German Shepherd Diseases

When it comes to diseases, there are some that are infectious — a shepherd can catch these from any infected dog. These are primarily the viruses and parasitic infections listed in Chapter 17. A German shepherd may also develop a condition in utero called a congenital defect or disease. The defect is present at birth; however, the effects may not appear for years. Some congenital defects are believed to be hereditary.

Hereditary diseases, those that can be passed from one generation to another, are of great concern to shepherd breeders. These are the diseases for which breeders test (if possible), and certify that their dogs are free of before they are allowed to breed.

The problem with some hereditary diseases is that a dog may not show symptoms of having the disease until she has already been bred several times. These late-appearing hereditary diseases are the most difficult to eradicate. Reputable breeders try to keep accurate records and track these diseases in their lines to determine how to eliminate the disease.

Fatal Diseases

Though many German shepherd diseases are chronic or recurring, few turn out to be the actual cause of death among the breed. For example, older German shepherds frequently suffer from osteoarthritis. The condition can become so painful that the shepherd is no longer mobile, even with medications. At this point, the kindest route may be to euthanize the dog to relieve her of the pain. In this case, the arthritis itself didn't kill her, but the arthritis was the reason behind her death.

The life-threatening diseases that are specific to or found in significantly higher rates in the German shepherd population include several forms of heart disease and at least two very aggressive forms of cancer: hemangiosarcoma and osteosarcoma. Additionally, nodular dermatofibrosis (a skin-related condition) is more commonly seen in the German shepherd than in other breeds. Though the skin disease is not fatal, dogs suffering from this disease invariably develop either malignant kidney tumors (cystadenocarcinoma) or cancers of the uterus (in females that have not been spayed).

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