Every dog breed encounters health problems and Weimaraners are no exception. The below is a partial listing of some health issues that may affect Weimaraners. Note that only some, but not all of these are hereditary, genetic, and congenital conditions.
If you are searching for a Weimaraner puppy, please discuss these health anomalies with your breeder. Ask them if they’ve encountered any of these health woes, and how they’ll help new puppy owners address these issues if their puppy has or develops any of these conditions:
Cervical Spondylomyelopathy (CSM), or Wobbler Syndrome. This is a disease of the cervical spine (at the neck) that is commonly seen in large and giant-breed dogs. CSM is characterized by compression of the spinal cord and/or nerve roots, which leads to neurological signs and/or neck pain. The term wobbler syndrome is used to describe the characteristic wobbly gait (walk) that affected dogs have. Symptoms include a strange, wobbly gait, neck pain and stiffness, weakness, possible short-strided walking, spastic with a floating appearance or very weak in the front limbs, inability to walk, partial or complete paralysis, possible muscle loss near the shoulders, worn or scuffed toenails from uneven walking, increased extension of all four limbs, and difficulty getting up from a lying position. Causes: nutrition in some cases (excess protein, calcium and calories in the case of Great Danes), or fast-growth. Wobbler syndrome is diagnosed via visualization. X-rays, myelographs, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will allow your doctor to view the spine and vertebrae. X-rays should be used mainly to rule out bony disorders while myelographs, CT and MRI are used to visualize the compression of the spinal cord. Diseases that will need to be ruled out though a differential diagnosis include diskospondylitis, neoplasia, and inflammatory spinal cord diseases. The results of the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) analysis should pinpoint the origin of the symptoms.
Need to know more? Here’s another article on Wobbler syndrome.
Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (or Congenital Diaphragmatic Rupture) is a tear in the muscle that separates the abdomen and the chest. In Weimaraners, we see this as a peritoneal-pericardial diaphragmatic hernia (PPDH) when development of the diaphragm is incomplete in the fetus. When the muscle tears, abdominal contents (stomach, liver, intestines, etc.) enter the chest cavity and puts pressure on the lungs, which in turn causes respiratory distress (difficulty breathing). Symptoms include breathing difficulties and periods of upset stomachs. In more severe cases, there is respiratory distress, abnormal heart rhythm and other signs of shock. Diagnosis is done via x-ray and ultrasound. Once diagnosed, the hernia is corrected surgically, and the prognosis is usually good if surgery is a success.
Elbow dysplasia is a common cause of front-leg lameness in large-breed dogs. Dogs with elbow dysplasia have one or more of the following inherited developmental defects, which may occur singly or in combination: ununited anconeal process, fragmented medial coronoid process, osteochondritis dissecans of the medial condyle of the head of the humerus, and incongruity of growth rate between the radius and ulna resulting in curvature of the radius. The first three defects are related to osteochondrosis. The fourth is related to an enlargement of the epiphyseal growth plate at the head of the radius.
Signs of elbow dysplasia usually appear in puppies at 4 to 10 months of age, but some dogs may not show signs until adulthood, when degenerative joint disease starts. The signs consist of varying degrees of front-leg lameness that worsens with exercise. Characteristically, the elbow is held outward from the chest and may appear swollen.
The diagnosis is made using detailed X-rays of the elbow joint, taken in extreme flexion. Radiologists are particularly interested in the appearance of the anconeal process of the ulna. In a dog with elbow dysplasia, the anconeal process has a rough, irregular appearance due to arthritic changes. Another sign of dysplasia is widening of the joint space associated with a loose, unstable joint. X-rays may be difficult to interpret before a pup is 7 months of age. A CTscan may be required to demonstrate a fragmented coronoid process.
The OFA evaluates X-rays and maintains registries for dogs with elbow dysplasia. Dogs must be 24 months of age or older to be certified by OFA, although it accepts preliminary X-rays on growing pups for interpretation only.
Treatment: Medical treatment is similar to that described for Hip Dysplasia. Surgery is the treatment of choice for most dogs. Several factors, including the age of the dog and the number and severity of the defects, govern the choice of surgical procedure. The more defects in the elbow, the greater the likelihood that the dog will develop degenerative arthritis-with or without surgery.
