German Shepherd Dogs are one of the most popular and sought after breeds. German Shepherd health issues are common and as a GSD owner you need to be aware of them. Almost every year, the GSD makes the AKC’s list of the most popular breeds. This is not surprising. They are consistently loyal, courageous, confident, eager to learn, and willing to protect their people. But sometimes the German Shepherd has to deal with numerous health issues common to the breed. Reputable and responsible breeders can help prevent some of these health perils, but the breed can still be susceptible to them.
History Behind the German Shepherd Health Issues
The German Shepherd breed had a lot of inbreeding early on and throughout some of their histories. This gave way to many health problems with the breed. Of course, every potential German Shepherd health problem isn’t related just to the inbreeding that has occurred. Some of the common health problems are due to the size of the dogs and the types of work they may do, and partly, just because they are dogs.
Common German Shepherd Health Concerns
Of course, your German shepherd is not going to develop all of these health conditions. Generally speaking, they may have to deal with one or two of them because of the propensity of developing them among the breed. The best way to protect your beloved pet from having these or at least minimizing their effect is to take exceptionally good care of the dog. Maintaining routine visits to the vet can help prevent most German Shepherd health issues or lessen the effects through early intervention.
German Shepherds and Hip Dysplasia
The most common German Shepherd health issue is hip dysplasia. Other breeds may get this problem too, but it’s likely to be a problem with large-breed dogs like the GS. German Shepherds often have hip dysplasia when a breeder isn’t focused on the health of the litter. Dogs who already have this health issue are not supposed to be bred. However, some breeders ignore what is right and continue to breed anyway. This creates litters of GS dogs with the same problem. For the dog, it can mean a lot of pain because the hip is malformed. When a German Shepherd is fed too much, worked too hard, or injured at a young age, it can cause lasting damage to their hips.
German Shepherd Elbow Dysplasia
Just like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia is a congenital condition affecting mostly large breed dogs. When a Shepherd has a long line of ancestors that have been poorly bred, they may have this health issue with their elbow instead of with the hip. This common German Shepherd health issue may be mild, but oftentimes it is severe. Even in milder cases, the dog may have difficulty walking. An ethical breeder will make sure neither parent suffers from elbow dysplasia before breeding them. Once the GSD has elbow dysplasia, there isn’t a lot that can be done except try to keep the dog pain-free as long as it is possible.
Bloat or GDV (Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus)
When a dog has medium or short hair, this condition is visible. However, with the GS, their fur is so long and thick the bloating is hidden. GDV usually occurs when the dog eats too much too fast, and then plays or works too hard. Gas can build up in their stomach, and they cannot relieve the gas normally. The pressure caused by bloating can make it hard for the dog to breathe and their body can actually go into shock.
You may have seen a dog eating grass or trying to vomit but can’t. Bloating is usually the problem. If your dog has GDV, they need to go to the vet immediately. This is a serious issue and can be life-threatening. However, it can be prevented by making sure the dog doesn’t get fed too much at once. Feeding them three smaller meals a day rather than one large one can help prevent it from occurring.
German Shepherd Epilepsy
This is a common condition in humans, but not so much with dogs. However, many pet lovers discover their GSD has a seizure disorder. This can be somewhat ironic since the GSD is often trained to detect seizures in humans. Epilepsy is a genetic disorder, and there is no cure. But there numerous medications can help manage symptoms. Keeping the dog out of stressful situations and living comfortably with their family can help prevent seizures. Please note that a GSD with epilepsy is often not able to be trained to do shows due to the high-stress nature of the event.
German Shepherd Hemophilia
Another common German Shepherd health issue is hemophilia. This is a blood condition in which the blood is not able to clot properly. GS dogs who are the result of long lines of inbreeding might be born with this condition. When the blood fails to clot properly, a small cut can turn into a serious issue and a small bump that bruises may be critical. Even though hemophilia isn’t the most common of all the German Shepherd health issues, it is more common with the GSD than with other breeds. There isn’t a cure for hemophilia, but with the proper care, the dog can still live a long and happy life. It’s important to get any bumps or bruises checked out quickly and taking extra care when exercising the dog, so it doesn’t get hurt.
German Shepherd Diabetes
German Shepherds are medium to large breed dogs, and due to their large size, they tend to overeat. This can lead to diabetes, which is pretty common for GS dogs. They have symptoms similar to human symptoms, including,fatigue, excessive thirst, dry mouth, swelling feet, and urinating excessively. Sometimes, the dog has diabetes from birth, but some develop the condition later in life. Even if you feed and exercise them properly, they may still get diabetes as it is a common German Shepherd health issue. If your GSD does develop it, the vet can prescribe daily insulin to help.
