Sam Shephard is an experienced German Shepherd owner and has learned
throughout the years how to optimize the breed’s health and wellness.
German Shepherd Health Issues
Because of inbreeding both in the early days of breed standardization and
throughout this breed’s history, there are many common German Shepherd health
problems. Of course, not all health problems are related specifically to
inbreeding (though hip dysplasia is); some are simply related to the size of
these dogs, the kind of work that they do, and simply to just being a dog.
Here are the most common health problems in German Shepherds, how to spot
them, and what can be done to help with these issues, if anything.
- Hip Dysplasia
- Elbow Dysplasia
- Degenerative Disc Disease
- Thyroid issues
- Bladder Stones
- Urinary Tract Infections
- Nose Infections
- Dental Health Problems
Hip dysplasia is the number one problem related specifically to German
Shepherd health. While there are other dogs that manifest this problem,
especially other larger dogs, it is extremely common in German Shepherds,
especially among litters in kennels where dog health is not a priority.
In general, dogs already exhibiting this issue are not supposed to be bred,
but many breeders will ignore this and breed the dogs anyway, creating another
litter of dogs who have this issue. It is painful for the dog and difficult to
mitigate since it is a malformation in the joint of the hip. Dogs who are fed
too much, exercised too hard, or injured when they are young can damage their
Like hip dysplasia, this is a congenital condition that affects many large
breeds but especially affects German Shepherds with a long line of badly bred
ancestors. Instead of being an issue with the hip joint, this issue is with
the elbow joint. Most often caused by bad genetics, this issue can be very
severe, or it can be very mild.
Mild cases will often worsen over a dog’s life, making it very uncomfortable
to walk. Because this is one of the most common German Shepherd health issues,
ethical breeders will make sure that both parents are free of elbow dysplasia
before they are bred. Once a dog has elbow dysplasia there is not much a
breeder or an owner can do about it except make sure the dog gets the right
nutrition to keep his joints lubricated and pain-free for as long as possible.
Bloat or Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV)
You can usually see this happening to a dog with short or medium-length fur,
though long-haired German Shepherds’ coats can hide this issue. Essentially,
this occurs when the dog eats too much food too quickly and then does too much
physical activity, which then causes gas to build up in the stomach. When this
occurs and the dog cannot dispel the gas (through the usual methods), the
pressure of the bloat can actually make it difficult to breathe and the body
can go into shock.
If you see your dog eating grass or trying to vomit but cannot bring anything
up, it is likely that this is the issue. This is a life-threatening condition!
The dog should be taken to the vet immediately, otherwise, he could die. The
best way to prevent this condition is to make sure that he neither eats too
quickly nor eats too much all at once.
Feeding three smaller meals a day, instead of one large one, can also prevent
this problem. Making sure that he does not do any strenuous physical activity
after eating will also be necessary. If my German Shepherd has
gastrointestinal problems I’m worried most often. I already lost one of our
dogs at age 10 from bowel cancer and the stomach and bowel area seem to be a
weak spot for this breed. A lot of the serious health problems in German
Shepherd dogs are found there.
Though this condition is most common in humans, not in dogs, many people
discover that their German Shepherds have this seizure disorder. This is a
little ironic, considering that German Shepherds are often trained to be
seizure detecting dogs for humans with epilepsy or other seizure-related
Though epilepsy is genetic and is incurable, there are a number of medications
that help an Alsatian manage his symptoms. Most dogs will not even notice that
they have this condition, especially if they are kept out of stressful
situations and are allowed to live a happy, comfortable life with an attentive
It can be difficult for a dog with epilepsy to show in kennel club shows, for
example, as this can be a high-stress situation, which may trigger his
seizures. In some instances, epileptic dogs will want a companion who senses
seizures, so they can notify the owner when the epileptic German Shepherd is
about to have an attack.
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Not unlike European royalty, who bred amongst themselves so frequently that
the recessive gene began to manifest itself in a large number of noblemen and
women, German Shepherds who are descendants from a long line of inbreeding may
be born with hemophilia.
Essentially, what happens with this disease is that the blood does not have
the ability to properly clot, so a small cut can be a serious issue and a bump
that causes a bruise may be worrisome. While not one of the most common health
problems with this breed, hemophilia is more common in German Shepherds than
it is in other breeds.
There is no cure for this disease, but these dogs can live happy, long lives
with the right care. An owner of a dog with this condition will need to check
the dog regularly for any lumps or bumps that may be blood pockets forming
under the skin and will need to be extra careful when exercising this dog to
make sure he does not do anything too strenuous or too dangerous.
