German Shepherd Health Issues
Health & Nutrition

German Shepherd Health Issues

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German Shepherds are predisposed to several health issues due to their large size and selective breeding over the past few decades. It is possible that a focus on the aesthetic look of the dog has increased their chances of developing certain conditions. Several studies have been performed to determine the likelihood of the breed developing certain disorders or diseases. Some are more common than others. This article will look at the most common German Shepherd health issues facing these amazing animals.

These are the most common German Shepherd health issues facing these dogs today. Use this information to better understand what can happen to your dog and how to prepare or possibly prevent future health issues from plaguing your furry friend.

1. Bone, Joint and Muscle Disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders, in combination with the inability to stand, are the number one cause of death in German Shepherds. They are common in large dog breeds and target a dog’s bones, joints and muscles.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia is one of the most common German Shepherd health issues. This genetic condition occurs when the dog’s hip joint, made up of a ball and socket, doesn’t develop properly. This makes the joint loose causing arthritis and pain. It is common in large dog breeds and can have an immense impact on their day to day lives.


Osteochondrosis, or OCD, is another disease that targets the joints including the ankles, elbows and shoulders. Most of the time it develops before a dog is one year old. One of the first symptoms that becomes visible to the owner is a slight limp in one leg. This is another disease that large dog breeds are more prone to suffer from.


Glycogenosis, or Glycogen Storage Disease, is a rare disorder in which the dog’s body isn’t able process and store glucose properly. This is due to a lack of the appropriate enzymes needed to function correctly. It affects multiple organs including heart, kidneys and liver. There are four different types of this disease including I-a, II, III and IV all of which are fatal.

Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative Myelopathy is a spinal cord disease that slowly progresses leaving the dog’s rear limbs weak and eventually paralyzed. The later stages of weakness are revealed through the dog’s stumbling and wobbling while it walks. It is common in several large dog breeds including middle to senior aged German Shepherds.

2. Skin Issues

Canine Atopic Dermatitus

Canine Atopic Dermatitus, or CAD, is the most common skin issue facing German Shepherds. It is an inflammatory disease that is close in resemblance to human eczema which results in red itchy flaky skin.

The condition is caused by an allergic reaction to many different elements in the environment including dust mites, pollen, skin and soil. Normally harmless, when a dog makes contact with one of these elements, their skin overreacts causing an allergic reaction.

Several factors can contribute to this skin condition including genetics, contact allergies, flea allergies, food allergies and staphylococcus hypersensitivity. Certain environmental factors also contribute to this skin issue including single dog homes, detached houses and urban cities.

Symptoms include ear infection, eczema, itching and hair loss. The best diagnosis for Canine Atopic Dermatitus is allergy testing with your local Veterinarian. This is accomplished using either a blood test or intradermal skin testing which looks for specific allergies.

Several treatment options are available for this condition which is unfortunately lifelong. With the help of a vet, a plan can be formed to manage and treat this chronic condition effectively. Treatment options may include antihistamines, fatty-acid supplements, flea medicine, hypoallergenic dog food, immunotherapy, medicated grooming products and medications.

3. Ear Infections

German Shepherd Ear Infections

Ear infections are a common issue in dogs and German Shepherds are no exception. The shape of a dog’s ear canal unfortunately makes them more susceptible. There are three main varieties of ear infections which are otitis externa, interna and media.

The most frequent of the three is otitis externa which occurs when the external part of the ear canal gets inflamed. The other two, otitis interna and media are more serious and usually stem from the infection in the external ear. These two infections can cause deafness, paralysis of the face and vestibular signals.

Several things can lead to ear infections in German Shepherds including breed disposition, disease, genetics and environmental elements. They are also more susceptible to idiopathic congenital disease which can result in inner ear infections and inflammation.

Multiple symptoms can arise due to an ear infection, some that can also be very similar to ear mites. They include discharge, foul odor, hearing loss, pawing their ear, redness or swelling and shaking their head. Middle and inner ear infection symptoms are different and include atypical eye movement, falling down, nausea, tilting their head, vomiting and walking in circles.

Veterinarians can determine the cause of ear infections using specific methods. They will normally begin by examining your dog’s ear with an instrument called an otoscope which gives them a close-up view of your dog’s ear canal. They will assess for damage and then proceed with more in depth testing which could include a complete neurological work up. The vet may also do some allergy tests, biopsies, blood work or skin scrapings.

4. Gastrointestinal Problems


Diarrhea is a common problem that can be caused by many different things including their diet, parasites and in some rare cases disease such as IBD, or Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Anxiety and stress can also play a role so it is important to make sure that your German Shepherd is eating a lean healthy diet and getting at least two hours of exercise a day.

