Be aware that while the illnesses listed on this page are some of the more common ones in the breed, many dogs can go their whole lives without being affected by any of these. Breeders who health test can select breeding parents that complement one another in order to lower the rates of these illnesses popping up over time. Thankfully, many of the below illnesses can be tested for so that breeders can choose not to breed a dog whose risk of producing illness may be higher.
Through health testing, genetic screening, and selective breeding, these illnesses hopefully over time will be weeded out from the breed. However, there exist a lot of breeders who don't care to do any official health testing, screening, nor complementary selection, and, as long as that type of breeder exists, hereditary illnesses will remain in the breed.
Because of that, selecting a reputable breeder is not only beneficial to the health and longevity of your pup but also to the breed as a whole for the coming generations.
The chance of a pup developing an internal debilitating illness is much higher when the parents weren't health tested or selected to complement each other.
Some of these illnesses are related more to a dog's type or size rather than lineage, so mixed breeds can also be affected with illness, but most especially if their parents carry it in their family and are of the type/size indicated.
Summary: Ataxia, Hips, Cardiac, Patellas, Thyroid, ALPP. Eyes & Elbows optional
Unfortunately, in dogs, hip and elbow dysplasia is a common illness with multiple causes. Below, we will explore some of the causes and ways to try to help prevent this illness.
Hip Dysplasia (HD) is basically when the hip joint doesn't fit properly into the hip socket, allowing the hip joint to become detached from the hip, which causes severe pain.
Elbow Dysplasia (ED) is a little bit different as there are a few bones in question. There are at least 2 different issues that are considered elbow dysplasia: bony lumps or spurs, causing joints to become painful and stiff; and ununited anconeal process, which is when a small bit of bone should be united with the ulna but it doesn't grow that way, causing incorrect development of the elbow, discomfort, or pain; plus more.
ED and HD can be caused by both injuries (environmental) and degenerative diseases (adult or late onset) of the bone but can also be present at birth (congenital). Evidence suggests the majority of HD cases are genetic, exacerbated by environmental factors, largely exercise-related ones.
Measures to Help Prevent Dysplasia in Your Growing Pup
- Repeated pounding of a joint, such as being allowed to jump out of the car as a puppy or young dog, or going up and down stairs daily.
- Tons of exercise, such as hiking, long-distance running or walking, weight pulling, etc., before growth plates close (usually 18 months, but talk to your vet). Repetition is not a puppy's bones' friend.
- Any injury, which is why allowing it to jump from a height is highly discouraged during its growth stages. Repeated jumps from a height (car, table, chair, bed, etc.) increases the likelihood of an unseen internal injury caused to the bones, muscles, tendons surrounding large joints.
- Allowing pup to be really overweight while growing. Heavier means more weight being borne to growing bones, which increases likelihood of injury.
- Allow your pup to freely play to its heart's content (self-directed play), with feet on the ground (or in water with direct supervision, and maybe even a lifejacket).
- Take it for ambling walks for fun and short bouts of training.
- Get a ramp or carry your pup down stairs if possible.
- Keep pup on a balanced diet as recommended by your breeder, vet, and/or nutritionist.
Modern technology and radiology can really help us try to weed out the genetic causes of hip and elbow dysplasia over time. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program are two major programs which assess x-rays for hip or elbow dysplasia.
Breeders who care about their puppies and their puppies' future families will use the technology available to lower the chances of a debilitating illness (one that really affects a dog's quality of life).
In many cases, hip dysplasia is coupled with other physical illness (ACL or Achilles tendon injury, knee instability, etc.) which make it really hard and uncomfortable to move because the joints, muscles, tendons aren't working together properly.
If we, as breeders, can do anything to help prevent this dreadful illness, we must.
However, any breeder, including ones who rigorously test their breeding stock, can produce a dog that later or sooner than later develops HD, ED, or other dysplasia or illness. Genetics is always in play and the only thing we can do is gather data and learn from the past, with the goal of creating "better" in the future by selective breeding and testing every breeding parent.
