generalized) PRA
retina degenerates causing first night blindness then total blindness

right aortic arch (p)
abnormal artery constricts esophagus, vomiting

soft ears (r)
weak ear musculature
Though all GSDs are born with floppy ears, normal ears will begin to stand erect in the 2nd or 3rd month. Some ears will never develop the musculature to stand erect. This is an inherited recessive trait. Though soft ears primarily affects a dog's showability (hanging ears are a disqualification), soft-eared GSDs are also more prone to ear infections.

spondylosis deformans (^)
spinal arthritis

ununited anchoneal process (d)
elbow dysplasia; pain and limp in front legs

von Willebrand's disease (d)
bleeding disorder
A blood disease that can include mucosal bleeding. It is an inherited dominant condition. Requires clinical blood testing to distinguish it from other conditions. Results of breeding two VWD dogs are lethal. VWD is autosomal and not sex-linked.

NOTE: Although these disorders are found in GSDs, they are not necessarily found only in GSDs, nor are they necessarily common. Though this list may seem a bit intimidating, a good look into any breed will reveal a substantial list of health problems that may be common to that breed. This list shouldn't scare you away from GSDs, rather, it should encourage you to find a reputable breeder who is aware of/knowledgeable about these conditions and does their best to keep their breeding program free of these problems.