Breed Health Concerns
This information is provided for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice. It is not to be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem, nor is it a substitute for professional care. If you suspect that your dog may have a health problem, please consult your veterinarian.
The following list is meant to serve as a guide for understanding common health problems in the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. It is by no means all encompassing. The list is organized alphabetically and includes a synopsis on the given condition. Additional detail can be found on many of these conditions, by following the provided links.
There have been a small number of incidents where Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs have experienced excessive bleeding during surgical procedures, after illness/injury or spontaneous nasal bleeding without accompanying trauma. Despite significant research into this issue a cause has not been determined and the heritability is not known. Although not common in the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, out of an abundance of caution, owners are encouraged to make their veterinarian aware of this possible issue, so appropriate precautions can be taken during surgery or treatments.
Seizures are the most frequently reported neurological condition in dogs. There are three types of seizures in dogs: reactive, secondary and primary. Reactive seizures are caused by the brain’s reaction to a metabolic problem like low blood sugar, organ failure or a toxin. Secondary seizures (structural epilepsy) are the result of a brain tumor, stoke or trauma. If no cause can be found for the seizures and it is assumed to have a genetic origin, the disease is called primary or idiopathic epilepsy. This can be an inherited condition, with Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs commonly afflicted. An initial diagnostic workup with your veterinarian may help identify the type of seizure your dog is experiencing. Dogs with idiopathic epilepsy can require lifelong medication to keep seizures under control, with periodic blood testing required to monitor side effects and effectiveness.
Cataracts – A cataract is any opacity (cloudiness) of the lens. If the opacity involves a significant portion of the lens, your dog may exhibit visual difficulty or blindness. Heredity, metabolic diseases such as diabetes mellitus, birth defects, trauma or other eye diseases may be responsible for cataract formation. Most inherited cataracts discovered in Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs progress fairly slowly so that the dog may have reasonable sight well into old age. For those few that progress more rapidly towards blindness and are not adjusting well to losing their vision, consideration can be given to having a veterinary ophthalmologist surgically remove the cataract.
Distichiasis – This is an inherited condition where extra eyelashes (distichia) grow in an abnormal position so close to the eye that they contact the eye surface, causing discomfort, and potentially, corneal damage. The severity of the problem and the need for treatment can vary from dog to dog. Many Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs have only a few, soft distichia which generally do not cause any issue and require no treatment. However, some individuals have stiff, abnormal eyelashes, which can cause significant irritation and damage to the eye. Symptoms of this can be redness of the eye, squinting, ocular discharge, and excessive tearing. Your dog may rub or paw at his eye or blink excessively. Treatment, depending upon the number and placement of the problem eyelashes, will require removal through cryosurgery, cryoepilation or electroepilation.
Entropion – This is a condition where the eyelid rolls inward, causing the eyelashes to rub against the cornea (surface of the eyeball). This condition can affect the upper eyelid, lower eyelid or both. With mild entropion, there may only be minor discomfort and excessive tearing. However when the irritation is severe, there can be chronic pain and serious injury can develop. Entropion usually requires surgery to fix. However, in puppies entropion may improve spontaneously with growth or can be managed with temporary eyelid “tacking” sutures until maturity.
Bloat (Gastric Dilation and Volvulus or GDV)
This is a life threatening condition that can develop is some Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs that causes the stomach to rapidly fill with gas and/or fluid and then flip upon itself. Once rotated, the gas is unable to escape and continues to build up. Blood circulation to the stomach and the rest of the body will become seriously compromised. The classic signs of bloat are swollen stomach, anxious behavior, unproductive retching and salivation. Without immediate emergency veterinary treatment this condition is usually fatal.
This term is used to describe an anxious behavior in Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs, where they frantically lick the air or available objects (their bed, carpet, floors, walls, etc.) and often ingest inappropriate items such as grass, carpet and flooring. Because of the possibility of a blockage arising from ingesting a foreign body, it is safest to put the dog in a crate with no bedding during these episodes. It is thought that this behavior is most likely associated with gastric upset.
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
Hip and elbow dysplasia are common orthopedic disorders in large and giant breed dogs, in which there is abnormal joint development that occurs during growth. This malformation of the joint results in abnormal wearing of bone over time contributing to osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease, lameness and reduced mobility in the dog.
Shoulders Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD)
Osteochondrosis is a developmental disorder of rapidly growing, large and giant breed dogs. It begins with the failure of immature cartilage to form into bone in the humeral head and can be attributed to many factors including genetics, rapid growth, nutrient excesses, trauma and gender.
Splenic Torsion is a twisting, or folding and unfolding of the spleen. It may occur by itself (rare, except in GSMDs) or in association with gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) syndrome, commonly known as bloat. The torsion cuts off blood flow to the area where it occurs, resulting in a painfully enlarged spleen. This condition is a life threatening emergency and the dog must receive immediate veterinary treatment.
Urinary or urethral incontinence (UI) is the loss of voluntary control of urination. This involuntary urination is most often seen in spayed, female, large breed dogs that are middle-aged to elderly. However, in Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs (GSMD), UI is a common affliction in young growing female GSMDs and is a frequent problem in all ages of spayed GSMD females. It is also known to occur in male GSMDs, but this is not a common occurrence.