Ununited anconeal process, characterized by separation or cleavage of the bone tip from the proximal ulna (source: Dr. Ronald Green)
Hip dysplasia is a genetic disease that primarily affects large and giant breeds of dogs but can also affect medium-sized breeds like Weimaraners. Most Weimaraners who eventually develop hip dysplasia are born with normal hips, but due to their genetic make-up the soft tissues surrounding the joint develop abnormally.
The symptoms of hip dysplasia cause afflicted Weimaraners to walk or run with an altered gait, similar to a bunny-hop. They begin to resist any movement that requires full extension or flexion of the rear legs and experience stiffness and pain in their rear legs after exercising and on first rising in the morning. Climbing stairs becomes difficult if not impossible. Some Weimaraners limp and are less willing to participate in normal daily activities, including walks they formerly enjoyed.
Because hip dysplasia is primarily an inherited condition, there are no products that can prevent its development. However, poor nutrition, inadequate or improper exercise, and increased body weight may all contribute to the severity of osteoarthritis after the hip dysplasia has developed. Through proper diet and exercise, it is possible slow the progression of hip dysplasia.
Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD). HOD is a disease of the front limbs in large-breed puppies. Affected puppies suffer from a noninfectious inflammation of the bony spicules (pointed, mineral structures) in the metaphysis of the long bones. The metaphysis is the conical part of the bone between the epiphysis (the growing end of the bone), and the diaphyses (the shaft of the long bone). The most severely affected bones are those that grow most rapidly. Swelling around the metaphyses, and bone deposition, cause widening of the metaphyses. Tiny fractures of the bony spicules in the metaphyses, and metaphyseal separation occur close to and parallel to the physis. The physis is the epiphysial cartilage in the joints – the soft, connective part of the bone that hardens (ossifies) after full growth has been reached, joining the parts of the bone into one. There may also be ossifying periostitis, a painful inflammation of the most external layer of the bone, the periosteum. Ossifying periostitis can cause bits of the periosteum to break off and mineralize in the soft tissues of the leg, and soft tissue in other organs may mineralize as well. Affected puppies may also have accompanying signs of pneumonia and diarrhea. While the cause of this disease is unknown, it is currently suspected to be a hyper-reactive response to vaccination. Further reading:
X-Ray image of HOD presentation in 4-month-old Weimaraner puppy. Note “moth-eaten” appearance of metaphyses (Source: Wikipedia)
Hypomyelination syndrome is a congenital condition characterized by a reduction or absence of myelin in the axons of the central nervous system (CNS) exclusively. A fatty substance that covers the axons (the portions of the nerve cells that transfer impulses to other cells of the body), myelin serves an important function for the nerve cells: as an insulator, protecting the nerve from outside influences, and as an aid for forwarding the process of cellular transmission of nervous system actions. This disease is inherited as a simple autosomal recessive disorder and the carrier frequency has been estimated to be 4.29% within the Weimaraner breed. Hypomyelination is also called “Tremors” and “Shaking puppies” by dog breeders based on the fact that affected puppies have body tremors when awake as early as a few days after birth. Clinical signs resolve in most cases by 3-4 months of age. Some of the dogs may have a mild persistent tremor of the hind legs.
Fig. 1. A Corona radiata, control dog. There is minimal myelin staining. Most cells have small hyperchromatic nuclei compatible with those of oligodendrocytes. Hematoxylin and eosin and luxol fast blue (HE-LFB), x 240. B Corona radiata, affected dog 2. There is no myelin staining. Many of the nuclei are vesicular, suggesting they are astrocytes. HE-LFB, x 240. C Cerebellum, control dog. The folial white matter is relatively normally myelinated. HE-LFB, x 240. D Cerebellum, affected dog 2. The folial white matter is hypomyelinated, relative to the control. HE-LFB, x 240 (Source: Semantic Scholar)
Mandibular Occlusion. Occlusion is a term used to describe the way teeth align with each other. “Normal” occlusion occurs when the upper incisors just overlap the lower incisors (scissor bite), when the lower canines are located at an equal distance between the upper third incisors and the upper canine teeth and when the premolar crown tips of the lower jaw point between the spaces of the upper jaw teeth.
