20 Common German Shepherd Health Problems

German Shepherd, Dog, Sitting, Outdoors, Grass

Written by Mandy Trotti

Updated: September 8, 2023

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German shepherds are known for their intelligence and work ethic. These beautiful dogs are large but loyal and can help humans complete a variety of jobs. They are an ideal breed for active households and can be trained to protect their home. In spite of their noble reputation, there are a number of common German shepherd health problems that you should consider before adopting one.  

Below are the most common German shepherd health problems, the symptoms of each condition, and what can be done to prevent or improve them if possible.  

One of the most common German shepherd health problems affect the hips.

The most common with which German shepherds struggle is hip dysplasia.

1. Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is the most common health problem German shepherds experience. An abnormality in the hip joint causes the hip socket to only partially cover the ball portion, causing painful joint dislocation. The condition is a congenital or inherited condition that affects large dog breeds

Signs of hip dysplasia include decreased activity, limping or bunny hopping (also known as ataxic gait), and stiffness. These symptoms can begin as soon as birth, but it’s uncommon to occur before one year. Changes in diet and exercise can improve symptoms. Some dogs may also be a candidate for surgery depending on the severity of the condition.  

The most common German shepherd health problems affect growing puppies.

While hip and elbow dysplasia affect many German shepherds, that doesn’t stop them from loving playtime.

2. Elbow Dysplasia 

Like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia is another congenital condition affecting large dog breeds, especially German shepherds. This condition occurs when the elbow joint doesn’t develop properly, typically involving the growth of cartilage and the surrounding areas. Elbow dysplasia begins as a primary lesion, which refers to the abnormal breakdown of the joint. 

The condition causes chronic pain, making walking difficult for dogs. And it’s not uncommon for it to be present in both elbows. Symptoms include limping, a decreased range of motion, and bulging or swollen elbows. Physical therapy, limited exercise, weight management, and medication are a few treatment options.

German shepherd with skin rash from allergies lying down on the floor.

Allergies are particularly common in German shepherds.

3. Allergies

German shepherds are more susceptible to allergies than other dog breeds. Allergies can include environmental allergies like grass, pollen, or food-based. Dogs with food-based allergies often cannot eat chicken, corn, rice, or grain but can include other food types.

The most common way to tell if your German shepherd has allergies is red, itchy, and irritated skin. Your vet may recommend a special diet to meet your dog’s specific nutritional needs in addition to hypoallergenic products or medication. 

Some of the most common German shepherd health problems that affect older dogs impacts their diet.

Dogs who suffer from diabetes must receive a special diet.

4. Diabetes 

Diabetes is a common health condition in German shepherds due to their large size and eating habits. As with humans, diabetes in dogs can be genetic or develop later in life. Symptoms include fatigue, dry mouth, excessive drinking, and excessive urination. Diabetes is maintained with diet and exercise. 

The most deadly and common German shepherd health problem can be avoided with slow eating.

Dogs who only eat one large meal a day are more susceptible to GDV.

5. Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV)

Large dogs, including German shepherds, are at high risk of experiencing gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), also known as bloating. This fatal condition occurs when too much air, food, or fluid builds up in the stomach, preventing gas from being expelled and cutting off blood flow. Gastric dilatation and volvulus often occur after eating or exercising, causing the stomach to bloat and twist suddenly. 

Dogs who eat quickly, only eat one large meal a day, or eat from a raised bowl are more susceptible to bloat. If your dog begins retching, vomiting, excessively drooling, or has an extended abdomen after eating or exercising, see a vet immediately. Eating smaller meals throughout the day, using puzzle toys to slow eating, and taking long breaks between eating and exercising lower the risk of GDV.

One of the most common German shepherd health problems requires dogs to be frequently cleaned.

If you suspect perianal fistulas are a problem for your German shepherd, seek veterinary care for treatment options.

6. Perianal Fistulas 

Also known as anal furunculosis, it is one of the most common and severe German shepherd health problems. The perianal is the area around the anus, while the fistula refers to an abnormal connection between the tissues of the anal sac and the anal duct. 

Perianal fistulas are characterized by chronic, smelly, pus-producing boils in the anal region and surrounding skin of a dog’s behind. These fistulas result from impaction or infection of the anal glands but can be related to an autoimmune disease. Keeping the area clean, various types of medication and surgery can control the condition maintained. 