Because of their large size and their tendency to overeat if they can get the
food, diabetes is fairly common in German Shepherds. Like with humans, the
symptoms are fatigue, dry mouth, excessive drinking, excessive urinating, and
swelling in the feet.
All of these issues can indicate that a dog has diabetes, which can be with a
Alsatian from his birth, or can develop later in life, even with proper
feeding and exercise routines. This is sometimes a genetic disease and
sometimes a disease that develops because of the environment—whatever the
cause, diabetes can be easily controlled with the right diet and exercise. In
some more severe cases, a veterinarian may prescribe a daily insulin injection
to help with this disease.
Another condition that affects dogs as well as humans as they age, German
Shepherds are particularly prone to cataracts in their eyes. Most owners can
tell when this issue is starting to occur, not only by the slightly cloudy
look in the dog’s eyes, but also because the dog does not seem as able to
navigate news spaces as he once was.
You may even see him running into things that he once was able to avoid. While
a little comical at first (it’s always a little funny to see your big, gangly
dog crash into a chair that he usually is able to see and avoid), if cataracts
are allowed to progress, they can make it very difficult for the dog to see
While some dogs do not need their sight, especially if they have a companion
dog and are very familiar with their home, surgery may help restore sight to
an elderly dog who still relies on his eyes.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Like all large animals, humans included, German Shepherds can have serious
problems with their spines, especially as they age. Some lines of GSDs are
more likely to have this issue than others, which are likely to manifest when
the dog is still young. Most breeders try to avoid breeding these dogs, since
they usually pass on the issue to their offspring, just as they got the issue
from their parents.
Dogs should be checked for spinal abnormalities when they are relatively
young. Because this is a degenerative and genetic disease, there is not much a
person can do to prevent this disease, but there is plenty an owner can do to
prevent the disease from getting worse or hurting the dog. Treatment, proper
diet, and exercise can all help a German Shepherd suffering with this health
This condition is characterized as “wandering lameness” or sometimes just
called “Pano” by veterinarians. It most often manifests itself in between five
and fourteen months of age and is often called “growing pains,” by those who
notice that their dog is only using three of his four legs or otherwise
limping. While this condition is visible on an x-ray machine, it is not
congenital, nor is it permanent.
Because German Shepherds are so large and they grow so quickly from being
little puppies to being large adult dogs, they are expected to be have growing
pains like other large animals. While this can be painful and sore for a young
German Shepherd, it is by no means permanent and will disappear around a year
and a half to two years of age. If the dog does not grow out of it, however,
it may be an indication of a real illness that should be brought to a doctor.
German Shepherds are more susceptible to allergies than other breeds. These
may come in the form of environmental allergies, such as being allergic to
grass or certain kinds of pollen, or the allergies might be food-based. Common
food allergies include chicken, corn, rice, and gluten.
Feeding your German Shepherd natural food that is specifically formulated for
this breed is the best way to make sure your dog has the kind of nutrition he
needs; make sure it is free of allergens. Not every dog will be allergic to
everything, and some German Shepherds will have no allergies at all.
However, if you notice that his skin is red and irritated and he is itching
often, it is likely that he has a serious condition and that you should start
him on an allergy regimen. A vet can recommend what pills are best, but even
Benadryl or Claritin formulated for humans can be given to a German Shepherd.
Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed. This can happen just
once throughout your dog’s life, or it can happen more than once, depending on
the dog and his diet. This usually has an environmental cause, like eating dog
foods that are too high in fat when the dog is not accustomed to eating this
kind of food.
This is an issue that should be taken to a vet, especially if your dog is
experiencing multiple bouts with this issue.
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) is also a common German Shepherd
stomach related issue.
Thyroid issues are among the most common that German Shepherd owners will
encounter with their dogs. For some reason, Alsatians have many problems with
their endocrine levels. Having your dog regularly tested for these issues is
one of the best ways to prevent these issues from becoming life-threatening.
German shepherds are, unfortunately, rather prone to developing urinary
stones. The most common type is bladder stones are. They are at their mildest,
quite uncomfortable. More commonly, however, they are very painful for your
dog and can be very difficult to pass. If left untreated for too long they can
result in serious chronic health issues, bladder and kidney damage being the
A number of things can contribute to the development of bladder stones, which
occur when there is a buildup of crystalline material in the bladder of your
dog. Normally, if your dog’s urine is acidic enough, these crystals will
dissolve and be passed through the urine.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Many dogs have a difficult time
dissolving the minerals in their urine and will require some sort of treatment
to help them work through the bladder stone or have them operatively removed.