Speak to your breeder before buying a puppy or older dog about what should happen if it should develop an internal illness (bone, organ, etc.) Your breeder should have some sort of contract and guarantee about genetic internal illnesses.
It is important to note that canine HD and ED do not exist only in pure or kennel-club-recognized breeds. HD and ED can also occur in mixed or unrecognized breeds or combinations. In fact, very few known illnesses are present only in any given recognized breed; it is just that the likelihood may be higher because of increased homogeneity in a breed (what makes dogs within a breed look so similar).
Extra Links on HD and ED
Intro to Canine Hip Dysplasia, by Antech Imaging Services
Prevent Hip Dysplasia, by Handicapped Pets
Bone & Joint Tumors in Dogs, by VCA Hospitals
Arthritis in Dogs, by VCA Hospitals
UAP in Dogs, by VCA Hospitals
Canine Elbow Dysplasia, by ACVS American College of Veterinary Surgeons
Canine Hip Dysplasia, by ACVS American College of Veterinary Surgeons
Dynamic Ulna Osteotomies in Canine ED, by Dr. Aldo Vezzoni, 2002
Noteworthy PubMed.gov Studies on ED and HD
What happened to the hips of 500 pups who used stairs daily
Selective breeding lowers incidence of HD in GSDs over 5 years
Demographics of canine HD in the US and Canada
Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis, American Staffordshire Terrier Type (NCL 4A)
Ataxia (NCL-A) is an inherited degenerative disorder of the nervous system, where the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls movement, becomes damaged. Symptoms worsen over time, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.
NCL 4A is an adult-onset form, with age onset around 3 to 5 years of age, and there is currently no cure.
Symptoms can include:
- Lack of muscle coordination, i.e., difficulties walking, jumping, balancing
- Dementia, i.e., dog doesn't understand or recognize things he normally would
- Tremors, rhythmic head movements, general weakness
- Weight loss
- Heart problems
- Eye movement abnormalities
Because of the severity of NCL-A symptoms, most owners choose to euthanize.
Cerebellar ataxia is an autosomal recessive trait. A dog needs to have two copies of the gene in order to express it (for the dog to be affected with ataxia). We can test each dog to see if it carries the cerebellar ataxia gene.
Clear: Dog does not carry any defective genes for ataxia.
Carrier: Dog carries one defective gene and one normal gene.
Affected: Dog carries two defective genes for ataxia.
In breeding, both parents must be tested for cerebellar ataxia in order to rule out chances of the puppies being affected with this illness.
The only time one does not need to test a parent for ataxia is if that parent's parents were both Ataxia-Clear. Puppies from two parents who are Ataxia-Clear are "Ataxia-Clear by parentage".
Clear to Clear: All puppies will be Ataxia-Clear (no carriers, none affected)
Clear to Carrier: 50% of puppies will be Ataxia-Clear, 50% will be Ataxia carriers
Clear to Affected: 100% of puppies will be Ataxia carriers
Carrier to Carrier: 25% of puppies will be affected, 25% will be clear, 50% will be carriers
Carrier to Affected: 50% of puppies will be affected, 50% will be carriers
Affected to Affected: 100% of puppies will be affected
Reputable breeders who care about the health of their puppies will only breed Clear to Clear or Clear to Carrier. All of the other possible combinations are risking the health and well-being of the puppies as well as risking causing significant pain and heartache to the puppy's future family.
Extra Links on NCL-A or Cerebellar Ataxia
NCL-A Cerebellar Ataxia, by AnimaLabs Genetic Testing
Kufs' disease, a type of neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis in humans
Video of JRT with ataxia, Youtube. Hard to watch.
Larynx (p. lare-inks): The "voice box" which produces sound and keeps food or drink from going down the wrong tube/into the lungs.
Paralysis: Loss of function and ability to move, due to neurological disorder or injury.
