Doberman Health Issues

The Doberman Pinscher, like every pure bred dog, is affected by a variety of congenital and heritable diseases.  Some diseases have definitive tests, others have screens and still others have nothing.  The following is a list of diseases that can affect the Doberman.  Please note this list is by no means exhaustive, though it aims to bring to light some of the more common health problems in our breed.  If you would like more information, the DPCC suggests you contact a knowledgeable and reputable breeder or your veterinarian.

Hypothyroidism is a hereditary condition. The thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which can affect the dog’s overall condition. Hypothyroid dogs tend to have poor coats, be lethargic, seek heat, be overweight, and have problems with fertility. The thyroid gland affects many bodily functions and has be proven to be closely related to the immune system.  Dogs who have low thyroid function tend to experience a host of other problems throughout life.  Aggression has also been linked to low thyroid function.

Testing for Thyroid Disease
The only way to know your dog’s true thyroid function is to have a complete panel run by a qualified lab (Michigan State, Antech, Guelph).  These labs test for levels of T4, T3, TSH, Free T4 and Free T3.  Most veterinary in house testing is only for T4, and this is not an adequate indicator of thyroid function.  Testing should be done annually, as the disease can come on later in life.  Hypothyroidism is treated by giving thyroid hormone replacement pills a couple of times per day. Once started, however, the dog will have to stay on this treatment for the rest of his life.

Cancer works the same in dogs as it does in humans: there is a mutation of cells, and the body’s immune system is unable to stop these mutated cells from reproducing.  There are many types of cancer that affect the Doberman.  Some of the more common types are mammary cancer in bitches and prostate cancer in dogs, but it can manifest in the bones or other organs just as easily.  Mammary cancer has been the #1 killer of female Dobermans for many years.  Spayed bitches have a notably decreased incidence of the disease, however.

Some dogs have gone through chemotherapy and radiation to cure their cancers, while others have used holisitic or alterative treatments with much success.  There is no test for cancer.

Chronic Active Hepatitis and Copper Toxicosis
Chronic active hepatitis (CAH) is a liver disease where the liver does not metabolize copper properly. The copper will accumulate in the liver and eventually become toxic to the dog. The build-up may be caused by excessive absorption of copper or abnormal storage of copper because of a failure of excretion mechanism.

The disease is most likely to affect a female aged four to six. The initial symptom, though often neglected, is polydipsia (heavy drinking), which may only be temporary or intermittent. When the condition progresses further a poor appetite, vomiting and weight loss soon follow. As the disease advances, the mucous membranes start to turn yellowish. This is most apparent in the eyeballs (sclera), the gums and on the skin in areas where hair is scarce. Weight loss becomes accelerated and the dog develops free fluids in the abdomen, often so much that it looks like a puppy that has just eaten a huge dinner. The only differences in the appearance are the pronounced ribs and spine. The dog is tired and lethargic, although not entirely incapable of running and playing if required.

Testing for CAH
As with any ailment, early diagnosis by a veterinarian allows for a greater chance of recovery.  Diagnosis can be confirmed by first testing the ALT (liver enzyme) levels in a dog, and then eventually by a liver biopsy.

The only known treatments for copper toxicosis are to reduce the dog’s intake of copper by changing her diet, and anticupric therapy as recommended by a veterinarian.

Many commercial dog foods are high in copper. In human diets, shellfish, chocolate, liver, nuts, legumes and cereals are all rich with copper. These may not seem to be things common to commercial dog food, but one should read the labels and packages. It is imperative to use distilled water for a dog who is positive for liver disease.  Alternative or holistic medicines have also been used with great success, one of which is milk thistle.

Von Willebrand’s Disease
Von Willebrand’s disease (vWD) is a common, inherited bleeding disorder in the Doberman. It is caused by a lack of von Willebrand factor (vWF or Factor VIII protein), which plays an essential role in the blood clotting process.  Although many dogs are affected by vWD, only a small proportion have severe problems.

Testing for vWD
This is one of the few diseases for which we have a definitive test.  Embark Dog DNA Test: Their best life starts with Embark. ( has developed a DNA test for vWD, which enables breeders to selectively breed to eliminate the disease over time.  The results of this test will classify a dog as either “clear”, “carrier” or “affected”.  It is important to note that clear and carrier dogs are at absolutely no risk of bleeding.  The label “affected” is used to describe dogs who carry two copies of the gene for vWD.  Most affected dogs will never experience a bleeding episode, and it is important to talk to your veterinarian to ensure he/she understands this.

Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia is a disease of the hip joints involving the ball and socket. HD can begin in very young puppies, but it is primarily a disease of an older dog. Sometimes there will be “wear and tear” on the ball which will show as flat spots. This can be extremely painful for the dog, and sometimes a hip replacement is required in extreme cases. Hip dysplasia can be hereditary, though injuries and nutrition have also been suspected causes.

Testing for Hip Dysplasia
Testing for the disease is simple through x-rays performed by your veterinarian and sent to a licensing board.

The OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) keeps a registry of x-rayed dogs that have been submitted for evaluation and certification. Hips free of the disease are rated as either Excellent, Good or Fair. Dysplastic hips will be graded as borderline or dysplastic (levels 1, 2, or 3.  A preliminary rating is given to dogs under 2 years of age, and a final reading is given at more than 2 years of age.

The Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) also offers certification on a pass / fail basis.

PennHip is a newer system for testing hips.  Three sets of x-rays are taken, and these can be done as young as 4 months of age.

Genetic Eye Diseases
It is estimated that approximately 40% of purebred dogs are affected by some sort of heritable eye disease.  This includes cataracts, glaucoma, diseases of the eyelids, lens, cornea, and other sections of the eye.

Testing for Eye Diseases
The Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) is an organization which certifies dogs whose eyes are clear of heritable disease.  Clinics are hosted around the USA and Canada where board certified ophthalmologists will examine your dog.

Stomach Torsion (bloat)
Bloat is a disease common to deep-chested dogs 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. Bloat happens quickly and is often fatal without immediate veterinary attention

Its symptoms include retching with no vomiting, extreme salivation, obvious discomfort, and distention of the abdomen. Gulping food can bring on an attack of bloat, and it is often recommended that dogs should be fed twice daily to avoid the hunger pangs that lead to eating too fast. Some breeders believe that foods containing soybeans shouldn’t be fed to breeds that are susceptible to bloat because the beans can produce gas.

Many cases of bloat occur in the evening, after the dog has perhaps shared the family snack of pizza or some other highly-spiced food and then exercised. Treatment is expensive and not always successful. Feeding moistened dog food and postponing exercise for a couple of hours after the meal may help prevent bloat.