Swissys are in general a healthy breed, but health issues that can occur in any large breed dog have been seen in the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog.  As breeders, we strive to eliminate genetic health problems through a very selective breeding program.   But that is a goal, not a reality.   It's important to understand that health issues can occur in any Swissy, regardless of the pedigree or breeder.  Please keep in mind that all dogs, purebred and mixed dogs alike, have health issues, including show dogs, working dogs, and family companions.

 

Swissy Health Concerns

  • Allergies
  • Bloat/Torsion-Gastric Dilitation Vovulus (GDV)
  • Cancer
  • Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD)
  • Cataracts
  • Elbow Dysplasia (ED)
  • Entropion
  • Idiopathic Epilepsy (IE)
  • Ostechondrosis dissecans (OCD)
  • Panosteitis
  • Patella Luxation
  • Splenic Torsion
  • Swissy Lick Fit

Following is a brief description of these health issues, provided courtesy of Brigitte Rhinehart at Brush Creek Farms.

Allergies

An allergic reaction is an unwanted side effect caused by an inappropriate response of the immune system to various substances such as pollens, mold, dust or insect bites, certain foods, drugs and chemicals. Exposure to them triggers a reaction, usually through itching, sneezing, coughing, tearing, vomiting or diarrhea. The most frequently encountered allergies in Swissys are reaction to certain types of food, flea bites and pollen. Food allergies occuring at a young age sometimes disappear, i.e. the dog outgrows the allregic reaction eventually. Becaue the cause of an allergy is often difficult and sometimes impossible to determine, allergies can be very frustrating for the owner, and patience is often the only recourse!

 

Bloat/Torsion-Gastric Dilitation Vovulus

Bloat or GDV is a devastating killer of dogs and can occur in the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. Mostly, GDV occurs in deep chested breeds, such as the GSMD and requires immediate veterinary care. Unfortunately, even with the speediest care, many dogs do not survive.

Bloat can occur with or without torsion of the stomach and/or spleen, just as torsion can occur with or without bloat. When abnormal amounts of air, food, fluids get into the stomach, you have the right conditions for bloat. It can be caused by wolfing down too much water, too much food too fast, exercise after eating, stress, or conditions too numerous to mention and some unknown as well. Symptoms can be distended abdomen, excessive salivating, depression, lethargy - there are so many symptoms that you would just have to know your dog and know that something was not right.

When Bloat occurs it cuts off the esophagus and the blood supply to the heart is lessened causing low blood pressure as well as other cardiac problems. This causes the dog to go into shock. Organ damage can occur as well and the stomach may rupture causing peritonitis to set in. This can also affect the stomach and spleen and cause torsion. If not treated, the dog may die.

All GSMD owners are advised to acquaint their veterinarians and emergency care facilities that you have a GSMD and this is a breed that can be prone to bloat and torsion.
In the Purdue Bloat Study, they state that though there are ethical issues that need to be considered by dog breeders and veterinarians, any dog that is prone to GDV should have an elective gastropexy (stomach tack). This will not prevent bloat, but will prevent the torsion that usually occurs with the bloat, and the dogs chances of survival improve greatly.

Swissys are definitely prone to GDV. While the condition occurs more frequently in dogs over 5 years, it can happen at any age. To date, research on the condition has remained inconclusive, it seems to be multifactorial in nature, i.e. no single food type, ingredient or feeding method has been shown to cause GDV. Indeed, some Swissys have bloated on entirely empty stomachs. Stress may be the triggering factor under certain conditions. And while heredity is suspected by some researchers, no conclusive evidence has been produced to date. At present there are no clear cut preventives for bloat. The most important tool to prevent a fatal ending to GDV is to recognize the signs and get immediate veterinarian

Symptoms of GDV include a abdominal swelling and tenderness, excessive salivating, unsuccessful attempts to vomit, restlessness, panting or labored breathing, depression, and lethargy.  Other symptoms can occur. 

This is a life-threatening emergency where every second counts!  Be prepared by knowing the symptoms and having a plan in place for emergency veterinary care.

