Saint Bernards are amongst a group of breeds classed as ‘Category Three’ by The Kennel Club. These are breeds of dog that have been highlighted as having visible conditions or conformational issues that can cause pain, discomfort or health issues due to exaggerations. This means that these breeds of dog have been bred over many years to look a certain way but that these changes to the way they look have started to cause them health problems.
Saint Bernards are a member of the ‘Working’ breed group. Working breed dogs were bred to become guard and search and rescue dogs. Breeds in this group are specialists in their work.
Saint Bernards are gentle giants – calm, good-natured dogs that tend to get on well with everyone. Grooming is needed a couple of times per week, and Saint Bernards are well known for their drooling, so cleaning around their face will be needed more regularly.
Breed-related health problems:
Although some of these health problems are manageable, it’s been identified that it’s in the best interests of the dog to try and selectively breed to decrease the characteristics which cause the health problems.
Some of the characteristics and associated health problems you’ll want to know more about in relation to Saint Bernards include:
- Joint disorders – such as elbow dysplasia and hip dysplasia – occur when joints don’t develop correctly and cause degenerative joint disease. Bone and joint problems can be managed but there are schemes to screen your dog and see how likely it is that they will suffer from these joint problems.
- Eyelid problems – such as entropion and ectropion – occur in Saint Bernards due to excessive skin over the face and eyes. This skin causes the eyelids to droop either downwards, or in towards the eye, where the skin rubs and irritates the eye, causing problems.
- Cherry eye – eversion of the nictitating membrane or ‘third eyelid’ generally occurs in younger dogs and can be surgically corrected
- Gastric torsion or Gastric Dilation Volvulus (GDV) – occurs in large, deep chested breeds such as Saint Bernards. The stomach fills with gas (bloat) and can twist around on itself. This most commonly occurs after they have eaten. If your dog shows any signs of bloating, vomiting unproductively (trying to be sick but nothing being produced) or if you are worried they could be bloated you should speak to your vet straight away – this condition requires urgent veterinary attention.
- Dilated cardiomyopathy – is a degeneration of the muscles of the heart meaning the heart wall becomes thinner and less effective at pumping blood around the body. The onset can be sudden so if your Saint Bernard shows any signs of respiratory distress or exercise intolerance you should contact your vet.
- Cancer – Saint Bernards can be more prone to some forms of cancer including bone tumours (osteosarcomas).
- Laryngeal paralysis – occurs in older dogs as the muscles of the larynx or ‘voice box’ become lax which leads to difficulty breathing.
- Panosteitis – a painful, inflammatory bone disease.
- Cataracts – opacity of the lens of the eye – giving a ‘cloudy’ appearance.
For some conditions, there are screening programmes available through the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the Kennel Club. The Canine Health Schemes allow breeders to screen for a range of inherited diseases, so it’s a good idea to check the parents of any puppy you’re looking to rehome have been screened under these schemes. We’d also recommend discussing the medical history of your potential puppy’s parents and grandparents, and think very carefully before taking on a dog with any of the health conditions listed above evident in the family line.
You can find out more about the Canine Health Schemes on the BVA's website.
As adult dogs, Saint Bernards need around an hour of exercise daily but shouldn’t be over-exercised as puppies when their bones and joints are still developing. Training will require patience as they can be quite stubborn, but can be achieved using reward-based techniques. For more information on training your dog, take a look at our dog behaviour page where you can pick up plenty of tips to help you and your canine companion better understand each other.
Estimated lifetime cost:
The likely lifetime costs for a Saint Bernard are based on estimates calculated using current market prices and include:
- Initial costs of the purchase of the pet
- First vaccinations and booster vaccinations
- Pet insurance
- Flea treatments
The list above does not include veterinary costs if your pet becomes sick or injured, so these average lifetime costs could be even higher.
Insure your Saint Bernard with PDSA:
1 in 3 pets need vet treatment each year and vet bills can come to hundreds of pounds. PDSA Pet Insurance can give you peace of mind when your pet is poorly, especially for breeds like Saint Bernards that are prone to certain conditions. PDSA Pet Insurance offers:
- 5 Star Pet Insurance* - from the vet experts
- 4 levels of cover to suit you
- Monthly payment at no extra cost
*Defaqto 5 Star rating applies to our Plus and Premier policies only. Defaqto’s Star Ratings provide an independent assessment of the quality of financial products.
By insuring your Saint Bernard with PDSA you’ll also be helping to provide vet care to some of the UK’s neediest pets.