German Shepherd Dog Health Problems

The German shepherd dog (GSD) breed has an exceptionally high susceptibility to immunological diseases or immune-related disorders including skin as well as gastrointestinal problems. Inflammatory and immune-related diseases that have been reported with high incidence in GSDs are, for example exocrine pancreas insufficiency due to atrophy, canine atopic dermatitis, anal furunculosis and disseminated aspergillosis. A predisposition for food hypersensitivity and bacterial folliculitis as well as low serum IgA levels have also been reported in the GSD breed. It is very important to obtain a German Shepherd dog from reputable breeders who carefully screen their breeding stock for several devastating canine diseases such as hip or elbow dysplasia, heart disorders, eye and immune system disorders. Your dog's health will greatly depend on your ability to provide the adequate grooming, feeding and exercise.

The first German sheepdogs were exhibited in 1882 at a dog show in Hannover, Germany. These dogs were the ancestors to what became the German shepherd dog (GSD) breed formed in 1899. The way breeding has been performed led to a split into two variants (subpopulations) in the end of the 1970s. GSDs in subpopulation 1 are more often of working type compared to subpopulation 2. A significant difference between subpopulations regarding both phenotypes have been found where subpopulation 2 harbors more canine atopic dermatitis (CAD) cases and dogs with low IgA levels than subpopulation 1. Moreover, fewer dogs in subpopulation 1 had documented show results compared to subpopulation 2. Thus, the risk of CAD and low IgA levels seems lower in the GSD population bred for working capacity.1

Hip Dysplasia

The hip is a ball-and-socket joint. Hip dysplasia is a deformity of the hip joint in which parts of the joint are abnormally shaped so that the ball does not fit properly into the socket. Over time, degenerative joint disease can result. The dogs may appear stiff when they walk and avoid jumping. Anti-inflammatory drugs may help to ease the pain. Surgery can reconstruct the dysplastic hip.

Nodular Dermatofibrosis

Nodular dermatofibrosis is a health disorder when lumps form on the dog's skin. These lumps can grow and, in severe cases, measuring from 0.1 to 2 inches on the feet, often ulcerate or cause foot deformities and lameness. This skin disorder is usually associated with underlying canine kidney or uterus cancer (in unspayed female dogs).

Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative myelopathy is a disorder of the spinal cord or bone marrow. It mostly affects older German Shepherds (between from 7 to 9 years), but also has been reported in other breeds. Signs may include awkward gait and weakness in one of the hindlimbs. Prognosis for the degenerative myelopathy is poor since there is no known effective treatment for it.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (Maldigestion)

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is an inherited disease of the pancreas which is characterized by insuffucient production of digestive proteins; the pancreas simply is shriveled and useless. This condition may develop at any age (though usually shows up in dog younger than 4 years). German Shepherd dogs are at the highest risk. Signs may include chronic diarrhea (yellow feces), excessive appetite or eating, weight loss, and eating of excrements. The disease is diagnosed through tests. Signs usually disappear after administering of pancreatic enzyme supplement with porcine pancreatin powder.


Hemophilia is a hereditary blood defect that is characterized by delayed clotting of the blood and failure in controlling bleeding even after small injuries. Signs may include excessive bleeding from the gums, when getting adult teeth, and bruises in the area of hindleg, the knee joint and the chest (as a result of a broken blood vessel), deep muscle bleeding, bloody diarrhea, and sudden early death. Dogs with the history of Hemophilia should NOT be bred.


Pannus or chronic superficial keratitis is a progressive eye disease characterized by a cloudiness of the cornea of the eye. It usually affects both eyes and is common in German Shepherd, Belgian Tervuren, Border Collie, Greyhound, Siberian Husky, and Australian Shepherd breeds. The pannus is treated with antibiotics, antiviral or antifungal agents when appropriate, tear replacement therapy (if the tear gland fails to produce enough moisture), and corticosteroids (if caused by the immune system disorders).


Panosteitis is a disease of the bone marrow that affects mostly young dogs of large and giant breeds, but has been reported in dogs of 5 years of age. Males are affected more commonly than females. Signs include foreleg lameness, loss of appetite, low fever, and pain in long bones. The attack of the disease can last from 14 to 90 days. What causes the disease is still unknown. It is diagnosed through radiographic laboratory tests.

Perianal Fistula

Perianal fistula is a chronic inflammatory disease of the perianal tissues that is most often seen in the German Shepherd dog and Irish setter. The exact cause of the disease is still undetermined, but it is often associated with disorders of the immune system, bacterial infections, inflammation of the colon (colitis), and hormonal disorders. Signs include urge to evacuate the bowels or urinary bladder, constipation, loss of appetite, laziness, sluggishness, or indifference (lethargy), diarrhea, and attempts to bite and lick the anal area.Cyclosporin A has proven beneficial for the treatment of perianal fistulas in some dog, but medication treatment is generally unsuccessful. In severe cases surgical treatment may help.

Aortic Stenosis

In aortic stenosis, there is a partial obstruction to the flow of blood as it leaves the left side of the heart (the left ventricle) through the main blood vessel (the aorta) that carries blood to the rest of the body. Aortic Stenosis is an inherited heart disease.