 

Cancer

Age is the most important risk factor for the development of cancer in dogs, for it is the aging that permits the long-term events leading to tumor development and progression to occur. For most tumor types, the risk for cancer increases with increased age. There are many types of cancer occurring in dogs such as: various types of skin tumors or carcinomas - tumors of the bone such as osteosarcoma - tumors of the lymphoid tissues such as lymphosarcoma - tumors derived from blood vessel such as hemangiosarcoma. To date, Swissys do not appear to be predisposed to a certain form of cancer. And although a few cases of cancer in young dogs have been reported, so far it is clearly the older population that is subject to the various forms of cancer.

 

Canine Hip Displasia (CHD)

This is the irregular formation of the coxofemoral joint. This is the joint that joins the femur, the longest bone in the body, to the hip socket. The hip is a ball and socket joint, and the ball (femoral head) must fit well into the socket (cup) for the joint to function properly. The main contributors to the development of CHD are joint laxity and the depth of the acetabulum (cup). Early signs of CHD include: - Reluctance to go up and down stairs or to jump - Difficulty rising or laying down - Bunny hopping when running, i.e. both hind limbs move together. Diagnosis is made through radiographic findings, either by the method advocated by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or by that of the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP) which measures joint laxity. While CHD is among the principal orthopedic diseases in the GSMD, fortunately for Swissys, it manifests itself rarely in a severe and crippling form. Indeed, unless x-rays are taken, many Swissy owners are not even aware that they have a dysplastic dog. Quite often, mildly and even moderately affected Swissys do not show any or only very subtle clinical signs of the disease. While treatment options for severely dysplastic dogs are available, we will not discuss them here as they are so rarely applicable to Swissys. Prior to breeding, Swissys should be screened for CHD and evaluated by an established registry such as OFA or PennHIP. It is preferable to use only CHD free animals.

 

Cataract

This is the loss of normal transparency of the eye's lens. The opacity is usually white but may also give bluish white cast to the lens behind the pupil. A cataract can be singular or multiple, of any size or shape and may affect the entire lens. The degree of vision impairment is determinded by the size and location of the cataract within the lens. While most cataracts are considered to be inherited, some may result from trauma to the eye or from metabolic disorders such as diabetes. Congenital (present at birth) cataracts may or may not be inherited and generally do not progress to blindness. Most hereditary forms of cataract occur in dogs under the age of 5 years. Senile cataracts in older dogs are quite common and are considered to be the result of the aging process. Like any other ocular abnormality, cataracts can be confirmed by an ophthalmological exam. In general, Swissy breeders will not breed a dog with cataracts unless trauma has been clearly established as the cause of the condition.

 

Elbow Dysplasia (ED)

Manifested as: OCD, FCP(fragmented coronoid process), UAP (ununited anconeal process), DJD (degenerative joint disease, note that DJD may also occur in the cartilage of other joints). The form most often diagnosed in Swissys appears to be DJD, a slowly progressive form of cartilage degeneration usually caused by trauma or abnormal wear on the joint. DJD is classified as primary (idiopathic or no known cause) or secondary (a known predisposing cause or injury exists). Anecdotal evidence suggests that most Swissys diagnosed with DJD during radiographs of the elbows for OFA certification fall into the mildest form grade I. They have never displayed any clinical signs such as pain, stiffness, decreased range of motion or lameness. With DJD, genetic predisposition cannot be established as definitely as with other orthopedic conditions. Hence, there is a wide range of opinions among Swissy breeders with regard to breeding a dog affected with DJD grade I. There is, however, general consensus among breeders not to use Swissys with DJD beyond grade I as well as with any of the other forms of ED.

 

Entropion

Entropion (eyelid rolled inward), Distichiasis (extra eyelashes or row of lashes growing from the lid margins): If present in acute clinical form, both conditions can cause irritation to and possibly damage the cornea. Signs of these defects are excessive tearing, ocular discharge and squinting. Clinical entropion and distichiasis can be very successfully corrected by surgery. While these hereditary conditions are present in Swissys, they are often so minor that they do not present any clinical evidence. This applies in particular to distichiasis. Many Swissys have extra eyelashes which are only apparent upon careful examination of the inside of the eyelids. Like with all ocular abnormalities, Swissys can be screened for these most frequently occuring defects and registered with the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF).

