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Be wary of dog health risks

Common health problems for popular dog breeds

The following company participates in our Authorized Partner Program: Embrace Pet Insurance

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Photo (c) Jessica Render

Being a dog owner is incredibly fun and rewarding. They run with us, cuddle with us and don't mind much when we say something stupid. Not surprisingly, dog adoptions and sales surged earlier this year as many people started to deal with isolation while sheltering in place.

According to the American Kennel Club, the most popular breeds this year are Labrador and golden retrievers, German shepherds, bulldogs, poodles, beagles, Rottweilers, pointers and corgis.

For many new puppy parents, breed-associated issues are something to keep in mind. All dog breeds and mixes have individual medical needs. Let's take a look at what health problems your pooch might be at a higher risk for developing.

Labrador retrievers

We love Labrador retrievers for their playful and loyal personalities, and it’s no wonder they are the most popular dog breed in America. Labs aren't high-maintenance dogs when it comes to health, but they are prone to weight gain and joint problems, particularly dysplasia, as they age. Dysplasia most commonly causes joints to stiffen the hips, shoulders or elbows.

Many Labs struggle with obesity, especially as they get older. If your Lab or Lab mix is losing their hourglass figure, consider looking into dog food for weight loss. It’s smart to check with your vet before making any significant changes to your dog’s diet.

This breed can also suffer from patellar luxation (out-of-place kneecaps). Distichiasis, which is when the eyelashes grow from the eyelid margin rather than the eyelid skin, and entropion, which is when the eyelid rolls inward, occasionally afflicts Labs, too.

The average Labrador retriever lives 10 to 12 years. Some more general conditions that can afflict this breed as they age include:

  • Diabetes
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Retinal dysplasia
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Cataract

German shepherds

You probably already know that police often use German shepherds as patrol dogs because of the breed’s high intelligence and a knack for obedience.

What you might not know, however, is that they sometimes struggle with a disorder called perianal fistula. This disorder describes an abnormal connection between the perianal skin and the anal canal. It’s mostly due to their low-hanging tails, and the condition can cause a lot of pain and discomfort. It's best to catch this issue early on.

German shepherds are also prone to gastric dilatation-volvulus, which is a technical way to describe bloat or torsion. It occurs when food, water or air build up in a dog’s digestive tract and causes their stomachs to twist and eventually rupture.

To prevent bloating, try to control your dog's portions and not let them eat too quickly. It also helps to avoid challenging exercise for an hour or two before and after meals. GDV can be life-threatening, and the onset is very sudden.

According to the Mid-Atlantic German Shepherd Rescue Foundation, the breed is also prone to degenerative myelopathy (DM), a degenerative disease that affects the spinal cord and leads to eventual paralysis. An early symptom of DM is ataxia, or loss of coordination, in the hind limbs. If you have a German shepherd, additional conditions to be aware of include:

  • Epilepsy
  • Pancreatic enzyme insufficiency
  • Corneal inflammation
  • Lupus
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia

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Golden retrievers

Goldens are one of the most loved breeds for families because they are adventurous and typically great with kids. Like Labs, golden retrievers often struggle with hip dysplasia, which stiffens the hips and makes it painful for your pup to walk or jump.

This breed can also get bad skin diseases. Their long overcoat and dense undercoat make an attractive home for all kinds of bacteria, fungus and parasites. According to the Animal Health Center of New Hampshire, Goldens are extra susceptible to bacterial and viral infections.

Sometimes, switching to food for dogs with allergies helps, but other times the irritation is caused by mold, fleas, mites, ticks or something else.

Sadly, goldens also have a much higher chance of developing cancer than many other breeds. They’re also prone to problems related to the heart, lungs or circulatory system and other health issues that include:

  • Ear infections
  • Dental disease
  • Obesity
  • Epilepsy
  • Diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Cataracts

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French bulldogs

It’s no wonder that French bulldogs are one of the most popular small dog breeds. They are friendly, adorable and relatively low maintenance.

Unfortunately, those flat faces and short snouts make Frenchies susceptible to respiratory problems. During the summer, it’s especially important to look out for signs of heatstroke, which include excessive panting, vomiting, diarrhea and bright red gums.

Frenchies are better known for their flatulence than their barking. Luckily, their gassiness doesn’t always indicate a larger health problem. This breed just has a really sensitive digestive system.

Frenchies also have small ear canals that make them vulnerable to ear infections. Upset stomachs, diarrhea and conjunctivitis are also common for French bulldogs. Be extra aware of any skin problems your Frenchie could have — their folded-over skin often causes dermatitis. Nasal hyperkeratosis can cause their nose tissue to thicken and become hard.

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Similar to their French cousins, bulldogs are prone to respiratory distress syndrome. Because of their pressed noses, English bulldogs are susceptible to brachycephalic airway syndrome, which causes breathing problems, panting, discomfort and an aversion to exercise. Older bullies can eventually develop laryngeal paralysis, further complicating breathing issues.

Bulldogs are known for their loyalty and dependability. Like other sturdy breeds, they have a tendency to develop hip dysplasia. Bulldogs are also prone to cherry eye, which is when a tear gland around an eye becomes red, swollen and inflamed. Additional health risks for all bulldogs include:

  • Overheating
  • Eczema and hot spots
  • Interdigital cysts
  • Arthritis
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Heart disease


Poodles are beautiful, playful and easy to train, but they’re predisposed by quite a few ailments. Unfortunately, Addison's disease is more commonly found in standard poodles than other breeds. Also known as hypoadrenocorticism, this disease causes the adrenal glands to reduce cortisol production, which leads to digestive problems, lethargy and depression. According to Embrace, the cost of diagnosing and treating Addison’s disease ranges from $1,000 to $5,000.