Acral Lick Dermatitis

The Acral Lick Dermatitis (ALD) is a behavioral disorder characterized by self-licking, chewing or scratching most commonly on the limbs. Breeds mostly predisposed to ALD are Doberman, German Shepherd, Great Dane, Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever. It may occur in dog which are bored, socially isolated, confined for long periods of time or are physically abused by their owners. ALD should only be considered if other factors have been excluded, such as bacterial or fungal infections, tumors, trauma, foreign body and allergies. Treatment of ALD requires elimination of causes that might have triggered the dog's anxiety and providing suffucient social interaction, exercise and mental stimulation for the dog.


Cataracts are white opacities in the lenses of the eyes that impair vision or cause blindness.


Dermoid is a form of benign, congenital tumor composed of tissue cells. Dermoids are firm but "fleshy" in nature, and their color may range from white, gray, or pinkish yellow to brown, depending upon the specific tissue within the tumor mass. Often, blood vessels and/or hair follicles may be seen within or coming out from the dermoid. Dermoids may be present on the eyelid but most frequently they are located on the conjunctiva or cornea. Treatment requires a surgical procedure.


Demodicosis, also called Demodex mange, is an allergic reaction to Demodex mites. The mites are transferred directly from the mother to the puppies within the first week of life.

Pulmonic Stenosis, Pulmonary Stenosis

Pulmonic stenosis is an abnormal narrowing of the right ventricular outflow tract or stricture of the pulmonary artery. This abnormality leads to the enlargement of the right ventricle and the increase of the heart blood pressure.

Canine Wobbler Syndrome

Canine Wobbler Syndrome is a complex neurological disorder involving cervical spinal cord (part of spinal cord in the neck area).

Cutaneous Asthenia

Cutaneous asthenia is an inherited skin disorder characterized by extremely stretchy and fragile skin that tears at the slightest scratch causing scars and wounds.

Selective IgA Deficiency

Selective IgA deficiency is an inherited immune system disorder characterized by lack or insufficient production of immunoglobulin protein that protects the body against infections.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy - PRA

Progressive retinal atrophy is a collective term comprising a group of hereditary degenerative lesions of the retina (a layer of nervous tissue which covers the back of the eyeball where the sensation of vision occurs).

Retinal Dysplasia

Retinal dysplasia is a congenital, local or generalized malformation in the eye that may result from trauma, a genetic defect, or damage caused by a viral infection. Most forms of retinal dysplasia in dog are inherited.

Patent Ductus Arteriosus

Patent Ductus Arteriosus is the most common congenital heart disease in dog that usually causes heart failure and death unless corrected at a young age. PDA occurs twice as often in females as in males, most commonly in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, German Shepherd dog, Toy and Miniature Poodles, Collies, Cocker Spaniels, Shetland Sheepdogs and Pomeranians. About half of untreated dog develop left-sided heart failure by 8 months of age.

Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV), Bloat

Bloating and twisting of a dog's stomach is a serious condition veterinarians call Gastric Dilatation Volvulus, or GDV. It can be caused by overeating, especially in large breeds, but often there is no underlying cause, making this disease one that is baffling to veterinarians and to owners alike. Signs include a distended abdomen. The dog may appear restless, depressed and have dry heaves.

Sebaceous Adenitis

Sebaceous Adenitis (SA) is a hereditary immune skin disease. It cannot be cured, but can be treated. In SA the sebaceous glands that adjoin the hair follicles become inflamed and are gradually destroyed. Most common signs include excessive dandruff, skin lesions on the back and ears, patchy hair loss. If left untreated, skin bacterial infections may develop. The disease occurs in many dog breeds. Affected carriers must NOT be bred. Long-term treatment is necessary to control the disease.


In this condition the food does not reach the stomach and sits in the esophagus (the tube connecting the throat to the stomach) until it simply falls back out the mouth at some point. The action is called "regurgitation". Megaesophagus occurs when the esophagus loses its ability to transport the food to the stomack because of incomplete nerve development. If it is seen in young puppies it may disappear after the dog matures. In adult dogs it is treatable, but difficult to cure.

Myasthenia Gravis

Myasthenia gravis is a disease that interrupts the way nerves communicate with muscles. Signs include muscle weakness of the eyes, throat and limbs, exercise intolerance (fatigue), voice change, or difficulty swallowing. The quick lethal form of the disease can be caused by chest tumors. Myasthenia Gravis is a very common disease, so any dog with muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing must be tested for the disease.

Familial Vasculopathy

Familial Vasculopathy is a hereditary skin disease that is commonly seen in young puppies. Signs include fever, laziness, skin lesions, footpad softness, swelling, ulceration and depigmentation, crusting and ulceration of ear tips and tail tips, and depigmentation of the nose. No known treatment is considered effective, although some dogs appear to respond to high dosages of corticosteroids.


  1. Genome-Wide Analysis in German Shepherd Dogs Reveals Association of a Locus on CFA 27 with Atopic Dermatitis

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