Five common problems in Pedigree Dogs

Five common problems in Pedigree Dogs

Health and welfare problems in pedigree dogs can arise as a result of the deliberate selection for exaggerated physical features or as a result of inherited disease. While some of the following problems can occur in any breed, cross breed or mixed breed dogs, purebred pedigree dogs are at greater risk and appear to be over-represented clinically. This is mainly due to traditional breeding practices.

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Difficulty breathing

Some breeds of pedigree dogs with very short muzzles (termed brachycephalic) can have difficulty breathing due to a disorder known as brachycephalic airway obstruction syndrome (BAOS). In these dogs the skull length is reduced, but the amount of soft tissue in the muzzle is not, resulting in the same amount of tissue being squeezed into a smaller area. This characteristic has been deliberately selected in order to conform to the breed standard.

Dogs with BAOS usually have small and narrow nostril openings and elongated soft palates that hang down into the airway, both of which make breathing difficult. BAOS may be progressive with laryngeal and tracheal collapse occurring at later stages. Some dogs require surgery to alleviate their breathing difficulties and to try to improve their quality of life.

Responsible breeders do not breed from animals with serious breathing difficulties.

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Difficulty giving birth

Certain pedigree breeds frequently have difficulty giving birth without surgical intervention (termed obstructive dystocia). Individuals of these breeds are deliberately selected for a large head, broad shoulders and narrow pelvis simultaneously, which results in a large foetal head: maternal pelvis ratio. This is known as cephalopelvic disproportion and means that the pup's head and shoulders are too large to fit through the mother's pelvic canal. Bitches with this problem cannot give birth safely without veterinary assistance in the form of a Caesarean section.

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Difficulty walking

Certain pedigree breeds have been selectively bred for physical features that can lead to walking difficulties.

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A condition in which the cartilage grows and matures abnormally and the long bones fuse faster than normal, leading to stunted growth. Chondrodystrophic breeds are actively selected for this abnormality, which results in disproportionately short and curved limbs. These breeds have an increased likelihood of spinal injury, not only due to their excessively long spinal columns and excessively short legs but also because their abnormal cartilage makes them susceptible to ruptured discs (termed Intervertebral disc disease). When the spinal disc ruptures it puts direct pressure on the spinal cord, causing extreme pain and potential neurological problems.


Hip dysplasia

The abnormal formation of the hip joint - probably the most commonly recognised musculoskeletal problem in dogs.

Elbow dysplasia

The abnormal formation of the elbow joint.

Serious Eye Problems

Pedigree dogs are predisposed to a number of serious eye diseases, many of which are the result of selectively breeding for a particular physical type in order to conform to the breed standard. Three common problems are corneal trauma and ulceration, entropion and progressive retinal atrophy.

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Corneal trauma and ulceration

An erosion of the outer surface of the eye following injury. Breeds with very short muzzles (brachycephalic) have a high susceptibility for corneal trauma and ulceration. This is because the shorter the nose, the shallower the eye socket, and thus the more prominent the eye. Prominent, bulging eyes are at greater risk of injury and sometimes the eyes can proptose (pop out of the eye socket). In these breeds the eyelids cannot close properly over the bulging eye leading to dry eye and potential ulceration.


A condition where the eyelids fold inwards and rub onto the surface of the eye. This condition occurs frequently in those breeds that have been selected for wrinkled facial features (excessive skin fold about the eyes). These folds also predispose the dog to facial fold dermatitis.

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)

The term given to a group of genetic eye diseases that cause the retina to gradually degenerate. The result is progressive loss of vision and eventual blindness. In nearly all breeds the condition is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait, thus breeding from close relatives greatly increases the risk of inheriting this disease.

Certain pedigree breed clubs in Australia acknowledge predispositions for inherited eye disease in their breeds and proactively engage in sound breeding practices to eradicate these disorders.

Serious Skin Problems

Many pedigree breeds are predisposed toward the development of serious skin problems, many of which are the result of selectively breeding for a particular physical type in accordance with the breed standard requirements. Two examples of serious skin problems are: excessive skin folds and inherited allergies.

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Excessive skin folds

Many breed standards require that the dog have excessive and wrinkled skin. Unfortunately this excess skin leads to folding and subsequent inflammation and infection.

Inherited allergies

Certain pedigree dog breeds are predisposed to major skin allergies that can severely compromise quality of life.

Dogs that are selectively bred for extra-long ears that hang over their ear openings (e.g. American Cocker Spaniel, English Springer Spaniel, Basset Hound, Poodle etc) are also predisposed to ear infections as the covered ear canals can become abnormally hot and humid (perfect breeding grounds for bacterial and yeast infections). The Shar Pei is also prone to ear infections due to their excessively narrow ear canals, with some requiring ear surgery to open the canal.