Swissy dogs are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they’re prone to certain health conditions. Not all Swissy dogs will get any or all of these diseases, but it’s important to be aware of them if you’re considering this breed.
If you’re buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy’s parents. Health clearances prove that a dog has been tested for and cleared of a particular condition.
In Swissy dogs, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (with a score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand’s disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that eyes are normal. You can confirm health clearances by checking the OFA web site (offa.org).
- Hip Dysplasia: This is an inherited condition in which the thighbone doesn’t fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but others don’t display outward signs of discomfort. (X-ray screening is the most certain way to diagnose the problem.) Either way, arthritis can develop as the dog ages. Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred — so if you’re buying a puppy, ask the breeder for proof that the parents have been tested for hip dysplasia and are free of problems.
- Elbow Dysplasia: Similar to hip dysplasia, this is also a degenerative disease. It’s believed to be caused by abnormal growth and development, which results in a malformed and weakened joint. The disease varies in severity: the dog could simply develop arthritis, or he could become lame. Treatment includes surgery, weight management, medical management, and anti-inflammatory medication.
- Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD): This orthopedic condition, caused by improper growth of cartilage in the joints, usually occurs in the elbows, but it has been seen in the shoulders as well. It causes a painful stiffening of the joint, to the point that the dog is unable to bend his elbow. It can be detected in dogs as early as four to nine months of age. Overfeeding of “growth formula” puppy foods or high-protein foods may contribute to its development.
- Patellar Luxation: Also known as slipped stifles. The patella is the kneecap. Luxation means dislocation of an anatomical part (as a bone at a joint). Patellar luxation is when the knee joint (often of a hind leg) slides in and out of place, causing pain. This can be crippling, although many dogs lead relatively normal lives with this condition.
- Gastric Torsion: Also called bloat, this is a life-threatening condition that can affect large, deep-chested dogs such as the Swissy. This is especially true if they are fed one large meal a day, eat rapidly, drink large volumes of water after eating, and exercise vigorously after eating. Bloat is more common among older dogs. GDV occurs when the stomach is distended with gas or air and then twists (torsion). The dog is unable to belch or vomit to rid himself of the excess air in the stomach, and the normal return of blood to the heart is impeded. Blood pressure drops and the dog goes into shock. Without immediate medical attention, the dog can die. Suspect bloat if your dog has a distended abdomen and is salivating excessively and retching without throwing up. He also may be restless, depressed, lethargic, and weak, with a rapid heart rate. It’s important to get your dog to the vet as soon as possible if you see these signs.
- Splenic Torsion: This condition occurs when the spleen rotates, causing it to expand and become engorged with blood. The symptoms are not always obvious, but can include vomiting, fever, pale gums, and tenderness. Splenic torsion requires immediate veterinarian care and the surgical removal of the spleen is necessary.
- Cataracts: Cataracts cause opacity on the lens of the eye, resulting in poor vision. The dog’s eye(s) will have a cloudy appearance. Cataracts usually occur in old age and sometimes can be surgically removed to improve vision.
- Distichiasis: This is a condition in which extra eyelashes (cilia) grow from the glands of the upper or lower eyelid. A hair follicle develops deep within the glands rather than on the skin surface. As the hair grows, it follows the duct of the gland and exits from the gland opening along the smooth surface of the eyelid margin. In many cases, these eyelashes rub on the cornea, causing irritation and tearing, and occasionally corneal abrasions.
- Entropion: Entropion is an inward rolling of the eyelid. It usually affects the lower eyelid of both eyes, causing irritation and vision loss. It generally occurs before a dog turns a year old; surgery to correct the problem is usually held off until the dog reaches adulthood.
- Panosteitis: Commonly called Pano, this condition causes self-limiting lameness. At about five to 12 months of age, the dog may limp on one leg, then another, then it stops. There are usually no long-term effects. Rest and restricted activity may be necessary for a while if the dog’s in pain.
- Swissy Lick: This mysterious affliction causes the dog to start franticly licking or swallowing anything in sight. The cause is unknown, although it appears to be related to severe gastrointestinal pain. It’s treated with gas and acid-reducing medications. Swissy lick is more common among young dogs, but seniors can get it as well.
Obtained information from Dogtime.com
Deep-chested dogs are susceptible to gastric torsion; the dreaded “bloat”
Bloat, Torsion. Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV). Call it what you will, this is a serious, life-threatening condition of large breed dogs. While the diagnosis is simple, the pathological changes in the dog’s body make treatment complicated, expensive, and not always successful.
