Pedigree Dog Health
Dogs come in all shapes and sizes. Sadly, some dogs are more likely to get ill or have problems, simply because of their breed. Pedigree dogs are most likely to have these problems as they are more closely bred than other dogs.
We’d always recommend thinking very carefully before you buy a pedigree dog. It’s a good idea to read up about the breed you’re thinking of getting and finding out about any health problems that could crop up later in their life.
If you’re thinking about getting a pedigree dog, visit our dog breeds pages where we’ve put together information about each breed of dog.
What is a ‘Pedigree’ dog?
If your puppy’s parents are the same breed of dog, your puppy is a pure breed, but not necessarily a pedigree. A pedigree dog will have parents who are the same breed but they will also be eligible for registration under a pedigree scheme. There are a few schemes but the Kennel Club registration scheme is the most well known.
If your dog’s parents were two different breed they will be a cross breed. A mix of three of more breeds makes your dog a mixed breed (eg. if one parent is a cross breed and the other parent is a different breed). Mixed breed dogs are less likely to have serious, breed-related health problems than pedigree dogs.
The problem with pedigree
Over thousands of years, humans have bred dogs to look or behave in a certain way. For some dogs this means that their features have become exaggerated, like flat-face on a Pug or the wrinkly skin of a Shar Pei. Unfortunately, some of these changes to the way they look have caused serious health issues.
Exaggerated features that can cause serious health problems include:
- Long backs (e.g. Dachshund). These dogs are likely to suffer from painful disc problems affecting their spine.
- Short legs (e.g. Corgi). This is caused by a form of dwarfism which makes arthritis likely.
- Sloping backs (e.g. German Shepherd). This makes lower back, hip and knee problems more likely.
- Extreme size (e.g. Great Dane). These dogs are more likely to suffer from heart disease, bone and joint problems. They’re likely to have a shorter lifespan.
- Very small size (e.g. Chihuahua) These dogs can have fragile bones and poor dental health, as well as hip and knee problems.
- Wrinkly or excessive skin (e.g. Shar Pei). Wrinkly faces mean that these dogs can struggle to communicate using normal facial expressions. The folds of skin are also prone to infections.
- Very small ears (e.g. Shar Pei) The inside of the ear is incredibly narrow meaning ear infections are more likely.
- Very large ears (e.g. Basset Hound). The inside of the ear can get very moist which makes ear infections more likely. These long ears can easily be accidentally trodden on which is very painful for the poor dog!
- Droopy eyelids (e.g. Bloodhounds). These make eye infections more likely and these dogs sometimes produce too many tears which can cause soreness around their eyes.
- Very large heads (e.g. Bulldogs) The puppy’s large heads make natural births very difficult and lots of litters have to be born by caesarean section.
- Small heads (e.g. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel). A smaller skull puts pressure on the brain causing severe pain and sensitivity in head and neck (called Syringomyelia).
Flat faces (e.g. Pug, Bulldog, French Bulldog). These dogs have squashed noses which causes breathing difficulties. The shape of their skull means their eyes often bulge out of the eye sockets. They often struggle in hot weather and with exercise.
- Lack of fur (e.g. Chinese Crested). These dogs have difficulty controlling their body temperature and often have skin problems.
- Too much fur (e.g. Hungarian Puli). All that extra fur means these dogs are more likely to overheat, especially in centrally heated houses. Extra hair on their face can also make it difficult for them to see properly.
- Domed heads (e.g. Chihuahua). They’re more likely to suffer from a brain condition called hydrocephalus.
- Very short tails. Short tails can lead to problems with the spine. It also stops the dog from communicating naturally with its tail.
- Cork Screw tails (e.g. Pug, Bulldog). These dogs can suffer from Spina Bifida (where the bones of the spine don’t form properly) and other back problems. It also stops the dog from communicating naturally with its tail.
These issues can be very painful for your dog and can even put their life in danger. Treatment might mean your pet needs an operation which is difficult for both you and your dog. Managing these lifelong conditions can also be really expensive – which can come as a shock to owners who weren’t expecting their pet to need treatment.
If you’re thinking about buying one of these dogs, speak to your vet first to find out more about the conditions they might face.
Some breeds are so much more likely to suffer from health problems that they’ve been classed as ‘Category Three’ breeds by the Kennel Club. This means they face serious health problems that owners need to be aware of and prepared for. These breeds are:
- Basset Hound
- Chow Chow
- Dogue de Bordeaux
- German Shepherd Dog
- Neapolitan Mastiff
- St. Bernard
- Shar Pei
Other dogs not on this list also have breed-related health problems, so it’s important to do your research before committing to getting a certain breed of dog.
If you’re thinking of buying one of these breeds of dogs there are some steps you can take to make sure your dog is as healthy as possible.
First of all, choose a breeder who has health tested your puppy’s parents. This health test will show if the parents have any problems they might pass on to their puppies.
You can also look at the parents and the puppy for any signs of health problems. Check that:
- They can breathe normally and have no signs of breathing problems, like heavy panting or snorting.
- Muzzles of flat-faced dogs should be as long as possible.
- They are bright and responsive to you.
- They don’t have lots of loose skin on their face, head or body.
- There is no evidence skin disease, such as rashes or sores. Check any skin folds, too.
- Their eyes are in a normal position, are a normal shape and they can blink properly.
- Eyelids shouldn’t be too droopy and there shouldn’t be lots of tear staining or wetness around the eyes.
- Their ears are not overly long.
- Their body and skin are high enough off the ground because they don’t have tiny legs.
- They can walk normally and their joints look normal.
- Their teeth bite together correctly and their lips are in a normal position over their teeth.
- They do not have a nervous temperament.
- They are not overweight.
Help for pedigree pets
If you’re worried your dog could be displaying any of these problems or you’re thinking about getting a pedigree dog and want more information, speak to your vet. They’ll be able to give you more information about these potential health problems.
If you're thinking of getting a pedigree, read our vets' advice on choosing a healthier member of the breed.
Advice for owners
Do you own a flat-faced dog? Here's some advice form our vets about how you can maintain their health and the treatments available to help them breathe more easily.