Eosinophilic Gastroenteritis

Eosinophilic Gastroenteritis is inflammatory disease that affects the intestines and stomach. The condition causes white blood cells called eosinophils to attack the intestine and stomach lining hence the name. Unfortunately German Shepherds are prone to this stomach problem which can have multiple causes. A veterinarian will usually test for parasites and may perform several other methods of testing including bloodwork, imaging and urinalysis.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, or EPI, develops when a German Shepherd’s pancreas fails to produce an adequate amount of digestive enzymes. Those enzymes are necessary for breaking down the dog’s food for proper digestion. The disease, also referred to as Pancreatic Acinar Atrophy, or PAA, can lead to starvation even if the dog is eating on a regular basis. Symptoms include coprophagia, diarrhea, increased appetite and weight loss with the inability to gain any weight. A cTLI test is performed to diagnose EPI and treatment involves supplementing with pancreatic enzymes.

Gastroduodenal Ulcers

Gastroduodenal Ulcers normally develop in a dog’s stomach or small intestine due to an exposure of the mucosal lining. They are prevalent in German Shepherds that are taking heavy doses of Ibuprofen. There are various causes of the disease but accidental poisoning is one of the most common. Some of the most frequent suspects include chemical, heavy metal, plant intoxication, pesticides and rodenticides. Routine testing can be performed by the Veterinarian and treatment will depend on the cause and severity of the disease.

Toxic Gut Syndrome

Toxic Gut Syndrome, or Leaky Gut, is a rare but fatal disease that unfortunately is most prominent in German Shepherds. It comes on quickly and can cause death in a matter of hours. The syndrome occurs when intestinal bacteria levels rise to such a high level that they have a toxic effect in the blood stream. This condition can be traced back to close breeding in the 80’s when breeders were trying to perfect the German Shepherd’s aesthetic features.

5. Obesity

Unfortunately obesity in humans can translate to overweight dogs. Studies have shown that owners with weight issues can transfer their appetites onto their dogs by giving them excessive food or too many unhealthy treats. This can subsequently cause several German Shepherd health issues.

There is a long list of health issues stemming from obesity. Some of the more major issues include diabetes, high blood pressure, hip dysplasia, kidney problems, respiratory disorders and thyroid problems. On top of this, overweight dogs are more inclined to injuries, surgeries and overall stress.

There are some simple ways to check if your German Shepherd is obese. The first thing to look for is ribs that are easily distinguishable and have little fat on them. The waist should also be noticeably defined from the side. Here is a good chart from Nestle that can help you determine if your dog is in the appropriate weight range.

Keeping your dog healthy and lean is a great way to prevent a lot of different conditions and diseases. Feed them a high quality diet and give them at least two hours of exercise a day to avoid obesity. Avoid giving them unhealthy snacks and instead reward them with something healthy such as fruit or vegetables. Just make sure to avoid any toxic foods like chocolate, grapes or raisins.

6. Dental Disease

Dog Brushing Teeth

Periodontal disease is the most common infectious disease in middle-aged dogs. In fact, studies have shown that over 80% of dogs will develop this chronic condition before the age of two. This inflammatory disease develops due to bacteria in the mouth. It is found close to the structures that support a dogs teeth.

It can be extremely detrimental to your German Shepherds health and can eventually cause tooth loss. Even worse it can damage your dog’s internal organs once it spreads to their bloodstream. If left untreated, the sustained damage it does to the heart, kidney and lungs can lead to death in some cases.

The good news is that it can be prevented with regular brushing of their teeth. Brush your dog’s teeth daily and NEVER USE HUMAN TOOTHPASTE! You can also feed your dog healthy dry food and give them healthy dental treats instead of fattening sugary treats. Give them bones and toys that won’t hurt their teeth and keep them active and busy to reduce boredom which can lead to destructive behaviors such as chewing non-safe items.

7. Neoplasia

Hemangiosarcoma is a potentially deadly tumor that is more common with large dog breeds like the German Shepherd. Males are also more susceptible as well as dogs that are middle-aged or older. It is a rapid spreading cancer that comes out of nowhere often times without symptoms or a warning.

The tumor usually targets the heart or the spleen but can be found in other locations throughout a dog’s body. It starts in the cells that line the blood vessels with rampant growth. This coupled with a German Shepherds abundant blood makes it extremely fatal.

It is very hard to identify with no visible signs or symptoms besides quick and extreme internal bleeding. Some owners have reported anorexia, lethargy and panting as symptoms but other conditions can mirror those symptoms. Normally a dog will collapse suddenly without any warning. This makes time of the essence to save the dog’s life and immediate emergency care should be pursued.

In certain cases, dogs can be saved via prompt surgery to remove the bleeding tumor followed by the appropriate after-care to ensure survival. However chances for survival post-diagnosis are bleak with 90% of dogs dying within one year after surgery and 100% within two years.

As of now, their are no known causes but research continues with The Morris Animal Foundation at the forefront. They have invested over three million dollars and twenty years of their time to improve quality of life for dogs afflicted with the rare but fatal condition.

8. Eye Disease

German Shepherd Eye Disease Location

Pannus, or Chronic Superficial Keratitus, is an autoimmune eye disease that develops on the dog’s cornea and can potentially cause blindness. It commonly afflicts older German Shepherds. There aren’t any known causes but it is believed to be passed on through genetics and develops during a dog’s growth.