Cataracts are one of the most common German Shepherd health issues as they are prone to develop them. Usually, it’s pretty obvious when they start occurring. Typically you may notice when the dog begins having a cloudy look in their affected eyes. An owner may also start to notice their dog is not able to navigate spaces like he was once able to do. The GS may start to run into items they used to be able to avoid. Cataracts can make it very difficult for the dog to see. Surgery sometimes helps restore their site.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Like other large animals, including humans, German Shepherds often have trouble with their spines, particularly as they age. Some lines of GS dogs are more prone to developing issues than others. Reputable breeders avoid breeding dogs with known issues because they can pass it on to offspring. The best time to check a dog for degenerative disc disease is when they are young. Since it is genetic and degenerative, there isn’t much that can be done in the way of prevention. However, there are some things that can be done to keep it from getting worse. Getting early treatment, a proper diet, and good exercise can help treat the issue.
Veterinarians often call this condition “Pano,” but it’s also known as wandering lameness. A GSD usually shows signs of Panosteitis when they are between five and 14 months old. It’s often misdiagnosed as just growing pains. Usually, the dog begins limping on one leg. The condition is detectable by x-ray. It is not permanent, and it is not congenital. Since the GSD is a larger breed, they grow quickly into adult size. Usually, the dog grows out of it by the time they are between 18 months and two years old. If your dog doesn’t seem to grow out of it, a veterinarian should check them as it might be another type of illness.
One of the most common German Shepherd health issues is allergies. As a matter of fact, the GSD is more susceptible to allergies than most other breeds. They can be allergic to any number of things from grass to pollen or a certain type of food. Some of the most common allergies are gluten, rice, corn, and chicken. Of course, every Shepherd is not allergic to all of these, and some will not have allergies at all. One way to tell if your dog is suffering from allergies is if their skin is red and irritated. They may also start itching a lot. Your vet can start the dog on an allergy regimen and recommend medication that will help provide them some relief.
Thyroid problems are a common German Shepherd health issue. The breed has difficulty maintaining proper endocrine levels for some reason. You can prevent this from becoming a life-threatening condition by having your GS tested regularly. Your vet will probably offer suggestions on the frequency of testing to ensure it is caught in a timely manner if it occurs.
Unfortunately, the GSD is prone to developing urinary stones, which can be very uncomfortable for the dog. They can be very difficult for a dog to pass too. If they are not treated soon enough, they can cause other problems, including chronic kidney and bladder problems. Usually, urine is acidic enough to break up this buildup of crystalline material in the dog’s bladder. However, some dog’s urine doesn’t dissolve this matter, and a “stone” builds up. They sometimes need to be removed surgically. There are some types of specially formulated foods that help reduce the chances of developing bladder stones. Check with your vet about feeding your pet a special formula to help prevent the development of bladder or kidney stones.
Urinary Tract Infection
UTIs or urinary tract infections vary in dogs just like they do in humans. Basically, a UTI occurs when bacteria enters the urinary tract through the genitals. There are several other factors that may contribute to the development of this type of infection, including:
- When the immune system’s response is lowered, bacteria are more likely to thrive once it has entered the urethra.
- When dogs come into contact with another dog’s feces, they may be prone to bacteria entering the urethra.
- Residue or debris that comes into contact with the dog’s genitals can cause a urinary tract infection if the substance contains infectious bacteria.
There are a number of symptoms associated with UTIs. Here are a few signs you need to take your GSD to the vet for treatment of this common German Shepherd health issue.
- Blood in the dog’s urine
- If you notice they seem to be uncomfortable or in pain when urinating
- Sensitivity in the region of their genitals
- If they become unable to hold pee or if they start dribbling
- A change in urine color
- If their urine becomes cloudy or contains residue
Dental Health Issues
Gum infections and issues with their teeth are common German Shepherd health issues. To prevent dental health problems, start brushing their teeth when they are young. That way, they will be used to it. Proper dental care and a healthy diet can help prevent most dental health issues. Feeding your GS hard food can help prevent plaque from building up, and you won’t need to brush as often as you need to if they eat softer foods.
Before you start to brush your GSDs teeth, be sure they are comfortable with your hands being near their face. If they are comfortable with it, start opening their mouth and touching their teeth a little at a time. This might take a few days, or even a week or two. Move slowly to ensure your GS isn’t too uncomfortable with you, and that you are not moving too fast for them. Once they are used to your touch, start brushing their teeth a little at a time. You can find a doggie toothbrush at any local pet store. They also have special toothpaste for canines. You can also just use water to brush their teeth. Your vet will be able to provide some guidance on what is best to use for your dog.