Poodles are at a higher risk for Cushing's syndrome, which is the opposite of Addison’s disease. Cushing’s syndrome is a condition that causes the adrenal glands to become overactive, leading to a weaker immune system, weight gain and hair loss.

Generally, poodles are also considered higher risk for hip dysplasia, epilepsy, thyroid disorders and hypoglycemia. Standard breeds are more prone to some types of cancers, including insulinoma (pancreatic tumor) and hemangiosarcoma (splenic tumor). Toy and miniature breeds sometimes develop dental problems or tracheal collapse.

Sebaceous adenitis is a rare hereditary skin disease that causes progressing alopecia, or hair loss, in poodles. The condition isn’t painful, but the loss of hair makes dogs more vulnerable to bacteria, inflammation and infection.

Healthy poodles live a long time. Some miniature and toys live up to 15 years or more. Many of the common health conditions can be managed with medication when detected early. If you have a poodle, talk to you veterinarian if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Limping
  • Dragging rear end
  • Excessive drooling
  • Hair loss
  • Weight loss
  • Weight gain
  • Stiff limbs
  • Nose bleeds
  • Bloody urine or stool
  • Pale or bleeding gums


Beagles are the adorable breed known for long, floppy ears and curious eyes. Generally, the top health concerns associated with beagles include hypothyroidism and epilepsy.

It’s unclear why beagles seem to be diagnosed with epilepsy more than other breeds. Most of the time, epileptic beagles start having seizures when they are puppies, but sometimes the condition is diagnosed later. The condition can be managed with medication. Healthy beagles can live a long time — up to 15 years or more.

Beagles are sometimes more prone to different dental diseases due to the build-up of tartar. Dental disease can seriously hurt your pup, so you'll want to chat with your vet about your beagle's gum health. Like bulldogs, beagles tend to gain weight as they get older.


Like other large breeds, Rottweilers are at high risk for bone and joint problems, particularly hip dysplasia and osteochondritis dissecans. They can also have problems with their eyes, namely cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy, that cause vision loss and eventual blindness. The American Kennel Club and the National Breed Club recommend testing Rottweilers for hip dysplasia, eye diseases and heart conditions.

Sadly, osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, is a common cause of early death in Rottweilers. Compared to other breeds, they are also more prone to aortic stenosis, a heart disorder that narrows the aorta. This disorder can cause heart murmurs initially but will grow into a threatening health condition if not treated.

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A dignified pup, pointers are known for their hunting abilities. They are excellent watchdogs and playful companions to their humans.

Luckily, pointers are generally considered to be a healthy breed of canine. They sometimes have problems with hip dysplasia, but so do most large deep-chested breeds.

The AKC notes that pointers can experience bloat, also known as gastric torsion. When a dog is bloated, it's much more severe than when humans have to unbutton their pants and pop an antacid. This can be a potentially fatal condition for your dog, so it's something you want to keep in mind when you have a pointer.


Queen Elizabeth made the corgi royally famous, and for a good reason. Known for their big ears, long bodies, tiny legs and prominent personalities, corgis are a naturally playful and amiable breed.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that they are prone to health conditions related to their bones and joints, including intervertebral disc disease and canine hip dysplasia (CHD). Epilepsy and eye problems occasionally afflict corgis as well.

Like many other dogs, they have a chance of developing Von Willebrand's disease, a hereditary condition that decreases blood clotting. It’s similar to hemophilia in humans and can be dangerous if your pup is ever wounded. It can also cause anemia in corgis, another reason you should monitor your dog's health and communicate with your vet.

Should I get pet insurance?

The conditions and disorders mentioned above are just a few reasons why some people get pet insurance. It can be a smart investment to ensure you won't have to spend tons of money on a hip replacement for your poodle, for example. Coverage is often worth it when it helps dog owners save money and worry in the long run — most pet insurance won't cover preexisting conditions, but many cover breed-specific issues as long as you purchase coverage before problems develop.

Pet insurance works a little bit like human health insurance. You usually pay a copay at the vet and have a yearly deductible. Pet insurance copays vary by provider, and deductibles can be anywhere from $0 to $1,000.

Plans start around $15 a month but could cost more or less depending on your dog’s age, breed and your desired level of coverage. Top pet insurance providers offer straightforward options for coverage. You can select coverage for "accident-only" incidents, such as an attack by another dog or other unpredictable injury. Some plans also include wellness coverage, which will take care of most preventative treatments.

Your monthly doggy budget goes up a little with pet insurance, but you don't have to worry so much about paying for emergency veterinarian bills and unplanned treatments. Even if you don't file a claim, the peace of mind might be worth it.

Not all dogs of a particular breed have health problems, but some conditions appear more often than others in specific breeds and breed mixes. Even though breed-based risk is documented, it can be difficult to understand all the factors that influence the risk for any particular disease or condition.

Our dogs really do become part of our families. However, taking care of our dogs can end up being more costly and time-consuming than we imagined. It can be overwhelming, especially for first-time dog owners.

Between checkups, grooming, food and treats, our furry friends are quite the investments. Still, they're the best kind of investment, and pet insurance is a good way to ensure you won’t have to make tough financial decisions when deciding on how to care for your pet.

As your dog gets older, some health problems may become more apparent. Keeping your pup healthy while they are still young could mitigate some of the effects. For more, learn how to find the best dog food and the best dog treats or check out our picks for the top “cones of shame.”

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