Malocclusion refers to abnormal tooth alignment. There are two types of malocclusion: skeletal and dental. A skeletal malocclusion results when an abnormal jaw length creates a malalignment of the teeth. A dental malocclusion, or malposition, occurs when the upper and lower jaw lengths are considered normal but there may be one or more teeth that are out of normal alignment (malpositioned tooth/teeth).
Class 1 Malocclusion (MAL1). This occurs when individual teeth are in the incorrect position but the jaw lengths are correct. Malocclusion that may fall into this category include: rostral cross-bite, caudal cross-bite, base narrow mandibular canines, ‘lance’ canine teeth, overcrowded and rotated teeth. These may occur in combination with other classes of malocclusion.
From left to right: linguoverted mandibular canine teeth, anterior crossbite of incisors, overcrowded and rotated premolars
Mandibular distoclusion or Class 2 Malocclusion (MAL2). Also known as an overbite, overjet, overshot, and mandibular brachygnathism, it occurs when the lower jaw is shorter relative to the length of the he upper jaw. When the mouth is closed, the teeth of the lower jaw do not occlude (align normally) with their corresponding teeth in the upper jaw. There is a space between the upper and lower incisors when the mouth is closed and the lower incisors may traumatically contact the roof of the mouth behind the upper incisors. The upper premolars are aligned too far toward the nose compared to their counterparts in the lower jaws.
Mandibular mesioclusion or Class 3 Malocclusion (MAL3). Also known as an underbite, undershot, reverse scissor bite, and mandibular prognathism. It occurs when the lower jaw is too long relative to the upper jaw and the lower teeth protrude in front of corresponding upper teeth. If the jaw length discrepancy is minimal, then the upper and lower incisor teeth may meet each other edge to edge resulting in an occlusion referred to as an even or level bite.
Maxillomandibular asymmetry or Class 4 Malocclusion (MAL4). The asymmetry may occur in a number of different ways. It is important to keep in mind that there are 2 upper jaws and 2 lower jaws. All 4 jaws grow/develop independently. Therefore, asymmetry may occur in the lower and/or the upper jaws. When there is a length disparity between the right and left side it is referred to as a rostrocaudal asymmetry (upper and/or lower). When the asymmetry results in a lack of centering of the upper and lower jaws over each other causing a midline shift, then it is referred to as a side-to-side asymmetry. Finally, there may be an asymmetry that is exhibited as an abnormal (increased) space between the upper and lower jaws (may affect one or both sides) and is referred to as an open bite.
Therapy ranges from extraction to surgical correction to create space for mal-positioned teeth to occupy.
Spinal Dysraphism. Spinal dysraphism (SD) in Weimaraner dogs is a genetic disorder present at birth that results from faulty embryonic development. Affected Weimaraners have a defective spinal canal which leads to neurological abnormalities. Puppies born with SD may have difficulties starting to walk due to weakness of their rear legs. Adults with SD show a typical abnormal gait that includes simultaneous movement of the hind legs or “bunny hopping” in the rear. Additional characteristics include weakness and lack of coordination in the rear, together with normal front end coordination and strength. Rarely a “bunny hopping” gait is observed in the front. The condition is not painful and it does not progress during the life of an affected dog. SD is an inherited autosomal recessive disease caused by a mutation in the NKX2-8 gene. Two copies of the mutation are necessary for disease signs to be present with both sexes being affected equally in frequency and severity. Weimaraners that have only one copy of the SD mutation (N/SD) are normal but they are carriers of the disease. When two carriers are bred to each other, 25% of the resulting puppies are expected to be affected and 50% to be carriers. Approximately 1.4% of Weimaraners are estimated to be carriers of SD (N/SD); however, the number of carriers can change with each generation. Weimaraners that are carriers of SD (N/SD) are completely normal, and they can be safely bred to dogs that are non-carriers (N/N) in order to maintain diversity within the breed and to select for other positive attributes in carrier dogs.
Disorders Affecting the Eyes.