 

Idiopathic Epilepsy (IE)

This is the term used by most experts to describe the condition of frequent seizures with no identifiable cause. Seizures occur when nerve cells in the brain become hyperexited and send rapid-fire messages to the body. If nerve cells in an isolated part of the brain are defective, only part of a dog's body is affected resulting in a partial seizure. Partial seizures are exhibited by localized body movements, such as head bobbing or imaginary fly-biting. If circuits throughout the entire brain misfire, the dog has a generalized seizure. Tonic-clonic seizures involve teeth gnashing, frantic thrashing of the limbs, excessive drooling and loss of bodily functions resulting in uncontrolled urination and defecation. Treatment of IE depends on the severity of the case and may involve daily administration of anticonvulsant drugs such as phenobarbital, primidone, potassium chloride and others. Unfortunately, all anticonvulsants have some undesired side effects. Some affect liver functions, others can make the dog drowsy or hyperactive or may cause vomiting and constipation. IE is present in all Swissy lines. It typically surfaces between the ages of 1 to 3 years but it can become evident as early as 12 months and as late as 5 years.Unfortunately, no method to identify carriers of epilepsy exists to date. It is only after a dog or a bitch has produced offspring with IE that we can assume that this particular sire or dam is probably a carrier of epilepsy. However, the mode of inherintance of IE is so complex that at the moment no one management method will assure complete control of the disease. Prudent Swissy breeders will not continue to breed a dog or a bitch that has produced 2 or more offspring with IE, and of course no serious breeder will ever consider breeding an affected animal. Many Swissy breeders and owners participate in the all breed DNA research project to locate the genetic marker for IE conducted currently at the University of Missouri/Columbia. We all hope that this research eventually will produce a reliable method to identify carriers of IE and thus help the breeder to better control or even erradicate this heartbreaking, unpredictable and often lethal disease.

 

Ostechondrosis dissecans (OCD)

Osteochondrosis is a generalized disturbance of the normal development of cartilage. The articular cartilage becomes abnormally thickened and small fissures and cracks may develop. The "dissecans" refers to the stage when cartilage becomes dissected resulting in cartilage flaps. These flaps may remain attached or become loose and fall into the joint space. In Swissys, the vast majority of OCD cases occur in the shoulder joints and occasionally in other joints such as elbows and hocks. The onset of the disease may begin as early as at 4 months and as late as at 14 months. The most typical age of appearance, however, is between 6 and 8 months. Except for very mild cases without flap development, the clinical signs are almost invariably persistent, and less frequently, intermittent lameness. The dog may be stiff after resting and the lameness is usually aggravated by exercise. OCD is diagnosed by radiography. However, in the early stages, radiographic findings might be inconclusive. In such situations, contrast radiography (arthrography) may be necessary for definite diagnosis. Treatment depends on the severity of the case. OCD lesion in the shoulder joint. Lesion evident on the joint surface of the humeral head Mild cases without cartilage flaps may be treated and heal spontaneously with several weeks of rest and treatment with the drug Adequan and supplements such as Glucosamine and Chondroitin, MSM and Vitamin C. Many cases, however, will require surgery which consists of the removal of flaps and loose fragments and the scraping and smoothening of the defective surface. Surgical repair of OCD of the shoulder usually renders excellent results. Surgical results involving other sites are not as predictable. Because mild forms of OCD can occur without presenting clinical signs, a prudent approach is to radiograph shoulders prior to breeding so that affected Swissys can be eliminated from a breeding program. In fact, Swiss health data has convincingly shown that by excluding affected dogs and bitches, incidences of OCD can be significantly reduced.