A few common German shepherd health problems affect the urinary tract.

Urate bladder stones are the most serious variant a German shepherd can experience.

7. Bladder Stones

Bladder stones are another common German Shepherd health problem. They are crystallized minerals that form in the kidneys and then move into the bladder in the shape of stones. There are two common types of bladder stones: urate bladder stones and struvite bladder stones. 

Urate bladder stones are hereditary and the most serious, as they can require surgery and don’t respond well to standard treatment. On the other hand, struvite bladder stones often dissolve but can sometimes remain sold to cause painful stones. Symptoms of bladder stones include frequent urination, bloody urine, trouble urinating, and grit visible in the urine. 

One of the most common German shepherd health problems affects the corneas and causing blindness.

Pannus is a common and hereditary eye problem.

8. Pannus

Also called chronic superficial keratitis, one of the most common hereditary eye problems German shepherds experience is Pannus. This progressive disease affects the cornea of the eye. It often appears as a gray or pink film which can change into a darker shade covering the cornea in one or both eyes. 

However, if the vet catches Pannus early, they can recommend treatment options to prevent worsening symptoms. Environmental factors such as UV rays and high altitudes can exacerbate symptoms.  

Degenerative eye problems are one of the most common German shepherd health problems that affects older dogs.

If you suspect your dog has a condition that is negatively affecting its quality of life, a veterinarian can help.

9. Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) and Central Progressive Retinal Atrophy (CPRA) are two of the most common German Shepherd health problems that affect the retina. Both conditions typically display symptoms around two years of age and are degenerative.

PRA is not painful, but the hereditary condition affects a dog’s ability to detect light, movement, and color, ultimately causing them to go blind. Dogs experiencing PRA will have difficulty seeing in the dark, following visual signals and commands, and may bump into objects. 

Cataracts are one of the most common German shepherd health problems that affect older dogs.

As a degenerative condition, cataracts worsen over time.

10. Cataracts 

Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in older German shepherds. The lenses of the eyes become opaque or cloudy. Cataracts can form due to age, an eye injury, or underlying health conditions such as diabetes. 

Surgery can remove cataracts or the eye altogether if the condition is worse. Cataracts are a degenerative condition, meaning it worsens over time and can lead to chronic pain and blindness. 

Panosteitis is one of the only common German shepherd health problems that can resolve on its own.

Pano affects the growth of a German shepherd’s leg bones.

11. Panosteitis

Panosteitis or “Pano” is another common German shepherd health problem that affects the development and growth of the long bones in their legs. The condition is not exclusive to German shepherds; however, their large size makes them more susceptible to developing limb problems. Panosteitis often goes away after 18 months, but a lack of intervention can cause permanent damage to the bones or damage. 

IVDD is one of the most debilitating common German shepherd health problem.

Spine problems can arise as a German shepherd ages.

12. Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)

It’s not uncommon for German shepherds to have problems with their spines as they age. Some GSDs are more susceptible to the disease, and it’s more likely to develop earlier. IVDD occurs naturally due to wear on the spinal disks. As dog’s age, the discs between the vertebrae break down, causing pain in the neck and back and the loss of mobility.   

Since the disease is degenerative, maintenance is the only way to prevent the disease from progressing rapidly. Physical therapy, medication, surgery, and limited activity are the best forms of treatment for IVDD.

DM is another debilitating and common German shepherd health problem that gets worse with age.

DM is a degenerative disease that causes limb weakness and paralysis.

13. Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)

Similar to ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, degenerative myelopathy is a neurological condition that affects the spinal cord, causing progressive limb weakness and paralysis. German shepherds are more susceptible to DM than other breeds, but genetic tests are available to determine if your dog is at risk. 

Early symptoms of DM resemble osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia, making diagnosis challenging. Trouble walking, standing, and incontinence are often the first signs of DM. Fortunately, German shepherds can undergo rehabilitation, acupuncture therapy, exercise, and use dietary supplements to manage symptoms. 

Arthritis is an easily managed German shepherd health problem.

A dog that is suffering from osteoarthritis may obsessively lick its paw.

