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Home arrow Saint Bernard Information arrow General Information arrow Common Health Concerns
Common Health Concerns PDF Print E-mail

SaintsEach breed of dog has its own unique personality and characteristics.  Each breed also has certain health problems to which it is particularly susceptible, and an awareness of these risk factors helps the dog owner and the veterinarian to manage the risk factors encountered in the breed.

EYE PROBLEMS:   Saint Bernards are susceptible to entropion (an inward rolling of the eyelids that causes irritation of the surface of the eye) and ectropion, an outward rolling of the eyelids.  Untreated, entropion and ectropion can eventually cause vision loss.  Surgical correction is usually possible.

HIP DYSPLASIA:   Saint Bernards have the highest incidence (40% or more) of hip dysplasia of any breed.  Although the poorly-fitting hip joints of hip dysplasia develop early in life, the crippling arthritis that it causes may not occur until middle age.  Radiographs can tell whether your dog may have hip dysplasia so that appropriate measures can be taken.

SKIN INFECTIONS:  Because of his/her dense coat, Saint Bernards are prone to infections of the skin, including “hot spots(moist, irritated areas at which the dog chews until he loses his hair and causes infection).  Grooming to remove loose hair, as well as avoiding irritants such as fleas or shampoo residue on the skin, will help prevent skin infections.  The large folds of loose skin around the mouth also present an opportunity for the skin infection pyoderma to develop.  Keeping the area around the mouth and under the chin clean and dry is helpful.

GROWING BONE DISEASES:   Due to their rapid rage of growth, a Saint’s bones are susceptible to a number of diseases during growth, including osteochondritis, panosteitis, elbow dysplasia, genu valgum and abnormal calcification.  Any limping during the first 18 months of life should be evaluated closely by a veterinarian specializing in orthopedics.

DIABETES MELLITUS:   Because Saints have very high growth hormone levels, they are at greater risk for developing diabetes than some smaller dogs.  Warning signs of increased thirst and appetite accompanied by weight loss should be heeded.

BONE CANCER:   Saints have a high incidence of osteosarcoma (bone cancer) and tumors near the ends of the long bones.  Adult dogs who develop a limp should be x-rayed carefully to rule out this disease.

EPILEPSY:   Seizure disorders occur in this breed due to a number of causes (which include, but are not limited to, high fever, brain lesions, stroke, head injury, metabolic disorders, ingestion of organophosphates or cleaning chemicals, and irresponsible breeding).  Idiopathic epilepsy or epilepsy of unknown origin typically presents at age 2-4 years.  Epilepsy is usually a manageable disease.  However, as epilepsy may be hereditary, Saints with any seizure disorder should NEVER be bred.

GASTRIC DILATATION/VOLVULUS:   GDV (commonly called “bloat”) is a syndrome involving distension of the stomach with gas and/or food or water, and twisting (or torsion) of the stomach or spleen.  It is a life-threatening emergency!  A bloated abdomen, attempts by the dog to vomit, the appearance of distress, and/or very pale gums are symptoms that should alert the owner and the veterinarian.  Without immediate surgical intervention the dog will die.  Although GDV can be seen in virtually every breed, it is most common in large or giant deep-chested dogs like Saints, Great Danes, Newfies, Mastiffs, German Shepherds, and Rottweilers.

CARDIAC DISORDERS:   Cardiomyopathy (deterioration of the heart muscle) and congestive heart failure (CHF) are frequently seen in the giant breeds.  Unexplained weight loss with labored breathing and fluid build-up in the abdomen are common warning signs.

Saint Bernards are wonderful dogs but they do require a lot of work.  The rewards?  There’s an endless supply of affection tucked into those big bodies.  Know your dog.


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