Distichiasis occurs when extra eyelashes appear from an abnormal spot on the eyelid. For Weimaraners with distichiasis, the position and direction of growth of some eyelashes is abnormal so that they touch the surface of the eyeball. Depending on the extent of the number, the degree of contact, the bristliness of the eyelashes, this can lead to abrasion, ulceration, inflammation and infection of eye tissues which can cause serious discomfort, pain and, in severe cases if left untreated, to partial blindness. Distichiasis is a genetic disease and tends to occur from early in life and to persist throughout life. The condition can be corrected by manually removing the lashes through surgery or electrolysis. The genetics have not been determined but it seems likely that avoiding breeding from affected Weimaraners would lead to reduction in prevalence and elimination of the disease.
Entropion is an abnormality of the eyelids in which the eyelid rolls inward. This inward rolling often causes the hair on the surface of the eyelid to rub against the cornea resulting in pain, corneal ulcers, perforations, or pigment developing on the cornea which can interfere with vision.
Entropion is considered a hereditary disorder. While the exact genetics are unknown, many breeds, including Weimaraners, are identified as having this problem.
The treatment for entropion is surgical correction. A section of skin is removed from the affected eyelid to reverse its inward rolling. In many cases, a primary, major surgical correction will be performed, and will be followed by a second, minor corrective surgery later. Two surgeries are often performed to reduce the risk of over-correcting the entropion, resulting in an outward-rolling eyelid known as ectropion. Most dogs will not undergo surgery until they have reached their adult size at six to twelve months of age.
The prognosis for the surgical correction of entropion is generally good. While several surgeries may be required, most dogs enjoy a pain-free normal life.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy is a ____________
Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a disease of the heart muscle that is characterized by an enlarged heart that does not function properly. With DCM, both the upper and lower chambers of the heart become enlarged, with one side being more severely affected than the other. When the ventricle, or lower chamber, becomes enlarged, its ability to pump blood out into the lungs and body deteriorates. When the heart’s ventricle does not pump enough blood into the lungs, fluid begins to accumulate in the lungs. An enlarged heart soon becomes overloaded, and this often leads to congestive heart failure (CHF). The incidence of DCM in dogs increases with age, usually affecting dogs between four and ten years old. The major symptoms of DCM include lethargy, anorexia, rapid and excessive breathing, shortness of breath, coughing, abdominal distension, and transient loss of consciousness. In some cases, dogs with preclinical (prior to the appearance of symptoms) DCM may be given a questionable diagnosis because it appears to be in fine health. On the other hand, a thorough physical exam can make apparent some of the subtle symptoms of DCM, such as pulse deficits, ventricular or supraventricular premature contractions (within the ventricles and above the ventricles, respectively), and slow capillary refill time. The dog’s breathing sounds may also have a muffled or crackling sound due to the presence of fluid in the lungs. The cause of DCM in dogs is largely unknown. Nutritional deficiencies of taurine or carnitine have been found to contribute to the incidence of DCM in certain breeds such as Dobermans and Cocker Spaniels. Evidence also suggests that some breeds have a genetic susceptibility to the disease. In most breeds, male dogs are more susceptible to the disease than female dogs. In addition to a thorough physical examination of the heart, certain medical tests are needed to confirm a diagnosis of DCM, and exclude other diseases. Radiographic imaging may reveal left ventricular and atrial enlargement, and the presence of fluid in the lungs. An electrocardiogram (EKG) may reveal atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia (rapid beating of the heart). An ultrasound of the heart using echocardiograph imaging is required for a definitive diagnosis of DCM. This test examines the size of the heart, and the ability of the ventricular to contract. In the case of DCM, an echocardiograph will reveal an enlarged left ventricular and left atrial, and low contraction ability.
Other Medical Problems.
Autoimmune Disease refers to the immune system’s inability to recognize a dog’s own body and, therefore, begins to attack and reject the body’s own tissues, labeling the tissue as foreign. This can be specific to one type of tissue or generalized. Autoimmune diseases can be life threatening in some cases, depending on what organ or system of the body is affected. Autoimmune disease can take many forms; affecting the skin (Pemphigus), the blood (hemolytic anemia, Immune-mediated thrombocytopenia), the joints (Arthritis), the digestive system (IBD), the adrenal glands (Addison’s), or many systems of the body at once (Lupus). The immune system’s attack on the body tissues can result in the breakdown of tissue, inflammation, pain, and vulnerability to pathogens. The liver and kidneys can be adversely affected by common treatments for autoimmune disease. The liver can become easily overwhelmed and may find it hard to repair damage as fast as it occurs. Support of these organs is important. There are many theories but, as of yet, no one certain cause is found for autoimmune diseases in dogs. It is possible that some may be triggered by such things as vaccines, environmental pollutants, preservatives in food, chemicals, viral infections, stress, allergies, excessive use of corticosteroids and/or antibiotics, and genetics.