14. Osteoarthritis

Also, just referred to as arthritis, it affects the skeletal system. German shepherds with arthritis experience chronic pain and swelling in their joints. The condition limits their ability to move. Signs of osteoarthritis include limping, ataxia, frequently licking joints, and decreased movement. Maintaining their weight, using ramps when needed, and providing medication or supplements can manage the condition.      

Epilepsy is uncommon but is a reported German shepherd health problem.

If a German shepherd has epilepsy, in many cases, it will experience its first seizure between 6 months and 3 years old.

15. Epilepsy 

German shepherds are commonly affected by primary or idiopathic epilepsy. This form of epilepsy is inherited. German shepherds with this form of epilepsy often have their first seizure between 6 months to 3 years old. 

In the event of a seizure, give them space to prevent injury, but don’t touch their mouth or tongue. If you suspect your German shepherd has epilepsy, a vet can provide a diagnosis with a blood test and prescribe medication. 

German shepherd puppy stares at metal food bowl.

If a dog has CIM, its enlarged esophagus will pose problems with swallowing food.

16. Congenital Idiopathic Megaesophagus (CIM)

German shepherds are predisposed to another inherited disorder, the congenital idiopathic megaesophagus (CIM). With this condition, puppies develop an enlarged esophagus that cannot move food down the digestive tract. Puppies with CIM often regurgitate their food because they cannot eat correctly. 

Underlying neurological conditions or other disorders sometimes cause a canine megaesophagus and can be treated with the right help. Small, frequent meals, eating vertically, and medication may help treat CIM in German shepherds. 

Young German shepherd looking up beside empty food bowl.

Even if a German shepherd’s diet is healthy, if it has EPI, it will have problems absorbing the nutrients.

17. Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) refers to the inability of the pancreas to produce enough enzymes to digest carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in food. German shepherds with this condition cannot absorb the proper nutrients despite having a healthy diet, causing them to be hungry and malnourished. 

EPI can be diagnosed with a blood test within the first six months of their life. However, if it goes untreated, your dog will starve to death. Treatment options include lifelong supplements, antibiotics, and other medication to ensure they receive nutrients.

Portrait of a big german shepherd dog lying on the table at the vet clinic. Male veterinarian using a stethoscope to examine the dog.

SLE is common in large dogs who are over the age of 5.

18. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

Lupus is a multi-systemic autoimmune disease that causes a dog’s immune system to attack its tissues. SLE is most common in German shepherds and other large dogs over 5 but can affect dogs as young as 6 months old. Signs of SLE often occur slowly over time and vary according to the affected area.

Treatment also depends on the parts of the body affected. Vets can prescribe systemic and topical medications, while short-term veterinary stays may be required. Your vet may also recommend restricted physical activity, modified diets, and limited sun exposure.

German shepherd portrait in the garden.

While Doberman pinschers are the most at risk for Von Willebrand Disease, it can also affect German shepherds.

19. Von Willebrand Disease

One of the most common bleeding disorders in humans and dogs is Von Willebrand Disease. This inherited blood disorder is the result of a deficiency in the protein Von Willebrand factor (vWF), which is necessary for helping platelets stick together to form blood clots. 

Doberman pinschers are the most at risk for vWF, but German shepherds are also at risk. Excessive bleeding following a wound or surgery is the main symptom. There is no cure, but monitoring and transfusions help dogs live healthy lives

Beautiful German Shepard dog sleeping in a comfy bed

If you suspect any of these conditions in your dog, seeking veterinary care is the first step to helping it live a better life.

20. Hemophilia

Another common bleeding disorder present in German shepherds is hemophilia A. This inherited coagulation disorder is caused by a deficiency in factor VIII (F8), which also prevents proper blood clotting. The most common form of treatment is therapy and transfusions. 

Summary of Common German Shepherd Health Problems

German Shepherd Health Problems
#1Hip Dysplasia
#2Elbow Dysplasia
#5Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV)
#6Perianal Fistulas
#7Bladder Stones
#9Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
#12Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)
#13Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)
#16Congenital Idiopathic Megaesophagus (CIM)
#17Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)
#18Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
#19Von Willebrand Disease

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About the Author

Mandy Trotti is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on pets and travel. Mandy has been writing professionally for three years and holds a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature from the University of South Florida, which she earned in 2022. A resident of Florida, Mandy enjoys going on walks with her rescue beagle, visiting botanical gardens, and watching the sunset on the beach.

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