Updated: Jan 23
Your dog’s unique DNA affects his health in the same way your genes impact yours. Here are the conditions to look for in your dog—and what you can do about them.
If you’ve taken a genetic test yourself, you know that biology is not destiny. But knowing what’s lurking in your genes can help you decide what to do about what may (or may not) be coming. This is also true for dogs. A new DNA test, specifically designed for the furry loves of our lives, can predict your dog’s chances for acquiring specific genetic traits and diseases. The test, pioneered by Wisdom Health and Genoscoper Laboratories, uses genetic testing technology, which can be done at home. A study based on the test yielded surprising results for mutt lovers. All dogs, including mixed breeds, can be affected by genetic disease variants. The good news? Being forewarned is forearmed. There’s a lot you can do to counteract what’s in your dog’s genes, just like you can for your own.
“Mixed breeds are less likely to develop a genetic diagnosis than pure breeds, but it still happens, more often than people realize,” explains Angela Hughes, DVM, veterinary genetics research manager for Mars Veterinary, which operates Wisdom Health. The Wisdom Panel analyzes all of the breeds in the dog’s heredity and the health concerns inherent in each breed. They then note when two or more ancestral breeds’ health issues overlap. “That helps your dog’s veterinarian hone in on specific conditions as your pet ages, so you can catch some problems quickly, and lessen the risk of developing others,” adds Dr. Hughes.
Cockapoos, a mix of a poodle and cocker spaniel, may be at risk for an eye disease that affects older dogs called progressive rod cone degeneration. “Late adult early geriatric blindness is a condition that at this time you can’t avoid, but you can help your dog prepare for it by setting up your space, removing potentially hazardous items from around the house, and maintaining a solid routine,” says Dr. Hughes.
A popular breed known for their boundless energy, Labrador retrievers are predisposed to a number of health conditions. “Labs are prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, eye conditions, and exercise induced collapse (EIC),” says Pete Lands, DVM, the director of emergency and critical care at Saint Francis Veterinary Center. He adds that there are surgical treatments to treat hip and elbow dysplasia, and ophthalmological evaluations can diagnose ocular disease.
As for EIC, it’s a recessive hereditary trait which has become common in labs, no matter what their coat color. It is an important condition to be aware of, since it can be fatal. If you know that your dog has the trait for EIC, avoiding strenuous exercise is imperative, especially in hot weather. Dogs with EIC often, though not always, become wobbly and collapse after five or ten minutes of vigorous exercise, such as running, playing catch, or fetching. Older dogs with flaccid muscles may be more susceptible.
A scent hound dog breed which is fiercely loyal and protective, dachshunds are short-legged, and long-bodied. “With bold and lively personalities, and weighing in at around 20 pounds, some might say they suffer from a Napoleonic complex!” says Dr. Lands. Their small stature predisposes them to back problems, specifically disc herniations, which can occur at a young age. This condition can sometimes lead to paralysis of the hind limbs, front limbs, or both. If this occurs, an experienced surgeon is usually able to remove a disc impinging on a nerve. “Even the best surgeons can’t repair every injury, but new techniques are being developed to remove a portion of each disc, which can prevent disc herniation in dachshunds,” he adds. If you have a dachshund, talk to your vet about proactive surgical procedures that may help.
This loyal and adorable breed is prone to a wide range of health conditions, so getting yours from a reputable breeder is essential. Topping the list is a condition called gastric-dilation-volvulus (GDV), also known as torsion or bloat. GDV can be life-threatening to large dogs who are barrel-chested. It typically occurs when the stomach becomes distended and twists. The dog is not able to rid itself of the excess air in its abdominal region, reducing blood pressure and leading to shock. According to Dogtime, this condition may be avoided by giving your boxer several small meals daily (rather than one large one), encouraging your pup to drink water immediately after eating, and eliminating vigorous exercise. You can also have your boxer tested for this genetic condition.
Deafness has been linked to the gene that gives Dalmatians their white and black spotted coats. Since deafness in Dalmatians does not appear until several weeks after birth, some people may be surprised to find that they have adopted a dog with some, or complete, hearing loss. Sadly, many deaf Dalmatian puppies are put up for rescue or unnecessarily euthanized. A very bright breed, Dalmatians can learn American Sign Language and live wonderful lives with owners who understand them. Dalmatians are also prone to urinary stones, which can be prevented through diet.
