Each 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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