German shepherds, like all “purebred” dogs, suffer from a host of health issues caused by selective breeding for traits that humans consider attractive. As a result, countless dogs experience lifelong pain, disability, and death caused by genetic disorders. While many issues plague German shepherds, we’ve compiled just a few of the most prevalent ones.
What Are Some Common Health Problems Among German Shepherds?
1. Spinal Issues
Breeders select specific genetic traits in German shepherds, and this practice is related to serious inherited health conditions. Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a fatal, incurable spinal cord disease that causes dogs to lose coordination in their legs and become increasingly weak and eventually paralyzed. DM typically starts appearing at around 9 years of age. Dogs who have this condition are often euthanized before paralysis occurs. Another spinal issue, degenerative lumbosacral stenosis, is strongly correlated with German shepherds who have sloped backs—an aesthetic that’s favored by breeders. As a result, dogs experience pain and weakness in the lower back, hind limbs, and tail; incontinence; stiffness; and difficulty sitting, rising, jumping, or climbing.
2. Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia is common in German shepherds who are bred to have sloped backs, which forces them to move asymmetrically by placing more weight on their front legs. Over time, a lack of muscle balance leads to misalignment of the hip socket and the ball of the femur. This condition makes simple things German shepherds love to do—like walking, running, and playing—impossible without severe pain. Some dogs may have to undergo intensive surgeries to ease symptoms.
3. Elbow Dysplasia
Humeral condylar osteochondrosis (HCO), also known as “elbow dysplasia,” is commonly seen in German shepherds whose elbow cartilage fails to develop normally. HCO can lead to a lifetime of chronic pain and disability, starting at 6 months of age or even younger. Treatments can include surgery and painkillers, but dogs with this condition will likely be in some amount of pain for their entire lives. It’s suspected that HCO in German shepherds is a genetic condition caused by breeding.
Bloat, or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), is an extremely painful life-or-death condition experienced by German shepherds and many other large, deep-chested dogs. Bloat causes a dog’s stomach to fill with gas and flip on its axis, cutting off the passage of gas, water, food, and circulation through the stomach and intestines. Dogs can die within two hours of first showing signs of GDV, and emergency surgery is the most effective treatment. While GDV’s causes aren’t completely clear, it’s suspected to be a genetic condition related to selectively breeding for dogs with larger and deeper chests.
5. Von Willebrand Disease
Von Willebrand disease (VWD) is another inherited health condition seen in German shepherds and other purebred dogs. This disorder affects blood clotting and can lead to severe and uncontrollable bleeding. Dogs with VWD may experience spontaneous bleeding from the nose, mouth, genitals, or urinary tract. Humans with VWD may experience painful stress-induced bleeding episodes, so there’s reason to believe that dogs with this disorder also experience this phenomenon.
Should You Buy a German Shepherd—or Any Other Dog?
It’s cruel to buy a dog when there are millions of others in animal shelters or struggling to survive on the streets across the country.
Reminder that there are 70,000 dogs on @petfinder who need homes, including breeds like French Bulldogs, Labradors, and German Shepherds!#NeverBuyDogs #AdoptDontShop pic.twitter.com/uvN5myiZe3
— PETA (@peta) March 17, 2021
If you have the time, money, patience, and love to care for an animal for their entire life (which could be more than 15 years), the most ethical option is to adopt one from a shelter.
Did You Buy a German Shepherd Who Suffers From These or Other Ailments?
Many purebred dogs become ill, suffer from emotional or psychological disorders, or die prematurely because of traits they were bred to have in order to meet American Kennel Club (AKC) standards. If you purchased a German shepherd or a member of another AKC-registered breed who struggles with their physical health or psychological well-being or who died prematurely, we want to hear from you.
Does Your German Shepherd Suffer From These Conditions? Let PETA Know