Bulldogs, French bulldogs, and other brachycephalic (smoosh-faced) dog breeds are predisposed to overheating, especially in warm climates. “This group of dogs has a short soft palate and a small nose, making it difficult for them to pant efficiently to release heat from their bodies,” explains Dr. Lands. “While these dogs are generally well-mannered and adorable, bulldogs do better in climates that are not too hot.” There are surgical options available, which can open up the airway and nostrils, thus improving a brachycephalic dog’s ability to breath, he says.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Known for their toy size, sweet faces, and affectionate natures, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are lap dogs that originated from England during the 18th Century. “While they are crowd pleasers, these adorable dogs are predisposed to a multitude of serious medical conditions, including heart disease. A genetic mutation in Cavaliers can lead to mitral valve heart disease and heart failure at a young age,” says Dr. Lands. Regular veterinary appointments that include listening to your dog’s heart with a stethoscope will provide early detection and diagnosis of heart disease in your pup. “If there is suspicion of heart disease, following up with a veterinary cardiologist to perform an echocardiogram is a must,” Dr. Lands recommends.
Like many herding dogs, this beautiful breed is prone to MDR1, a gene mutation that causes multi-drug resistance. “Knowing your dog has it can help you to avoid specific medications or to adjust their doses,” says Dr. Hughes. The Veterinary Clinical Pharmacology Laboratory at Washington State University lists the drugs that can adversely affect dogs with this mutation. According to Dr. Hughes, around one in 50 mixed breed dogs are also affected by the MDR1 gene mutation.
Golden Retrievers are one of several dog breeds genetically prone to type 1 diabetes, which, in most cases, requires daily insulin injections. The trick here is to know your dog’s genetic makeup and to catch the disease early, with annual or bi-annual blood tests. (Keep in mind that type 1 diabetes can surface in young Goldens.) Talk to your vet about how you can help your dog live a full and happy life with diabetes; just as in people, this is a manageable condition.
This intelligent, medium-to-large breed is known for its fearlessness and loyalty—and for having Von Willebrand disease, a lifelong, genetic bleeding disorder that causes blood clotting complications, says Dr. Hughes. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, four is the average age of onset for the condition in Dobermans. Dobermans do not show signs of the disease until they are in a situation where they are bleeding. This often occurs for the first time when they are spayed or neutered. Knowing that your dog has this condition can save its life in an emergency; talk to your dog’s veterinarian about getting a buccal mucosal screening test for this condition. If your dog has Von Willebrand disease, certain medications should be avoided. Your veterinarian will also need to take special precautions during surgery and/or emergency situations, where bleeding occurs.
American Pit Bull Terrier
These medium-sized dogs are very protective of their owners. Many make great companions, especially if they are socialized and trained well from an early age. American pit bull terriers are prone to several conditions, including hip dysplasia, a genetic condition that leads to arthritis. Dogs with hip dysplasia have hip joints that do not form properly and are loose. This causes the leg bones to get less support than they need, causing added wear and tear on the joint. The resulting arthritis can range from mild to severe. Flexpet recommends moderate amounts of low-impact exercise that doesn’t significantly affect the dog’s hip joints. Obesity exacerbates this condition, so it’s also important to keep your dog trim. Any signs of stiffness or a reluctance to move signals the need for a veterinarian appointment.
Known for their tiny frame and long life span, these little sweeties are also prone to a genetic condition called patellar luxation. The condition causes the rear knee caps of dogs to become loose and slip out of grooves located at the base of the femur. According to Healthline, this condition may be hereditary or caused by activities affecting the knee, such as jumping or excess weight. There are several types and grades of severity for this condition. Keeping your Chihuahua from jumping off and on furniture may help to alleviate the condition’s severity. Since treatments are limited, it’s important to keep an eye on your tiny pup and to see their vet immediately if they start to limp or hop in an attempt to reduce pressure on their affected legs. In some cases, surgery can be highly effective in eliminating this condition.
This highly intelligent, loyal breed is known for its ability to be trained for serious work, such as sniffing out bombs or contraband. Due to overbreeding, however, German shepherds are prone to several genetic conditions, including degenerative myelopathy, a neurological disease that affects the spinal cord. Degenerative myelopathy starts to occur in middle-aged-to-older dogs, and its symptoms include a lack of coordinated movements and wobbling legs. According to the Canine Genetic Disease Network, this condition ultimately results in paralysis and can only be diagnosed via autopsy. The symptoms of degenerative myelopathy are very similar to those of other, curable conditions, so don’t panic if you see signs of it in your dog.
Known for their gorgeous coats and penetrating blue eyes, Siberian Huskies are prone to Uveodermatologic syndrome, an autoimmune disorder, that affects the skin and eyes. Siberian Huskies with Uveodermatologic syndrome have loss of skin pigment on their footpads, eyelids, snout, and lips. They also experience inflammation in the uvea, the pigmented layer of the eye’s interior. This condition can permanently damage the eye, so determining if your dog has it, either through genetic testing or frequent veterinary examinations, is paramount.