The Saint Bernard is one of the most treasured gentle giants of the canine world. These large teddy bears may be intimidating initially, but they are nothing but a bundle of love.
These striking pups make wonderful family dogs, but they do come with a few health dispositions that all future Saint Bernard parents should be aware of. Let’s break down some of the most common health issues seen in the Saint Bernard below!
8 Common Health Issues Seen In The Saint Bernard
Most Saint Bernards live a healthy lifespan around 8 to 10 years, but there are a few health complications they are known to struggle with throughout their life. Let’s break them down below.
#1 Hip Dysplasia
Saint Bernards with hip dysplasia struggle with an abnormal alignment of their hip joints. The improper alignment of the joints causes their hips to grind with each step they take, leading to significant joint damage and arthritis over time. Hip dysplasia is a degenerative issue, meaning it will only get worse as time goes on.
Hip dysplasia in Saint Bernards is incredibly painful, so these pups will often struggle with limping, lameness, difficulty standing up from a resting position, difficulty jumping on furniture, muscle wasting in the back end, and leg sensitivity.
Many large breed dogs suffer from osteoarthritis, and the Saint Bernard is no different. Arthritis refers to the degenerative breakdown of the dog’s joints and cartilage due to inflammation over time. Arthritis can deeply impact the dog’s quality of life if it is not managed properly, and it can even lead to eventual lameness in some canine friends.
Many Saint Bernards with arthritis will struggle with limping, joint stiffness, joint swelling, pain when the legs are touched, disinterest in exercise, and even changes in personality. Many vets recommend offering joint supplements to all giant breed dogs from the time they are one year of age.
#3 Gastric Dilatation & Volvulus (GDV)
Gastric dilatation and volvulus, or bloat, is a life threatening health complication that large breed dogs with deep chests are predisposed to. GDV occurs when the dog’s stomach flips on itself, trapping the contents of the stomach and blocking the flow of blood to and from the stomach. From the moment the stomach flips, dogs have minutes to hours until the complication takes their life. GDV requires immediate and aggressive vet care.
Some common signs of bloat in the Saint Bernard include retching without any vomit being produced, sudden weakness, abdominal swelling, pale gums, and collapse. Always seek immediate veterinary care if you see any of these symptoms in your canine companion.
Dr. Amy Nicole Lewis, a veterinarian with Worldwide Veterinary Services told A-Z Animals that many vets will recommend performing a gastropexy at the time of your Saint Bernard’s sterilization surgery. A gastropexy involves suturing the dog’s stomach to the abdominal wall to decrease the risk of it flipping in the future.
Entropion is incredibly common in the Saint Bernard breed. Entropion refers to a condition in which the upper or lower eyelids roll inward into the eye itself, causing the eyelashes to rub against the eye and irritate the sclera and cornea. Dogs with entropion have an increased risk of corneal ulcerations and eye infections. These pups may suffer from eye redness, pawing at the eye, eye discharge, crusting around the eyes, and frequent squinting. Most Saint Bernards with entropion will require eye surgery to correct the abnormality and put an end to their eye irritation.
#5 Wobbler Syndrome
Wobbler syndrome, or cervical vertebral instability, is a degenerative neurological disease often seen in Saint Bernards. This condition occurs due to abnormalities within the neck or spine, leading to symptoms like neck pain, lack of coordination, and weakness of the limbs. Wobbler syndrome often worsens over time, with some dogs eventually dragging their limbs due to how severe their limb weakness is. Many pet parents notice the first symptoms when their Saint Bernard is young, only for their disease to progress slowly over time.
Osteosarcoma is a form of cancer that invades the bones, most often the long bones. Osteosarcoma is an aggressive cancer that metastasizes very rapidly, so it often requires prompt amputation of the affected limb to offer the dog as much time as possible. Osteosarcoma in the Saint Bernard often leads to limping, leg pain, and a hard and painful lump on the affected limb. It’s important to have your little one assessed promptly if you ever observe these symptoms.
Lymphoma is another sign of cancer that Saint Bernards are known to suffer from. Lymphoma is a cancer of the canine lymphatic system, meaning it often impacts the lymph nodes before spreading to other organs throughout the body. Some of the most common signs of lymphoma in the Saint Bernard include swollen lymph nodes, lethargy, decreased appetite, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, and difficulty breathing. It’s important to have your dog assessed promptly if you ever observe these symptoms.
#8 Cardiac Disease
Cardiac disease refers to any abnormality or condition that involves the heart. Unfortunately, Saint Bernards are prone to heart conditions like cardiomyopathy, tricuspid valve dysplasia, and heart valve degeneration. Many of these cardiac issues are not obvious in young age, which is why it is so important to keep up with your Saint Bernard’s annual vet exams. Many vets often spot a heart murmur or other cardiac abnormalities during annual vet exams.
Some of the common signs of heart disease in the Saint Bernard include a chronic cough, a heart murmur, tiring quickly with exercise, lethargy, weight loss, swelling of the abdomen or legs, fainting, and blue-tinged or muddy gums.
Final Thoughts On Saint Bernard Health Issues
The Saint Bernard is prone to a variety of medical complications that can impact their quality of life. Establishing a close relationship with a veterinarian the moment you adopt your Saint Bernard is essential for staying on top of their health as the years go by. We also suggest looking out for any of the signs and symptoms we discussed above, as this will allow you to seek veterinary care for dog the moment they need it!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Aneta Jungerova/Shutterstock.com
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