The first signs of Pannus appear in the form of a pink mass on the dog’s cornea which is the clear part of a dog’s eye. Often times the mass can be found in specific areas of the cornea. VCAHospitals uses the image of a clock to represent the areas on the eye where it is most likely present. Imagining a clock face on top of the eye, the mass is usually found in the 8-11 o’clock position on the right eye and the 1-4 o’clock position on the left eye.

When the disease is present, the third eyelid will look thick and inflamed. Through progression, the lesion will spread becoming darker eventually scarring the cornea and sometimes releasing a mucoid discharge. This can lead to eventual blindness if not treated in a timely manner.

The veterinarian can run tests to diagnose Pannus which include corneal scrapings, corneal staining and intraocular pressure testing. It is normally treated using topical corticosteroids such as Dexamethasone or Prednisolone. But other drugs may be used like Cyclosporine or an Antibiotic if a secondary infection is present. Sunglasses are sometimes recommended because of the UV lighting factor outdoors.

9. Anal Sac Disorder

Perianal Fistula, or Anal Furunculosis is another health issue that is more common in German Shepherds. It is a condition in which the perianal, or outer circumference of the anus, is infected frequently exhibiting multiple draining tracts. These tunnels, or fistulas, often have a foul smell.

Early on there are very few noticeable signs to alert the owner. Sometimes the condition may be discovered during a trip to the vet with a routine exam or during bathing. During the progression of the disorder, symptoms may arise including behavioral changes, decreased appetite, excessive licking of the tail, hard time sitting down and straining to go potty.

There is no definitive cause for the condition but several theories exist. Recent studies suggest that it is likely the result of an autoimmune disease. Earlier causes were though to be impaction or poor air circulation surrounding the region of the anus.

Treatment is most often medically managed and more recently includes drugs that modulate the immune system. Surgery has since taken a back seat since the new and more preferred method has hit the scene. Drugs used to treat the condition include Cyclosporine and Tacrolimus. Secondary bacterial infections are often treated with Antimicrobials.

10. Parasites

Dog Parasites

Most dogs will likely encounter some form of parasite throughout their lifetime. German Shepherds are no exception. There are several different types of parasites including internal, intestinal and external.

Internal Parasites

Internal parasites include heartworms which gain entry to a dog through a mosquito bite that is carrying the worms. They make their way to the dog’s heart where they grow reaching up to twelve inches in length. This can clog the heart, making it pump harder to circulate the blood. This can lead to heart failure if not treated. Symptoms can include less of an appetite and quick fatigue following minimal exercise. Tests are usually done during check-ups at your Veterinarian.

Intestinal Parasites

Intestinal parasites include several different types of worms and non-worm parasites. Ringworm is a fungus normally targeting small puppies under a year old. Puppies are also prone to roundworms which can be found in a sample of their stool.

Tapeworms usually make their way into your dog’s body via an egg that is attached to a flea that is swallowed. They resemble grains of rice around the anal region or in the stool. Symptoms include infrequent diarrhea and weight loss. Medication is effective for combating tapeworms. Keeping your German Shepherd flea free and clear of any perspired animals or garbage is good prevention.

Whipworms can be picked up by your dog licking or sniffing ground that is contaminated with the parasite. They are small and only one third of an inch long. They make their home inside of a dog’s large intestine. One major symptom is a mucous covering on the tip of your dog’s stool. Another symptom is a loss of weight. A dewormer is used to treat the parasite which is rarely fatal.

Other non-worm parasites can also infiltrate your German Shepherd causing health issues. Some of the more common parasites include Coccidia, Giardia and Spirochetes.

External Parasites

External parasites include fleas, lice, mites and ticks. They are extremely small wingless insects that like to feed on dogs or other animals. Fleas are usually drawn to areas like the base of the ears, groin or rump. Symptoms include areas where the hair is not as thick or full. Flea medicine is the best prevention.

Ticks are responsible for Lyme disease and other illnesses including Ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The best way to prevent ticks is by checking your German Shepherd after it spends any time outdoors. Your Veterinarian can also recommend various treatments including medicine, dips, powders or spray.

Lice and mites are similar in nature with infections causing itching and a loss of hair. Although the are different species, they are both microscopic organisms. Symptoms of mites include your dog scratching his ears or shaking his head. Skin scrapings are the most common tool for diagnosis.

The best ways to prevent parasites include medication which include the proper puppy vaccinations, deworming and flea and heartworm medicines. Make sure that your dog gets the appropriate annual exams to check for potential problems. Keep your dog’s house and environment clean.

In Closing:

German Shepherd health issues are numerous so it is very important to learn about each of the potential problems that your dog could face. Do the proper research and use good preventative measures to avoid many of the aforementioned problems. Here are some more tips for a Healthy German Shepherd!

Please leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

Has your German Shepherd had any serious health issues? Let us know about your experience and what if any preventative measures you took to keep your dog happy and healthy! We would love to hear about it!

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