It’s no secret that purebred dogs are susceptible to certain health conditions. Over years of selective breeding, desirable physical traits become genetically intertwined with less favorable disposition towards medical issues.
According to the American Kennel Club, as many as one in four purebred dogs suffers from inherited conditions or conformational flaws impacting wellness.
And while those statistics are concerning, some breeds tend to face even higher rates of chronic health problems. According to veterinary experts, hereditary conditions and anatomical susceptibilities predispose particular breeds to a range of conditions affecting quality of life.
With those surprising statistics in mind, we asked a veterinarian about the dog breeds most likely to face health issues.
Dr. Shahzaib Wahid brings his passion for animal care and pet owner education to his role as Associate Veterinarian at an animal clinic in Islamabad, Pakistan. With a degree in Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Wahid enjoys using his experience to advise pet owners on keeping their furry friends happy and healthy.
According to Dr. Wahid, here are the 10 dog breeds most prone to health problems throughout their lives.
10. Labrador Retriever
America’s most popular dog breed for years running, the lovable Labrador Retriever has won hearts for attributes like friendly temperament, trainability, and versatility. Originally from Newfoundland where they worked as water dogs retrieving fishing nets and ducks, Labs maintain high energy perfect for active households.
While their enduring popularity indicates many fine traits, Labrador Retrievers also top the list for health problems plaguing the breed. As Dr. Wahid notes:
“Labrador Retrievers are prone to a genetic condition called Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC). This condition causes the dog to lose control over their hind limbs during periods of intense exercise. They are also susceptible to obesity, skin issues and are more likely to develop cancer.”
9. German Shepherd
Known for intelligence, loyalty, and versatility as working dogs, German Shepherds are a popular breed that originated as herding sheepdogs in Germany. They maintain high energy suited for police work, military service, search and rescue, and other demanding jobs.
Unfortunately, selective breeding for large size, angulation of rear legs, and a sloped back has led to a number of health issues for German Shepherds according to Dr. Wahid:
“German Shepherds are known to inherit hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. Hip dysplasia occurs when the hip joint doesn’t develop correctly, leading to pain, lameness, and arthritis. Moreover, deep chested breeds like German Shepherds also carries the risk of developing Gastric Dilation and Volvulus (GDV) a life threatening disorder that causes endotoxemia if not resolved.”
8. Saint Bernard
The friendly and lovable Saint Bernard hails from the Swiss and Italian Alps, where the large powerful breed historically rescued stranded travelers. Once utilized by mountain hospices, the Saint Bernard makes for a gentle and patient family pet.
However, Dr. Wahid indicates the breed’s sheer size comes with health consequences:
“St. Bernards are susceptible to cardiomyopathy (heart disease) and bone cancer in old age, also prone to develop arthritis (inflammation of joints). These dogs should be monitored for exercise intolerance or signs like difficult respiration and coughing.”
7. English Bulldog
The wrinkly yet wonderfully endearing English Bulldog originated from a now extinct old English bulldog utilized for bull baiting in the 1800s. Squat and sturdy, this medium energy breed thrives as a gentle companion.
In addition to their propensity for obesity, according to Dr. Wahid, the English Bulldog’s iconic squashed physique causes numerous health issues:
“English Bulldogs are predisposed to Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome due to their short snout. Hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia are also common.”
Bred to tenaciously hunt badgers with their low long bodies, Dachshunds gained popularity as family dogs full of spunk and personality. Their diminutive legs and elongated figure require moderated exercise to avoid stress on their vertebrae.
As Dr. Wahid explains, this unique anatomy makes them prone to specific problems:
“Owing to their cylindrical anatomy of back, Dachshunds are prone to develop Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD), a degenerative spinal condition in which vertebrae discs slips and put pressure on the nerves causing pain.”
5. West Highland Terrier
Initially bred to hunt vermin in Scotland, the lively West Highland White Terrier, commonly called a “Westie,” makes for a delightful companion pet despite its feisty hunting roots.
One of the most stubborn dog breeds, Westies require ample exercise and mental stimulation.
According to Dr. Wahid, their genetic makeup predisposes Westies to varied health issues:
“Westies are prone to a range of skin conditions like allergies, pruritus and orthopedic issues like luxation of patella and hipbone atrophy. Moreover, digestive issues like Inflammatory Bowel disease and Pancreatitis are also reported in this breed.”
The playful Pug has endeared itself as a family companion breed originating as lapdogs for Chinese emperors. With a wrinkly face and large, expressive eyes, the even-tempered Pug fits well in urban environments.
However, Dr. Wahid indicates their squashed muzzles cause considerable health struggles:
“Pugs are susceptible to respiratory issues due to their Brachycephalic flat face and narrow nasal passages. They often get obese and have poor thermogenesis. Moreover, they are prone to eye problems like cataracts, cherry eye, corneal ulcers and dry eye.”
3. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
This graceful and elegant small breed descends from King Charles Spaniels popularized as lapdogs among European nobility in the 16th and 17th centuries. The sweet, gentle Cavalier makes for a friendly companion and family dog.
However, Dr. Wahid notes considerable prevalence of heart disease among the breed:
“Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are predisposed to develop mitral valve disease and therefore has an increase incidence of congestive heart failure. These dogs should be monitored for exercise intolerance or signs like difficult respiration and coughing.”
2. Cocker Spaniel
The cheerful and eager-to-please Cocker Spaniel, originally bred as hunting dogs for woodcock game in the 19th century, now enjoys massive popularity as a doting companion pet. With glossy fur and soulful eyes, Cockers make devoted family dogs despite some predispositions.
As Dr. Wahid notes, their long furry ears pose particular issues:
“Due to their long floppy ears, Cocker Spaniels are prone to ear infections particularly otitis media. Moreover, they develop several eye conditions.”
1. Basset Hound
Originally bred in France to slowly stalk rabbit and hare, the Basset Hound moves with a peaceful, ambling gait. Their droopy features and soulful eyes endear them as easygoing and patient pets ideally suited to families.
However, Dr. Wahid indicates that the characteristics that make Bassets so mellow also lead to health issues:
“Basset hounds are predisposed to a serious condition called Canine Von Willebrand Disease, caused by a deficiency of Von Willebrand factor that is necessary for platelet adhesion to form clot, signs include spontaneous bleeding from nose, mouth, urinary and intestinal tract. Moreover, these dogs develop joint issues like luxation, and digestive issues like bloating.”
Prioritizing Preventative Care
While the breeds mentioned certainly have increased genetic risk for health issues, dedicated pet owners can take proactive steps to maximize their dogs’ wellbeing.
Regular vet checks, ideal body condition scores, high quality nutrition, exercise moderation, joint supplements, and prompt treatment all help mitigate risk. Monitoring for early signs of breed-associated conditions allows for quicker interventions.
Additionally, reputable breeders aiming to better the breed should screen sire and dam candidates for inherited diseases and only breed the healthiest stock.
By understanding the predisposed conditions in at-risk breeds, we as pet owners and dog lovers can become advocates for their future healthy profile through selective, responsible breeding and preventative care.