Why do some dog breeds see more than their fair share of health conditions that aren’t hereditary in
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Why do some dog breeds see more than their fair share of health conditions that aren’t hereditary in

Dogs
Health & Safety

Hereditary health issues are those passed on from parents to their young, along with the inheritance of specific genes or gene mutations. Virtually all pedigree dog breeds have certain known hereditary health conditions found within them; but why are some dog breeds apparently predisposed to other health conditions, which do not pertain to the heredity of specific genes?

There are a couple of potential answers to this question – so read on to find out more!

Conformation traits and their correlation with health problems

Some health conditions in dogs develop more frequently in some breeds than others because of the normal or widespread conformation traits of the breed, which have a direct impact on the breed’s health.

Some traits like these – such as flat or brachycephalic faces, for instance – have virtually no impact on the dog that possesses them when the trait is moderate, but when exaggerated, can have a huge and negative impact on their health and life.

Such exaggerated conformation traits are not considered to be normal or desirable in terms of breed health, but that can be found in and are even deliberately bred for in significant numbers of dogs of the breed due to demand from puppy buyers; which leads to a predisposition within the breed to the health problems that accompany said traits.

This is the case, for instance, when it comes to the French bulldog and BOAS or brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome.

A similar correlation between an exaggerated conformation trait and a health issue can be found in the German shepherd and hip dysplasia; dogs of the breed that are bred for a very acute angle of slope between the spine and their hind legs rather than a more healthy, natural and traditional shape, are more prone to developing hip dysplasia as a result.

Care and management factors

For some dog breeds, they might not have a hereditary or genetic predisposition to a condition, nor a specific build and conformation that predisposes them to associated problems at all; and yet more dogs of said breed than most other breeds may be apt to developing specific health conditions nonetheless, due wholly or mainly to the ways in which such breeds tend to be cared for and managed!

This is something of a controversial statement, but it is very true for many dogs and owners, and of many breeds. For instance, dogs that are overfed, under exercised and obese have greatly elevated risk factors for a wide range of health problems that directly relate to carrying too much excess weight long term, including diabetes and arthritis.

Different types of dog breeds appeal broadly to quite different types of owners of course; but the way that some breeds tend to be cared for by the majority of owners versus how good of a fit this really is for their needs can result in health issues relating to said care developing in a disproportionate number of dogs of the breed.

If you’re not into spending hours each day walking your dog, you’d probably avoid a Border collie, for instance, and if you’re looking for a lapdog type that’s not overly demanding in terms of walks, a pug might make your shortlist.

However, if you do choose a breed like the pug because you’re not a huge fan of long, lively walks, monitoring their weight and ensuring they get enough exercise is vital, as this is a breed that gains weight easily; in fact, the majority of the UK’s pug population are actually overweight to some extent, and this is so widespread that many dog owners think this is the breed’s natural build.

This means that health issues that are related to or directly caused by obesity, like diabetes, are more of a threat to the pug than to other small breeds that tend to be fit, active, and need to keep busy, like the Jack Russell.

Obesity-related health issues that become widespread across breeds aren’t exclusive to breeds that tend to be relatively sedentary to start with, however; they’re also common to some other breeds that are in fact naturally high-energy dogs too, like the Labrador retriever.

Labs need hours of exercise every day and also, have very poor impulse control around food, even compared to the average dog. Yet few Labrador owners actually provide as much daily exercise as dogs of this type really need, which coupled with the breed’s tendency to eat anything and everything, once more results in over half of adult Labs in the UK being overweight; and so, predisposed to obesity-related health issues like arthritis.

What can you do to ensure you choose a healthy puppy, and keep them healthy for life?

When it comes to breeds predisposed to health issues relating to conformation traits, learning more about these traits, their associated health issues, and how to choose a moderate puppy is vital to reduce the chances of buying a pup that will have a poor quality of life and potentially, shortened lifespan.

When it comes to care and management related health issues, this is something that any dog owner can outright prevent, and this begins by being aware of the potential problems and making a sensible choice.

If you choose a breed like the pug that is fairly low-maintenance to walk, you still need to keep them fit and monitor their food intake and weight carefully; and if you’re considering buying a high-energy dog like the Labrador, make sure you know what you’re letting yourself in for and are up to the challenge.

Independent research is vital in this regard; for instance, just because you know six other Labrador owners who only walk their dog for an hour a day or a pug that eats treats all day and never leaves the sofa doesn’t mean that this is right for the breed, or ok for your own dog of the same breed at all!

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