German Shepherd health problems

Dental disease

German Shepherd dogs should not have smelly breath but should have a neutral smelling odour instead. If this is not the case and there is a foul smell to your dog’s breath, then it might be a sign of an underlying health condition.

As your dog grows, tartar will start to accumulate on their teeth which can progress to inflamed gums. From here, it then develops into a painful infection of the gums and roots of the teeth. Without properly preventing or treating canine dental disease, your dog may lose their teeth, but can also be in danger of damaging some of their critical organs.

To keep your German Shepherd’s teeth healthy, it’s recommended that you clean them regularly. Start this as early as you can, as this will make things easier for you and your pet. It’s also worth providing your dog with chew toys and things that will help keep their teeth clean.

If you suspect or notice any problems with your pet’s teeth then speak with your vet who can provide you with advice or guidance.


Obesity can be a significant health problem in German Shepherds. It is a serious disease that can lead to other health issues, so prevention is key to avoid an overweight dog. Your German Shepherd’s weight can be managed with a healthy balance between food intake and their physical activity. This is something that changes with age and health, so if you’re unsure you can always speak to your vet.

Digestive disorders

German Shepherd dogs can suffer from several inherited conditions that cause reoccurring vomiting, diarrhoea or weight loss. These include pancreatic or intestinal disease, food sensitivities or food allergies.

Unfortunately, some of these problems may develop very early in your dog’s life. To help prevent these conditions, feed them only high-quality pet food (a vet team can help you choose the right diet) and, most importantly, avoid snacks and table food.

Treats that are high in fat, sodium or artificial ingredients (like people food) are particularly bad for your dog’s digestive system.

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (epi)

The pancreas is responsible for regulating blood sugar and producing enzymes that help with the process of digesting food. If the pancreas is unable to produce enough of these enzymes, then Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency develops.

German Shepherd dogs are at an increased risk of having too few digestive enzymes.

This causes inadequate digestion and absorption of nutrients, leading to weight loss, foul-smelling and greasy diarrhoea and a dry flaky coat due to an inability to absorb fats.

A low-fat diet with pancreatic enzyme replacement, and possibly vitamin supplements, is an effective way of stabilising the condition.

Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV or Bloat)

Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV), or “bloat”, is a life-threatening condition that usually occurs in dogs with deep and narrow chests, of which the German Shepherd dog is one. It is a condition where the stomach fills with gas and twists in way that blocks the escape of gas and liquids. This twisting also cuts off the blood supply to the gut, making it an immensely painful and life-threatening condition.

Learning the symptoms can save a dog’s life. The signs of a dog suffering from bloat include:

  • Drooling
  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Swollen belly
  • Retching
  • Restlessness

Preventive surgery should be considered in German Shepherd dogs, where the stomach is tacked down or sutured in place. Bloating may still occur, but this surgery can greatly reduce the likelihood of twisting.

Bleeding disorders

German Shepherds are prone to a bleeding disorder called haemophilia where the blood does not clot when exposed to air – making even small cuts dangerous as the bleeding does not stop. This can be diagnosed with a test to assess blood clotting time. This is an important test prior to performing surgery.

German Shepherd sat outside

Bone and joint problems

Elbow and Hip Dysplasia

Both hips and elbows are at risk of dysplasia, a disease that causes the joints to develop abnormally when a puppy is growing. This condition causes pain, swelling and eventually results in arthritis.

Weight control, pain relief, controlled exercise, rest and surgery can all help treat elbow and hip dysplasia and help to minimize discomfort and pain, but as it’s an ongoing condition they will need lifelong care.

Bone Pain

German Shepherds can suffer from Panostetitis, a painful inflammation of the long leg bones that usually affects dogs between 5 and 14 months of age. Diagnosis can be made on examination and x-ray. It usually causes no permanent damage but does require pain medication or possibly some rehabilitation exercises.