A typical scenario starts with a large, deep-chested dog, usually fed once daily. Typical breeds affected are Akita, Great Dane, German Shepherd, St. Bernard, Irish Wolfhound, and Irish Setter. Sighthounds, Doberman Pinschers, Weimaraners, Bloodhounds, other similar breeds, and large, deep-chested mixed breeds are also affected.
Factor in the habit of bolting food, gulping air, or drinking large amounts of water immediately after eating to this feeding schedule and body type. Then add vigorous exercise after a full meal, and you have the recipe for bloat.
Of course, the fact that not all bloats happen in just the same way and the thought that some bloodlines are more at risk than others further complicates the issue.
Simple gastric distention can occur in any breed or age of dog and is common in young puppies who overeat. This is sometimes referred to as pre-bloat by laymen. Belching of gas or vomiting food usually relieves the problem.
If this condition occurs more than once in a predisposed breed, the veterinarian might discuss methods to prevent bloat, such as feeding smaller meals or giving Reglan (metoclopramide) to encourage stomach emptying. Some veterinarians recommend, and some owners request, prophylactic surgery to anchor the stomach in place before the torsion occurs in dogs who have experienced one or more bouts of distention or in dogs whose close relatives have had GDV.
The physiology of bloat
Torsion or volvulus are terms to describe the twisting of the stomach after gastric distention occurs. The different terms are used to define the twisting whether it occurs on the longitudinal axis (torsion) or the mesenteric axis (volvulus). Most people use the terms interchangeably, and the type of twist has no bearing on the prognosis or treatment. When torsion occurs, the esophagus is closed off, limiting the dog’s ability to relieve distention by vomiting or belching. Often the spleen becomes entrapped as well, and its blood supply is cut off.
Now a complex chain of physiologic events begins. The blood return to the heart decreases, cardiac output decreases, and cardiac arrythmias may follow. Toxins build up in the dying stomach lining. The liver, pancreas, and upper small bowel may also be compromised. Shock from low blood pressure and endotoxins rapidly develops. Sometimes the stomach ruptures, leading to peritonitis.
Abdominal distention, salivating, and retching are the hallmark signs of GDV. Other signs may include restlessness, depression, lethargy, anorexia, weakness, or a rapid heart rate.
GDV is a true emergency. If you know or even suspect your dog has bloat, immediately call your veterinarian or emergency service. Do not attempt home treatment.
Do take the time to call ahead.; while you are transporting the dog, the hospital staff can prepare for your arrival. Do not insist on accompanying your dog to the treatment area. Well-meaning owners are an impediment to efficient care. Someone will be out to answer your questions as soon as possible, but for now, have faith in you veterinarian and wait.
Initial diagnosis may include x-rays, an ECG, and blood tests, but treatment will probably be started before the test results are in.
The first step is to treat shock with IV fluids and steroids. Antibiotics and anti-arrythmics may also be started now. Then the veterinarian will attempt to decompress the stomach by passing a stomach tube. If this is successful, a gastric levage may be instituted to wash out accumulated food, gastric juices, or other stomach contents. In some cases, decompression is accomplished by placing large-bore needles or a trochar through the skin and muscle and directly into the stomach.
In some cases, this medical therapy is sufficient. However, in many cases, surgery is required to save the dog. Once the dog’s condition is stabilized, surgery to correct the stomach twist, remove any unhealthy tissue, and anchor the stomach in place is performed. The gastroplexy, or anchoring surgery, is an important procedure to prevent recurrence, and many variations exist. Your veterinarian will do the procedure he feels comfortable with and which has the best success rate
Recovery is prolonged, sometimes requiring hospital stays of a week or more. Post-operative care depends on the severity of the disease and the treatment methods employed and may include a special diet, drugs to promote gastric emptying, and routine wound management. Costs may run $500-1000 or more in complicated cases.
Clearly, prevention of GDV is preferable to treatment. In susceptible breeds, feed two or three meals daily and discourage rapid eating. Do not allow exercise for two hours after a meal. As previously mentioned, some owners feel that certain bloodlines are at greater risk and choose to have gastroplexy performed as a prophylactic measure.
While the genetics of GDV are not completely worked out, most breeders and veterinarians feel there is some degree of heritability. Therefore, while prophylactic gastroplexy will probably help an individual dog, it makes sense not to breed dogs who are affected or who are close relatives of those suffering from GDV.
Kathleen R. Hutton, DVM