One of the most common and effective ways to go about doing this is to get
your dog some special bladder stone food. Many companies have produced foods
that help to prevent the formation of crystalline substances that are known to
build up in the bladder, thus greatly reducing the chances of your dog
developing bladder or kidney stones.
Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are varied in nature — just like they are
in humans. There are lots of things that could contribute to the development
of a urinary tract infection in your dog, but ultimately all UTIs are caused
by bacteria entering the urinary tract through the genitals.
- A lowered immune system can make these bacteria more likely to survive upon entering the urethra.
- If your dog comes into contact with the feces of another dog, they may be more prone to having bacteria enter their urethra.
- Having debris or residue come into contact with their genitals can cause a UTI if the material contains infectious bacteria.
Urinary tracts can cause a number of symptoms. If you notice that your German
Shepherd is experiencing any of the following health problems, you may want to
take them to the vet to see what kind of treatment is available.
- Blood in the urine
- Visible pain or discomfort when urinating
- Sensitivity in the genital region
- Dribbling urine or incontinence (being unable to hold their pee)
- Frequent urination or blockage
- Changes in the color or smell of their urine
- Visible residue in their urine, cloudy urine
Nose and teeth, your dog’s toolbox, take good care of them.
German Shepherds are also fairly prone to developing nose infections, though
not really much more than any other breed of dogs. Nose infections can be
irritating and uncomfortable, and in serious cases, they can be very painful
and could lead to more serious complications. It’s not really one of the
German Shepherd illnesses that is on my mind often.
One of the most common forms of nasal infection is referred to as rhinitis.
Rhinitis refers to the actual inflammation of your dog’s nose. They may
experience a running nose, a change in their appetite, or frequent sneezing.
Sinusitis is another fairly common form of nasal infection, marked by the
inflammation of the actual sinus passageways in your dog’s nose. This can lead
to similar symptoms: sneezing, discharge from the nose, changed appetite or
Some dogs may also develop a condition known as nasal aspergillosis, which is
a fungal infection that primarily affects the nose region. Symptoms are
similar to the previous infections, but they can be much more serious and
include bleeding from the nose, pain, and swelling in the nasal area. Your
German Shepherd may also have a discharge that contains pus.
If your dog is experiencing any of these health conditions then it could be a
wise idea to seek help from a veterinarian.
Dental Health Problems
This breed is also prone to developing issues with their teeth and suffer from
gum infections. This means that you need to be very cautious and take the time
to brush your dog’s teeth from the time that they are young. These are German
Shepherd health problems that can easily be avoided with good food and proper
If you’ve got a dog that has been owned by someone else for some time, you can
see whether or not their teeth have been taken care of by looking for any
blemishes. Observe the health of their gums.
Before beginning to brush your German Shepherd’s teeth, you should make sure
that they’re comfortable having your hands in and around their mouth. One of
the first steps that you should take is reaching out and beginning to massage
the area around their mouth.
Once they are comfortable with this, you can open their mouth and begin
touching their teeth one at a time. Take a few days — even a week — doing this
to ensure that your dog doesn’t get uncomfortable with you going too quickly.
Once they’re comfortable with the soft, massaging touch then you can begin to
brush their teeth, one by one. Dog toothbrushes are easy to find at pet
stores. You can opt to use these toothbrushes with a special formula of dog
toothpaste, or you can simply use water.
Make sure that you brush your dog’s teeth fairly frequently. If you feed them
hard food, the abrasive nature of the food will help to prevent the buildup of
plaque so you won’t need to brush as often as you would if they were fed soft
German Shepherds are unfortunately susceptible to cancer, especially as they
age. Some of the most common cancers include:
- Osteosarcoma (tumors in bones): While this cancer can occur in just about any part of the body, it is most common for German Shepherds to develop it in the elbows, knees, and hips, where they might already have an issue.
- Lymphoma: In conjunction with their endocrine issues, GSDs are prone to developing cancer in the lymph system.
- Melanoma: Dogs can actually develop skin cancer, and it is fairly common with German Shepherds.
- Adenocarcinomas/Leiomyosarcomas: Stomach and gastric related cancers are also common in German Shepherds. Especially liver and bladder related issues are indicators of these kinds of cancers.
While your German Shepherd is unlikely to suffer from all or even a few of
these issues, when considering purchasing a puppy or adult dog, it is
important to know what kind of health problems to look out for and what kinds
of health problems you might have to face in the future.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It
is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription,
or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional.
Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a
© 2018 Sam Shepards
Andy Rupz on May 21, 2020:
My 2yrs. Old GSD is suffering weak hips… After experciencing… Cough &
cold… With high body temp. My question is this consider hip displasia?