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)

This disease is caused when the jelly-like cushion between one or more vertebrae slips or ruptures, causing the disc to press on the spinal cord. If your dog has started lowering their head when standing, has an increased sensitivity to movement or touch, is unwilling to jump or climb the stairs, and is generally reluctant to move around, they are likely in severe pain and might be suffering from IVDD.

They may even experience sudden paralysis, where they drag their back feet, or are unable to get up or use their back legs. If you see these symptoms, call a veterinarian immediately.

To try and prevent this condition, it’s key to keep your pet’s weight just right for their breed and age, minimize jumping on and off furniture from the start, and consider using a harness on walks.

Neurological problems


Epilepsy is a chronic condition that causes dogs to have sudden fits or unexpected seizures. These fits can be triggered by something in your pet’s environment, another condition, or can be down to their genetics. If there is no known cause to your dog’s condition it is then known as idiopathic epilepsy.

There is no cure for epilepsy, but it can usually be managed with medication and regular check-ups.

Wobbler Syndrome

A genetically linked condition causing a wobbly, drunken gait, resulting from narrowing of the vertebrae in the neck that pinches the spinal cord and associated nerves. When pinched, the nerves do not send signals to the brain as they should, causing the pet to be unable to feel their feet.

Symptoms include an unsteady hind leg gait, stumbling and sometimes falling. Treatment options include medications, neck braces, rehabilitation programs and surgery.

Degenerative myelopathy

A genetically linked condition that causes weakness and poor nerve function in your dog’s hind legs. It affects German Shepherd dogs more frequently than other breeds. Symptoms start with increasing weakness and disability in the hind legs, eventually resulting in paralysis in the hindquarters, which also leads to incontinence.

Rehabilitation, exercise, acupuncture, and dietary supplements can be helpful, but there is no cure for this condition. A genetic test is available to determine if your dog is at risk.

Heart disease

German Shepherds are prone to multiple types of heart disease, which can occur both early and later in life. Your vet will listen for heart murmurs and abnormal heart rhythms to determine if your dog has any issues. Further testing may be required to determine the severity of the disease.

The same tests will need to be repeated annually to monitor progress. If heart disease is diagnosed early, prescription medications can be used to prolong life for many years. Veterinary dental care and weight control can help reduce symptoms.

Eye problems


Cataracts is the clouding of your dog’s natural eye lens, which causes them to have blurry vision. They can develop from disease, injury, and infection, but genetics is the most common cause.

Common symptoms include:

  • Cloudiness of the eye(s)
  • Excessive discharge from the eye
  • Sensitivity to bright lights
  • Pain caused by the underlying issue
  • Loss of vision

If you believe your dog is showing signs of cataracts, then contact your vet immediately so you can get the right treatment and halt the deterioration of your pet’s eyesight.

Because diabetic dogs are susceptible to developing the condition, making sure you take the necessary steps to prevent diabetes can help decrease the chances of cataracts in your German Shepherd.


Pannus is like a suntan on your dog’s eyeball. Inflammatory cells infiltrate the cornea (the clear part of the eye), which then darkens with exposure to ultraviolet light, and may lead to complete blindness. It is considered to have a genetic component. Watch your German Shepherd’s eyes closely for any signs and alert your vet if you notice any changes.

Preventive eye medication and specialist sunglasses may be required.

Cushing’s disease (Hyperadrenocorticism)

Cushing’s disease is a condition that causes your dog’s body to produce too much of a steroid hormone called cortisol. The condition usually develops slowly and can be hard for a vet to diagnose, as it has the same symptoms as other conditions.

This disease often occurs naturally but can be caused by some medication, like steroids, used to treat disorders or allergies in dogs.

Skin allergies

Just like humans, our dogs can be allergic to things in their environment. Common allergies include food, fleas and skin allergies, and German Shepherds can be prone to the latter. Also known as ‘atopy’, this allergy can make a dog’s skin itchy with its feet, belly, folds of the skin and ears most commonly affected.

There is no cure for atopy in dogs, but there are treatments available that can help reduce your pet’s discomfort.

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