American Staffordshire Terrier juvenile-onset laryngeal paralysis and polneuropathy (AST-JLPP) is a newly-discovered disease within the Am Staff. This illness is currently being studied to figure out where and how in the body it is originating, to conduct several examinations of affected Am Staffs through nerve conduction studies, as well as to hopefully create a DNA test for breeders and veterinarians, just like the NCL-A (cerebellar ataxia) DNA test and others.
"Polyneuropathy" means nerves to other parts of the body such as hind legs and esophagus (the tube leading to stomach from mouth) may be affected as well.
Some symptoms of AST-JLPP are:
- Noisy breathing
- Exercise intolerance
- Easy fatigability
- Bark sounds different
- Coughing/gagging after drinking or eating
- Severe respiratory distress, especially if food gets caught in lungs (aspiration), leading to pneumonia
Link to Study: 02545-MOU: Clinical and Molecular Genetic Analysis of Juvenile-Onset Laryngeal Paralysis in American Staffordshire Terriers, posted by AKC Canine Health Foundation
More Links on JLPP or Vocal Cord Paralysis
Laryngeal paralysis in dogs, by VCA Hospitals
Vocal cord paralysis, by the Mayo Clinic
Video of vocal cord paralysis, Youtube.
The patella is the kneecap, and in many breeds the patella can move out of its normal location due to a variety of factors regarding congenital placement of the patellar ligament, which can wear down the shin bone, which ends up allowing the kneecap to move out of place toward the middle or to the side.
When force is applied to the knee and the knee pops out but goes back in easily afterwards, this is more of a mild grade of luxation. Moderate luxation will cause the kneecap to randomly pop often. Severe luxation is when the knee is popped out almost all the time and has a hard time going back in.
Many dogs with mild luxation can and do live their entire lives with it. Medium to higher grades are likely considerably painful, though some dogs are quite stoic and don't show or act like they're in pain when they are.
In high-grade cases, surgery is possible with a few caveats: In dogs without arthritis, prognosis post surgery is excellent, but if the dog already has arthritis and undergoes surgery, the likelihood of luxating patella returning is pretty high, and the arthritis will likely continue getting worse.
Anti-inflammatories from the vet (do not give any human medicines without speaking to your vet first!), prescription diets and supplements, and a low-impact exercise routine can help dogs with patellar luxation or subluxation.
Information reference: VCA Canada: Luxating Patella in Dogs
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals does have testing for patellar luxation, both preliminary (under 12 months or 6 to 8 weeks of age before sale) and official examination where the dog receives an OFA number, which can be added to the database for data collection by other breeders and owners.
OFA's Patellar Luxation page
As per Staffordshire Terrier Club of America, there are several cardiac diseases that may occur in the breed, including mitral and tricuspid valve murmurs, subaortic stenosis, pulmonary valvular stenosis, and cardiomyopathy.
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) has the option of a basic cardiac exam, which is simply an auscultation (where a cardiologist listens to the heart), or an advanced cardiac exam, which requires an echocardiogram (a procedure).
Many heart illnesses are present at birth (congenital) and some are adult onset, in which clearances are valid for one year post exam. OFA states, "Many adult-onset or developmental heart diseases may be genetic; however, the modes of inheritance have not been precisely determined for all heart malformations."
The OFA eye examination is a basic eye exam looking at the clinical appearance of the eye after pupil-dilating eyedrops are placed. This is an ophthalmologist or eye specialist who looks at the eye and studies it for any observable issues. OFA's site states that a dog with a clinically "normal" eye with OFA Eye Certification can still carry a genetic abnormality that is not able to be witnessed by a specialist. Further eye examination and testing can be carried out if desired.
In the case of hypothyroidism caused by autoimmune thyroiditis, it is generally adult onset, so not present at birth or congenital. This is where dogs develop antibodies (which indicates it being genetic), which attack the thyroid cells and tissues, leading to inflammation and disrupted thyroid function.
- Fatigue, sluggishness
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin, coat change, increased shedding
- Chronic allergies
- Behavioral changes
- Weight gain
Ask your veterinarian to do a complete thyroid panel rather than just the T4. This is a blood test.
OFA Thyroid Submission Guide
- R. Wishart