German Shepherd health problems
Murray the German Shepherd (Photo: murray_thegsd / Instagram)
helloBARK! staff
By helloBARK! staff
Updated on April 18, 2019

German Shepherds are beautiful and powerful dogs.

However, the German breed is susceptible to a number of genetic disorders.

The health problems that can often affect the breed could be a consideration before you decide to bring home a GSD.

Indiscriminate breeding practices are thought to have contributed to some of the health issues these dogs face.

Conditions such as elbow and hip dysplasia are common and are a result of persistent inbreeding.

Other conditions can be a result of their labour, with these dogs often used in working roles.

Let’s take a brief look at the history of the German Shepherd before examining some of the common health issues.

Introduction to German Shepherd

The German Shepherd, or Deutscher Schäferhund as they are known in their native homeland, have been in existence as a breed for almost 120 years.

A retired German military captain called Max von Stephanitz started the breeding of GSD at the end of the 19th century.

In search of his perfect working dog, Von Stephanitz came across the ideal candidate to start his desired breed.

He found Hektor Linksrhein at a dog show in Germany in 1899. He bought what would be the founding member of the breed and renamed him Horand von Grafrath.

Horand provided the genetic basis for the GSD breed – unsurprisingly he was at the centre of Von Stephanitz’s breeding programme.

He would go on to become the first German Shepherd listed under a new breed registry. Horand was the sire to Hektor von Schwaben, which in turn led to Heinz von Starkenburg, Beowolf, and Pilot.

According to Wikipedia, these three dogs are the ancestors of all modern German Shepherd dogs.

List of German Shepherd health problems

German Shepherd at the park (Photo: Adobe Stock)
German Shepherd at the park (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Hip Dysplasia

When looking at health conditions affecting these dogs, the starting point should be hip dysplasia. It is one of the most common problems facing the German Shepherd breed.

Hip dysplasia is the abnormal formation of the hip socket. It can eventually lead to immobilizing lameness or agonizing arthritis.

It is a common problem amongst the larger dog breeds such as German Shepherds. In fact, it is the number one health issue affecting the German breed.

The symptoms of hip dysplasia can include events such as stiffness, difficulty moving and lethargy.

There are a number of preventative measures that you can take before you even get your puppy through the door.

When you contact a German Shepherd breeder, you can enquire whether hip dysplasia was an affliction that the parents suffered from.

Some breeders can produce a certification to prove that their breeding dogs don’t have a history of the condition.

Once you’ve got your GSD puppy, it is important to make sure that they aren’t fed too much, exercised too much or manage to injure their hips.

Elbow dysplasia

As the name suggests, elbow dysplasia is a condition that involves some developmental abnormalities of the elbow joint.

The scientific name for their abnormalities is primary lesions.

Like hip dysplasia, the problem can develop in a puppy at a young age before worsening to lead to chronic pain in the elbow joint.

According to Wikipedia, the elbow joint bears 60 per cent of the body’s load, which underlines the substantial pressure it is under.

Epilepsy

If you have ever owned a German Shepherd or know someone that has, you will more than likely be aware of the risk that epilepsy can pose to the breed.

German Shepherds were the first service animals in America and are often trained as assistance dogs to detect seizures. However there are many members of the breed that suffer from the condition.

Epilepsy is a chronic condition that results in repeated seizures. While epilepsy is common in humans, some dog breeds do seem to suffer from this condition more than other canines.

The condition is reported to affect 1 in every 130 dogs in the United Kingdom.

The Kennel Club explain on their website that a seizure occurs when there is abnormal electrical activity in the brain which leads to sudden but short-lived changes in a dog’s behaviour and/or movement.

They go on to advise that a vet may suspect your German Shepherd of suffering from epilepsy if they have two attacks in the space of 24 hours.

Fortunately there are medications that can help to manage the symptoms of this condition.

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV)

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), or bloating, can affect some German Shepherds.

The American College of Veterinary surgeons describe GDV as a rapidly progressive life-threatening condition of dogs.

It can occur when a dog eats a big meal very fast and can cause the stomach to have problems dilating.

If a GSD has too much gas in its stomach it can bloat to such a degree that it becomes lift threatening.

The ACV write that increased pressure and size of the stomach can lead to:

a) prevention of adequate blood return to the heart from the abdomen
b) loss of blood flow to the lining of the stomach
c) rupture of the stomach wall
d) pressure on the diaphragm preventing the lungs from adequately expanding leading to decreased ability to maintain normal breathing

GDV is thought to affect dogs that have just one big meal a day, rather than two or three smaller meals. It is recommended that a dog avoid strenuous exercise after a big meal to prevent bloating.

Diabetes

Like epilepsy, we are all aware of how diabetes can affect humans but some German Shepherds have been known to suffer from the condition.

Given the breed’s tendency to sometimes be gluttonous and overeat, GSDs can be susceptible to diabetes mellitus (also know as sugar diabetes).

Diabetes occurs when a German Shepherd’s pancreas is producing insufficient insulin.

A vet may discover that your dog has diabetes by taking blood-work. Other symptoms can include thirstiness, weight loss, increased appetite or an increase in accidents inside the house.

Diabetes can be tackled by an adjustment in diet: protein, fibre and complex carbohydrates are just some of the requirements than can help with this condition.

Regular exercise is important, although you should make sure these daily walks or runs in the dog park are moderate to avoid a sudden spike or drop in insulin levels.

Like humans, most dogs that suffer from diabetes mellitus will require injections on a daily basis.

In conclusion

Hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, epilepsy, gdv and diabetes are just five of many health conditions that could affect your German Shepherd.

It is important to note that helloBARK! highly recommend talking your local vet about any health concerns you may have.

While the information provided is responsibly researched, this article is not expert content and is no substitute for talking your veterinarian.