 

Panosteitis

Also known as Shifting Leg Lameness or Pano. This is a spontaneous, self-limiting inflammatory disease of the long bones in the legs of young, fast-growing breeds. Most dogs are diagnosed between 5 and 12 months but pano can occur as early as 2 months and as late as 7 years. The vast majority of pano cases are resolved by by the age of 2 years. The cause of the disease is unknown but it has been associated with reactions following viral or bacterial infections, von Willebrand's disease and hyperestrogenism in females in association with the first estrus. Clinical signs are persistent or intermittent lameness that may shift from leg to leg, hence the term -shifting leg lameness. Deep palpation of the affected bone will ellicit a painful response. X-rays may demonstrate an increased patchy density of the bone cavity with a roughened surface. Diagnosis of pano is very important as acute lameness may signal any of several orthopedic conditions such as OCD or elbow dysplasia. There is no cure for pano because the disease is self-limiting and hence research on the condition is almost non-existent. Treatment consists of alleviating the pain with analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs and plenty of rest as restricted activity can prevent more severe pain from developing. Because this disease is self-limiting and causes and heredity are not fully understood, most Swissy breeders do not consider it as breeding excluding condition.

 

Patella Luxation

Also called slipping kneecap or popping knee, this condition is mostly inherited but may in rare cases be caused by trauma. Conditions that predispose to dislocation of the patella are a shallow groove, weak ligaments and malalignement of the tendons and musclesthat straighten the joint. The patella slips in- or outward. The signs may include difficulty straightening the knee, pain in the stifle (knee joint) and lameness. The diagnosis is confirmed by manipulating the stifle joint and pushing the kneecap in and out of position. Treatment involves surgery to deepen the groove and/or re-align the tendon. Like with other orthopedic conditions presumed to be hereditary, Swissys with non-traumatic patella luxation should not be bred.

 

Splenic Torsion

With this condition, the spleen rotates around its own axis, either away from or towards the stomach. The spleen then becomes engorged with blood and may expand to several times its normal size. If the spleen rotates away from the stomach it may torsion several times. As many as six revolutions have been observed. If the spleen rotates towards the stomach it may pull it along causing a partial or even complete gastric torsion, creating a very dangerous and potentially fatal situation calling for instant medical attention. Unless the stomach is involved and obvious signs of GDV are present, unfortunately the signs of splenic torsion are often quite vague and may vary from case to case. Signs may include: - Inappetence - Vomiting - Diarrhea or constipation - Low level fever - General listlessness - Tucked up abdomen, tenderness of the abdomen or slight abdominal distention - Pale gums Splenic torsion is a life-threatening condition which requires immediate veterinary care. In a surgical procedure called splenectomy, the spleen is removed. Often, a gastropexy (stomach tack) is performed at the same time if the animal's conditions allows this additional procedure. The causes of splenic torsion are not known. Like with GDV, the condition seems to primarily affect large deep-chested breeds. In Swissys, dogs over the age of 5 years appear to have a higher incidence, however, quite a few cases of younger Swissys have been reported. For the GSMD, splenic torsion unfortunately is one of the major health problems. Indeed, many breeders believe that probably a significant number of dogs that supposedly died of GDV but were not necropsied after their death, actually might have succumbed to splenic torsion. As with GDV, the most important tool to prevent a fatal ending to splenic torsion is to recognize the signs and get immediate veterinary care. Remember, splenic torsion will kill if not recognized in time to perform life-saving surgery.

 

 "Swissy Lick Fit"

This is an entirely unscientific term to describe the sudden onset of frantic licking of anything in range such as carpet, bare floor, walls etc. and the indiscriminate eating of anything that can be swallowed such as grass, leaves, fiber from carpets etc. and gobbling up of air. It is obvious that the behavior is due to severe gastrointestinal discomfort. It sometimes can be alleviated with medications such as Digel, Gas-X or other gas and acid reducing remedies. Often, hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting will help. What exactly causes the "Swissy Lick" is a matter of discussion among Swissy owners but there seems to be no single or definite factor responsible for this condition. Any number of theories have been offered, from exessive gas pressure to acid reflux to allergic reaction to a food substance. Some believe that it is a precursor to GDV but this cannot be clearly substantiated either as many Swissys who have had these licking episodes never went on to develop GDV. While the condition appears to affect primarily young dogs, it has also been reported in older Swissys. Often, young dogs eventually will outgrow the condition. Keep some Digel or Gas-X on-hand!