Unfortunately, cancer is among the most common German Shepherd health issues. This is particularly true as the GS ages. A few of the cancers they are most susceptible to include:
- Melanoma: Developing skin cancer is fairly common with the German Shepherd breed.
- Lymphoma: Because they are susceptible to endocrine issues, the GSD is prone to cancers in the lymph system.
- Adenocarcinomas/Leiomyosarcomas: Gastric and stomach related cancers are common for the GS breed. Liver and bladder issues are indicators of these types of cancers.
- Bone Tumors: Osteosarcoma, or tumors in the bones, can occur in any area of the body. However, it most commonly occurs in elbows, hips, and knees of GS dogs. These are the areas they are more likely to have issues.
When the pancreas becomes inflamed, pancreatitis occurs. It might happen just once during your dog’s lifetime, but it can happen more than once. Most often, it occurs due to environmental issues. When dogs have a diet too high in fat, then pancreatitis can develop. If your GSD has numerous bouts of pancreatitis, talk to your vet about how to prevent it. Sometimes, it’s a matter of changing their diets. Another stomach related issue common to the GS breed is EPI or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.
Tips on Ways to Keep Your German Shepherd Healthy
Most domestic breeds of dogs have their own health quirks. The GSD has theirs too. Sometimes you just can’t tell which of the health conditions a dog will develop over time. Other times you get some clues early on. Your GSD is not likely to suffer from all of these conditions, of course. They may not suffer from any of them. It is important to be aware of each of them so you can watch out for potential health issues with your German Shepherd. While you cannot always prevent every condition, there are a few ways you can help your dog feel their best and be as healthy as possible.
Ensure Your German Shepherd Maintains a Healthy Weight
As your German Shepherd grows, monitoring its weight is important. Your vet will be able to tell you what their ideal healthy weight is as they mature. They should look healthy and not spindly. A GSD who maintains a healthy weight will look like they are muscularly fit and nimble. If you notice any sudden changes in their weight, have a vet examine them as soon as possible. It’s important that your Shepherd is neither under nor over their ideal weight range.
Don’t Work Your German Shepherd Too Early
The German Shepherd breed is a medium to large breed dog. This means they will mature at a slower rate than smaller dogs. Avoid pushing them into heavy work too quickly as it can impact their joints. Since they mature slowly, their joints and bones can continue developing up to about two years of age. Avoiding heavy work while they are still young can protect their joints.
Regular exercise can help prevent some of the most common German Shepherd health issues. Maintaining a routine is good for the German Shepherd’s demeanor and attitude. Plus, regular exercise helps them stay in good shape and maintain a healthy weight.
Know the Signs of Bloat in German Shepherds
One of the German Shepherd health issues that can turn fatal is bloat and the GSD is very susceptible. Educate yourself on the causes of bloat as well as the signs and symptoms. Knowing what to watch for can ensure you catch bloat early if it occurs. Early treatment can be most effective and increase their chances of survival.
Responsible German Shepherd Breeders Only
Make sure to do adequate research before obtaining your GS puppy. A responsible breeder will health test their dogs and avoid breeding dogs with known health issues, especially signs of genetic ones. They should also be a knowledgeable source about the GS breed.
Regular check-ups with the vet are important for all breeds of dogs. However, due to the seriousness of common German Shepherd health issues, it’s especially important to maintain regular checkups with your vet. The vet will be able to track and monitor the health of your GSD. They can also keep your dog up-to-date with x-rays of critical joints. Regular checkups and monitoring can help prevent many health issues and minimize the effects of others.
German Shepherd Food Selection
Choose your German Shepherd’s food wisely. Your vet can offer guidance on the type of food that’s best for your dog as they mature. They can advise on food for the growth stage of your dog. Every dog is not the same, and there isn’t a “right” food to match every dog. Talk to your vet for help choosing the right food for your dog at each stage.
The coat of the GSD is thick and dark. During the hotter months, the GSD is more likely to overheat. Always keep water available for them so they can stay hydrated. Also, when the temperatures get warmer, make sure shade and cool air are available to them.
Caring for Your German Shepherd
When it’s all said and done, the GSD is a fantastic, resilient dog. Their average life span is over 10 years. Even if they face a health issue, they usually adapt well and live through any complications. Even though this list of German Shepherd health issues may seem a bit daunting, please remember that just because the conditions are listed here doesn’t mean your GSD will develop any of them. If they are well-cared for, you have a great chance at raising a healthy, loving GS. By staying diligent with their care, you increase their chances of living complication-free.
Feeding your German shepherd the right amount of high-quality food and regular exercise can go a long way toward helping them maintain a healthy life. Being aware of signs and symptoms of health issues is essential to getting them the treatment they need if it is needed. The German Shepherd is still a popular breed. They have great personalities and energy, so enjoy this popular breed!