The German Shepherd Dog: Ailments


Bloat is a very serious health risk for many dogs, yet many dog owners know very little about it. According to the link below, it is the second leading killer of dogs, after cancer. It is frequently reported that deep-chested dogs, such as German Shepherds, Great Danes, and Dobermans are particularly at risk. This page provides links to information on bloat and summarizes some of the key points we found in the sites we researched. Although we have summarized information we found about possible symptoms, causes, methods of prevention, and breeds at risk, we cannot attest to the accuracy. Please consult with your veterinarian for medical information.

If you believe your dog is experiencing bloat, please get your dog to a veterinarian immediately! Bloat can kill in less than an hour, so time is of the essence. Notify your vet to alert them you're on your way with a suspected bloat case. Better to be safe than sorry!

For more information check out this website.

Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative Myelopathy is an autoimmune-based, progressive neurological disease affecting the spinal cord. It appears with relative frequency only in the German Shepherd Dog; therefore, a hereditary factor is likely but not yet proven. A general reduction in mobility starting in the rear of the dog is noted. DM is the apparent canine equivalent of Multiple Sclerosis in humans. It is usually associated with dogs over the age of 7. Minimal available treatments are supportive only.

More information:
Degenerative Myelopathy of German Shepherd, R.M. Clemmons DVM PhD
Degenerative Myelopathy, University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine


Not all causes of convulsions or seizures are hereditary. However many affected dogs are thought to be genetically predisposed. Treatment's success is depending on the cause. Maintenance treatment can consist of scheduled Phenobarbital (relatively inexpensive) and occasional blood testing.

Gastric Dilatation Volvulous, Torsion/Bloat

Gastric Dilatation Volvulous, Torsion/Bloat is an acute disease or digestive problem associated with the formation of a large amount of gas in the gastrointestinal tract. Bloat is a serious life-threatening emergency requiring immediate veterinary attention. It is thought to be associated with eating, although some dogs bloat several hours following a meal. Bloat occurs in many breeds, usually in dogs over 40 pounds, and slightly more often in males than females. Veterinarians attempt to pass a tube into the stomach via the throat to relieve pressure, and if this is unsuccessful surgery is required.

Hip and/or Elbow Dysplasia

This is a condition not exclusive to GSD's; it is found in many medium to giant sized breeds. Dysplasia is largely caused by genetic predisposition, thought possibly to be affected by environmental factors (care & feeding) during a pup's development. Hip and or elbow dysplasia can be crippling, cause minor occasional abnormal gait, lameness, or produce no symptoms whatsoever depending on the severity. Hips do not form a normal "ball and socket" joint, and the resulting lack of correct cartilage formation and wear may create osteo-arthritic changes sometimes requiring medication or joint surgery depending on the case. Elbow dysplasia or "ununited anconeal process" is a condition which results from a fragment of bone that does not fuse as it should during the dog's development. Intermittent lameness can occur and surgery is sometimes required. X-rays of dog's hips and elbows are rated by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for the purposes of evaluating suitability for breeding. Passing dogs are given a rating and certified by the OFA.


"Pano" is a developmental/growth condition of the long bone(s). It is not exclusive to GSD's and is found in large or giant breed dogs usually under 24 months of age. It can cause complete or partial lameness in any leg(s) for a number of days or weeks and then will sometimes appear in a different limb or recur after apparent recovery. Hence the common name for Pano: "wandering lameness." Diagnosis should be confirmed by an x-ray, and treatment overseen by a veterinarian. The vast majority of dogs affected make a full recovery with minimal extra care in a short time.

Pancreatic Enzyme Insufficiency - Malabsorption

This condition is apparently exclusive to GSD's. It is a non-curable but treatable disorder of the gastrointestinal tract often, but not always, accompanied by diarrhea and severe weight loss. It is diagnosed by blood test. The dog's pancreas does not produce the digestive enzymes required for the dog to absorb nutrition from normal dog foods. Prescribed digestive enzymes must supplement a specific diet at each meal throughout the dog's lifetime in order to maintain adequate weight and condition. The condition can be accompanied by a bacterial overgrowth requiring ongoing antibiotic treatment. Maintenance care is expensive and expected lifespan can be affected.


Pannus is a form of corneal inflammation that affects both eyes and occasionally can result in blindness. It is characterized by a pink membrane growing across the cornea. It appears primarily in GSD's and GSD crosses over the age of two. Steroids or surgery may be prescribed.

Perianal Fistulas

Fistulas are open draining tracts and sores in the perianal skin. They first appear as one or more "pinholes" in the skin surrounding the anus, with some exudate from the holes. The condition is most common in German Shepherds, but is by no means limited to that breed. Although the causes of the disease are still unknown, the current understanding is that it is probably an autoimmune disorder, much like Crohn's disease in humans. Treatments have changed /progressed greatly in the last two to three years. Currently, the most common treatments are medical regimes, using Imuran/flagyl, or cyclosporin, or topical tacrolimus. The website devoted to PF, which contains readable/printable veterinary journal articles detailing studies of these treatments, including treatment dosages, and which has success stories and a list/support group, is (beware of the many pop-ups on this site!). The disease is serious, and likely chronic, but with treatment many dogs live comfortably to old age, especially if it is diagnosed early.

Thyroid Disorders

Thyroid disorders are found occasionally in the German Shepherd Dog. Most are highly manageable and the treatment is not expensive, though lifelong. Hypothyroidism can cause the coat to become thin, coarse, and brittle. The dog may become lethargic, obese and dull. A dog with mild deficiency may show little or no outward sign of it. Diagnosis is by blood test. Dogs with poor thyroid function should not reproduce, as this disorder is genetically linked and perpetuated. Untreated thyroid disorder is associated with several health problems.

Von Willebrand's Disease

This is the most common hereditary bleeding disorder in dogs. The bleeding is caused by a deficiency of a plasma protein that is critical for normal platelet function in the early stages of clotting. Diagnosis is by blood test. GSD's should be screened for this disorder prior to breeding.