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on May 12, 2020:
The one I’m talking about is the one in the third picture with the tennis ball
that died at age 10 related to the rear end paralysis etc. Some pictures in
the articles are my own German Shepherd dogs and other are stock images…
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on May 12, 2020:
Yes, as more or less endstage it is Degenerative Myelopathy, when the spinal
cord is dying and ending with paralysis. Our 3rd German Shepherd had this and
it ended in rear end paralysis at age 10, but he also had some kind of bladder
cancer at the same time. But we are not sure, because for myelopathy they need
to do a necropsy. Very sad to see this and we had the vet put him down at our
home. It’s not the one in the top picture, that one never had any issues and
became 14 years old. Very sorry to hear of your losses. Did you get most
german shepherd dogs from the same genetic line?
Kathleen Ahearn on May 09, 2020:
We have had German Shepherds for decades. Last month, we lost two. One to
cancer and the other to Degenerative Myelopathy. Are you referring to DM as
“Degenerative Disk Disease”? We have lost at least 3 dogs over the years to
this disease. It is a spinal sheath disease. There are DNA tests available to
see if the dog carries these markers. Without that, you can’t tell at all
until they develop symptoms later in life. It rarely shows up at a young age.
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on February 25, 2020:
I’m very sorry to hear about your loss. Could be symptoms of many different
issues, some natural and some not natural. My advise is to talk to a vet to
dive deeper into the issue if you want answers about your dog(s) specifically.
Mithun Bhatta on February 24, 2020:
Today morning I found my male german shepherd death. From some days he was
suffering from fever, he was having problem in natural call,he even vomit
yesterday night.I have a female GSD too.So I have fear about her.So could you
please tell me which type of disease is this??And it’s solution???
[email protected] on February 24, 2020:
I have a 6 year old King Shepherd who has always had allergies and now
developed a yeast infection feeg and legs. Difficult to manage it and keeps
coming back. He also just started having seizures and is now on Phenobarbitol
and Zomidizide (sp). He is our baby and don’t know how to control these
sandra m gonzalez on February 11, 2020:
Too bad Karen is professional but can’t spell.
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on February 05, 2020:
@Karen, could you point at what is inaccurate then I’ll improve it when I have
the time. Thank you, Sam
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on February 05, 2020:
@Theodore, I’m sorry to hear that, I have had 3 german shepherds, one of them
I lost early at 10 years old on the operation table with a large tumor. It was
the first one to go, I had him and trained him since I was 13 years old. Feel
the pain, it’s ok to miss your friend.
Karen on February 04, 2020:
I think that some of your information is Inaccurate. I am a level four vet in
las vegas, and i am professional. Extreamly professional! So i assure you that
you did pretty good (consitering your most likely not a vet) i own 3 german
shepards, and 5 chiwawas!
Theodore on February 04, 2020:
I just had to put my best Pal and wonderful German Shepherd to sleep . Im
devastated as he just turned 9yrs old. It was sudden ,in the middle of the
night he tried to get up and was falling down and couldn’t get his balance and
when I jumped out of bed he was lying there with his head tilted . He slowly
recovered and got up and he walked into the kitchen . one week later we
discovered he had a huge tumor on his SPLEEN . The vet said ,it was in the
worst area and most likely would not survive an operation and even if he did
and was put on chemo the best prognosis would be 3 months . Broken hearted.
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on November 20, 2019:
Thank you for you comment Paula. I do my best to share knowledge about health
problems in German Shepherds. Many diseases can be prevented or lessened when
people know what is wrong and what to do. Some of the more hereditary health
conditions can be checked for when buying a puppy, not buying from breeders
where the parent dogs are already showing signs etc.
paula on November 19, 2019:
Great work! you are sharing great knowledge.
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on August 07, 2019:
I seem to have missed your comment here a long time ago. Only saw it today,
now that I’m extending the article with 4 more German Shepherd health issues
(17 instead of 13).
Genetic predisposition and weaknesses are indeed often related to inbreeding.
Especially the hip dysplasia and joint problems seem to be related to that.
I’m not really sure were the weaknesses in stomach and bowel come from yet.
Need to read up more on that. I lost one of our dogs at age 10 from cancer in
the liver and bowel. Our first one became 14 years and hasn’t been sick a day
in his life, the regularly had small problems and had special food needs. Some
bloodlines seem stronger than others.
Liz Westwood from UK on November 26, 2018:
I had heard that inbreeding causes problems across other dog breeds as well.