Canine Cryptorchidism (undescending of either one or both testicles). This is a common condition among male dogs and has been recognized in dogs for a long time, and even with very selective breeding of dogs with normally descended testicles, the trait will still show itself with relative frequency.
Genetic research has shown the likelihood of cryptorchidism to be inherited as a single autosomal recessive gene and to be sex-limited.
The cryptorchid dog should be neutered because the retained abdominal testicle may be a site for future tumoral growth or testicular torsion. The chance for tumors may be 10 times higher on retained testicles than on normally descended testicles. It is also wise to remember that if left intact, monocryptorchid dogs will possess the ability to breed, and in light of the likelihood of a recessive trait, all offspring will be at best carriers. The neutering of cryptorchid males that otherwise would have been show/breeding potential should be done after 6 months of age to give consideration to the exception for delayed descent in some lines, but an attempt should be made to correlate late descent with an increased incidence of cryptorchidism.
Degenerative Myelopathy is a progressive disease of the spinal cord in older dogs that resembles Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in people. The disease has an insidious onset typically between 8 and 14 years of age. It begins with a loss of coordination (ataxia) in the hind limbs. The affected dog will wobble when walking, knuckle over or drag the feet. This can first occur in one hind limb and then affect the other. As the disease progresses, the limbs become weak and the dog begins to buckle and has difficulty standing. The weakness gets progressively worse until the dog is unable to walk. The clinical course can range from 6 months to 1 year before dogs become paraplegic. If signs progress for a longer period of time, loss of urinary and fecal continence may occur and eventually weakness will develop in the front limbs.
Follicular Dysplasia is a condition caused by an abnormality in the canine hair follicle. It typically manifests as hair loss or abnormal hair growth that progresses over an animal’s lifetime.
Several types of follicular dysplasia have been identified, all of them presumably genetic in origin.
Follicular dysplasia in a Doberman Pinscher
Gastric Torsion (GDV, bloat/torsion, twisted stomach). Bloat is a disease common to deep-chested dogs such as Weimaraners that can involve twisting or torsion of the stomach with a subsequent blockage of the esophagus at one end and the intestine at the other. The signs of bloat are obvious, with firm swelling on the left side of the abdomen. The dog will also be stressed and in obvious pain. Bloat happens quickly and is a life-threatening condition that requires x-ray confirmation and emergency surgery. It’s often fatal without immediate veterinary attention.
Hyperuricosuria (HUU) (elevated levels of uric acid in the urine). This trait predisposes dogs to form stones in their bladders or sometimes kidneys. These stones often must be removed surgically and can be difficult to treat. Hyperuricosuria is inherited as a simple autosomal recessive trait. The trait can occur in any breed but is most commonly found in the Dalmatian, Bulldog and Black Russian Terrier. This trait has also been found in Weimaraners. A DNA test for this specific mutation can determine if dogs are normal or if they carry one or two copies of the mutation. Dogs that carry two copies of the mutation will be affected and susceptible to develop bladder/kidney stones.
Hypothyroidism. Inadequate output of the thyroid hormone causing the coat to thin, becoming coarse, brittle and falling out easily. Other signs that develop gradually are lethargy, obesity, drooping of the eyelids, mental dullness, and irregular heat cycles. Mild thyroid deficiency frequently goes undetected. Diagnosis involves a blood test. Treatment: requires lifetime treatment with thyroid hormone.
Umbilical Hernias (an opening in the muscle wall where the belly button is located) are quite common, inherited traits in Weimaraners. The hernia allows the abdominal contents to pass through the opening, and is usually diagnosed by finding the soft swelling in the umbilical area. Small, uncomplicated hernias are cosmetic and don’t affect a dog, but surgical correction may be done if preferred. In some cases, umbilical hernias may close spontaneously by the time a puppy reaches 6 months of age.
Last updated: January 2022