Each dog breed is predisposed towards their own list of inherited diseases. These diseases are the result of deliberate inbreeding and selective breeding practices. In some cases these health problems occur early on in a dog’s life, while in other cases problems may not be apparent until the dog gets older.
Inherited diseases can affect the heart, brain, kidneys, immune system, blood system and/or the dog’s ability to breathe or walk normally, among many other body systems. Inherited diseases can significantly reduce the quality of a dog’s life, particularly where they cause pain. Unfortunately, in some cases the suffering that results from these inherited diseases is so great, that euthanasia is necessary.
If you are interested in a particular breed, it is important to research which inherited diseases can occur in that breed.
1. Familial Shar Pei fever (FSF)
Familial Shar Pei fever (FSF) is a painful, progressive disease that involves episodes of fever, anorexia, severe joint swelling and severe pain. Dogs may not be able to walk at all during episodes of FSF and some episodes are fatal. As the name would suggest this condition is rife in Shar Peis.
Fucosidosis is an enzyme deficiency/storage disease. As it is a recessively inherited disease, breeding from close relatives greatly increases the risk of puppies inheriting this problem. It causes serious neurological problems such as a lack of coordination, tremors, weakness, difficulty eating, difficulty walking, partial blindness, deafness and anxiety. This disease worsens with age and there is currently no treatment available. This condition is found among English Springer Spaniels.
3. Excessive skin folds/wrinkly skin
Excessive skin folds/wrinkly skin which cause serious skin and eye problems (for example Shar Pei, Pug, British Bulldog, French Bulldog and Pekingese). The skin between the folds is prone to skin infections and inflammation which is painful and irritating for the dog. Excessive skin folds on the face also rub onto the eyes (known as entropion) causing painful eye problems.
4. Abnormally large heads
Abnormally large heads which cause serious birthing difficulties (for example British Bulldog, Pug, and Boston Terrier). The puppy’s abnormally large head can be too big for the mother’s narrow pelvis.
Abnormally small head (miniaturisation) like that of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, which predisposes dogs towards syringomyelia (a painful condition where the dog’s skull is too small for its brain). Any breed with a flat face and/or abnormally small head could potentially be predisposed to this painful condition. Deliberately breeding for a small, ‘cute’ head predisposes dogs to painful health problems.
6. Abnormal body proportions
Abnormal body proportions cause serious spinal problems resulting in pain and difficulty walking. Chondrodystrophicbreeds (for example the Dachshund, Corgi and Basset Hound) have abnormal cartilage, which causes their disproportionally short legs. This abnormal cartilage can lead to intervertebral disc disease which is a common problem for these breeds. Deliberately breeding dogs to have a short stature predisposes them to painful health problems.
8. Flat faces
Very flat faces (brachycephalic) cause serious breathing and eye problems. Brachycephalic breeds such as the Pug, British Bulldog, French Bulldogs and Pekingese, suffer because they have a reduced skull length, but the amount of soft tissue in their airways is not reduced, resulting in the same amount of tissue being squeezed into a smaller area. This tissue obstructs airflow and causes major welfare problems. They are also prone to several eye conditions that tend to lead to chronic irritation and pain. This is because the flatter the face, the shallower the eye socket and the more prominent the eye. Prominent bulging eyes are at greater risk of injury and sometimes they actually pop out of their socket.