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 still 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, 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 berve 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.
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.
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.
Hypomyelination. 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 tremors when awake as early as 2 weeks of age. 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.
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.
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.
Patent Ductus Arteriosis (PDA). The ductus arteriosus is a blood vessel which connects the aorta to the pulmonary artery. In the fetus this blood vessel is normally present and functions to divert blood around the lungs which are not yet functioning. Shortly after birth this vessel will normally close; when it does not patent ductus arteriosus is the result. PDA is one of the most common cardiac birth defects seen in dogs. Females are more likely to be affected than males. Normally the blood flows from the right side of the heart to the lungs, then into the left side of the heart and out to the rest of the body. In PDA some of the blood which is leaving the left side of the heart is channeled back into the lungs. Because of this the heart must work harder to make sure enough blood is getting to the rest of the body. If this condition goes with out treatment premature death is likely. Causes: Patent ductus arteriosus is inherited which means it can be passed from parents to offspring. The mode of inheritance is very complex and not fully understood. Symptoms: In the early stages of PDA there are normally no noticeable signs. The first sign that your dog may have PDA is a heart murmur. This heart murmur is usually called a machinery, or continuous, murmur. In later stages of the disease breathing difficulties, coughing, exercise intolerance, and inactivity may be seen. Depending on the severity of the case congestive heart failure may result. Diagnosis: Patent ducts arteriosus can be diagnosed using a number of tests. In some cases a veterinarian can diagnose the condition by auscultation, or listening to the heart with a stethoscope. A chest x-ray can also be helpful in diagnosing PDA. The radiograph will show heart abnormalities. In addition to these an echocardiogram may be performed. This is a cardiac ultrasound which shows the heart beating in read time and a veterinarian can see where blood is flowing through the heart. More than one test may need to be performed before a definitive diagnosis of PDA can be made. Treatment: Treatment for PDA consists of surgery to close the blood vessel. In most cases the vessel is closed by using a surgical suture which ties it off. Surgery is suggested to be performed shortly after a diagnosis has been made. Waiting until symptoms arise or the condition worsens is not recommended. Medical management may be used before surgery to ease coughing or breathing difficulties if they are causing the dog problems. Overall the surgery has proven to be very successful in treating this condition.
Pulmonic Stenosis. Pulmonic stenosis is a congenital (present at birth) defect characterized by the narrowing and obstruction of blood through the heart’s pumlonary valve, which connects the pulmonary artery to the right ventricle (one of the heart’s four chambers). Depending on the severity of the obstruction, it can cause anything from a murmur to an arrhythmia to congestive heart failure. Symptoms: There are three types of pulmonic stenosis: valvular pulmonic stenosis (occurring in the valve), subvalvular pulmonic stenosis (occurring below the valve, and supravalvular pulmonic stenosis (just inside the pulmonary artery). Valvular pulmonic stenosis is the most common form seen in dogs. If the stenosis is mild, no clinical symptoms may be present, whereas severely affected patients may collapse with exertion or suffer from congestive heart failure (CHF). Other visible signs of pulmonic stenosis include: abdominal distension, difficulty breathing, and inability to exercise normally.
Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia (TVD) is a congenital, heritable heart defect (that is now prevalent in Labrador Retrievers). The tricuspid valve is one of four heart valves and allows blood to flow in one direction from the right atrium into the right ventricle. If a puppy inherits the gene (or genes) responsible for the defect, its tricuspid valve will be malformed in utero. The medical term for malformation of a valve is “Dysplasia”. Thus, the puppy will have a dysplastic valve at birth that does not shut tightly, allowing blood to leak (regurgitate) back through it. The size of the leak will dictate the severity of the disease. A puppy with mild regurgitation will likely have a normal life span. If the regurgitation is severe, the puppy may not live to see its first birthday.
Subvalvular Aortic Stenosis (SAS) is an abnormal, congenital heart murmur caused by subaortic stenosis (SAS). There is very good evidence that it is heritable, passed on from generation to generation genetically. This genetic trait is what is called polygenic, so that the inheritance is complex. An animal might have the genes for SAS, yet have no actual sign of SAS. Also, an animal might have signs of subaortic stenosis, and yet offspring with signs of SAS may not be seen for a couple of generations. Any animal that has subaortic stenosis should not be bred, because they can definitely pass the defect on to future offspring. There is some controversy as to whether the parents of an animal with SAS should be bred again. Heart murmurs are graded on a scale of 1 to 6, with one being very mild and six being very serious, with some animals dying before they reach this high stage due to a sudden leap in the grade or through long-term slowing down. Murmurs can exist due to a large number of heart problems (infection, trauma, anemia, etc.; some are innocent, with no cardiac pathology. Tests such as chest X-rays, echocardiography, and electro-cardiography can be performed to evaluate the severity of the situation. The condition is usually detected during puppy visits to the veterinarian by hearing a heart murmur during physical examination. A heart murmur is the abnormal sound of blood rushing through one of the heart valves. Instead of just the heartbeat, a whistle of blood flow through a narrowed opening is heard. The puppy will most likely appear normal in all other respects. There is a possibility that the murmur may come and go, or it may develop slowly; this can be determined by frequent checks of a puppy’s heart during its first few months. The chance for long-term survival of SAS is low. Puppies and dogs diagnosed with subaortic stenosis can suffer from heart failure and sudden death. If a dog with SAS develops heart failure, medications can be prescribed to alleviate the clinical signs (sudden/strong lethargicism, heavy panting continuously, rise in temperature etc.).
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.
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.
Canine 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: August 2018