Genetic Disorders in Dogs

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Just like people, dogs are prone to quite a few genetic disorders. Many of these disorders are most common in specific dog breeds since they are genetic.

Purebred dogs tend to get these diseases more than mixed-breed dogs. 

Veterinarian examining Beagle dog with stethoscope

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most common genetic disorders and discuss which dogs are most prone to them. 

How are the majority of genetic diseases in dogs inherited?

Genetic diseases can be inherited through a variety of ways depending on the diseases. Genetic diseases can either be dominant or recessive.

If a gene is dominant, any dog that inherits that gene will likely end up developing the disease. That means only one parent has to be affected. 

On the other hand, an autosomal recessive genetic disease requires both parts to be carriers of the disease. This sort of genetic disorder can hide in the genome before showing up in a puppy.

For this reason, they are much harder to detect and prevent unless parents undergo specific chromosome testing. 

In general, it is in the dog owner’s best interest to ask about genetic testing whenever they are adopting any purebred dog. 

The exact gene each disorder is connected to differs. We’ll take a look at transmission and inheritance as we look at each common genetic disorder. 

The 10 Most Common Genetic Disorders in Dogs

Canine Hip Dysplasia

Dog sitting outside diagnosed with Canine Hip Dysplasia
A dog diagnosed with Canine Hip Dysplasia in her right rear hip – Image source

Canine hip dysplasia is a common skeletal condition. It is technically able to occur in all breeds of dog, but it is most common in large and giant breeds.

Bernese mountain dogs, Newfoundlands, and Rottweiler are the most commonly affected dogs. Mastiffs are infected as well. In dogs with this condition, the ball and socket of the hip do not line up correctly.

As a result, they rub together and wear down over time, creating pain. 

This disease does have a genetic component, so it is an inherited disorder. However, it can be affected by the environment, especially diet.

Other factors include excessive growth rate, too much exercise, and obesity. These can magnify the genetic disposition and make it more likely that this problem will appear.

To prevent this disorder, it is important to feed large and giant breed puppies high-quality dog foods. You should also avoid feeding them too much dog food, as this can make them grow too quickly.

Obesity puts extra strain on your pet’s joints, so that should be avoided as well. Proper amounts of exercise are also important.

Elbow dysplasia is a similar disease that is also genetic. 

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome

This condition is caused by a shortened snout. This includes breeds like Pugs and Shih Tzus. It is genetic and, sadly, often encouraged by breeders to make the breeds “cuter”.

The shortened snout can cause all sorts of health problems for the canines affected. 

This syndrome increases the chance for a variety of different health conditions due to structural abnormalities, including bronchial collapse, gastroesophageal reflux, and chronic gastritis.

All of these conditions are uncomfortable for the dog and can be life-threatening. Surgery may be required to correct it. 

Degenerative Myelopathy

This is a degeneration disease that involves the spinal cord of usually older dogs. Onset is usually after 8 years of age.

It leads to coordination loss in the back legs, which eventually leaves the dog unable to walk. Luckily, this disease is not painful for the affected dog. 

We actually know very little about this disease. While it is connected to specific genes, the tests for this gene are not widely available and usually not used before breeding dogs.

The onset of the disease is fairly late, so dogs will usually have had puppies before the disease becomes apparent. It is fairly difficult to prevent the incidence of this disease, therefore. 

This disease is not treatable. However, because it is not painful, the dog can still live a full life. Care is needed to help with mobility, such as through the use of carts. Pressure sores will need to be prevented as well. 

Heart Disease

Veterinary doctor with assistant checking the dog heartbeat

Some types of heart diseases are genetic. This includes both congenital diseases and those that are typically developed later into adulthood.

The most common inherited defects including subvalvular aortic stenosis, pulmonic stenosis, patent ductus arteriosus. 

Many of these conditions are life-threatening, though some can be somewhat treated. Most are common in certain dog breeds.

For example, Subvalvular aortic stenosis is most common in Newfoundlands, Golden Retrievers, Boxers, and Rottweilers. Heart disease has a high prevalence among all dog breeds. 

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a condition where the heart muscles become weakened, which makes them become enlarged. Eventually, this makes the heart unable to pump enough blood for the rest of the body.

Breeds that are prone to this disease are Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Irish Setters, and Boxers. German Shepherd dogs are also at a slightly higher risk as well. 

This can be caused by all sorts of environmental problems. However, some dogs are born with a genetic predisposition.

For example, this disorder can be caused by malnutrition, which is usually caused by low-quality dog food. 

Myxomatous Mitral Valve Disease

This is another degenerative heart disease. It is an acquired disease, which means it is not presented at birth. This disorder primarily affects the heart valves of smaller dogs, particularly the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. 

In MMVD, the mitral valve becomes thickened by a formation of small nodules along the edges. This eventually results in the closing of the valve, which compromises the heart.

As a progressive disease, this disorder becomes worse over time. 

There are no medications currently that reverse or slow the progression of this disease. Instead, medication is used to help the heart work more effectively and slow the damage done to the rest of the body.

Dietary modification may be required as well. 

King Charles Spaniel dog in autumn background

Chondrodysplasis

Chondrodysplasis is an inherited bone disorder in Norwegian Elkhounds and Karelian Bear Dogs.

It has also been reported in some other dog breeds, such as the Alaskan Malamute, Miniature Poodle, Samoyed, and Labrador Retriever. 

This genetic disorder is associated with a mutation in the ITGA10 gene. This affects how certain proteins are formed, which affects the formation of cartilage.

This is a recessive gene, so it can hide and be passed down before finally becoming evident. Furthermore, carriers are completely asymptomatic, so there is no way to know they are affected unless they are genetically tested. 

Urinary Bladder Stones

Bladder stones are rock-like formations of minerals that develop in the bladder. They are typically large stones or a collection of smaller stones.

There are quite a few theories on how these stones form, but we are not absolutely certain. There are likely dietary factors involved, but it may also be linked to genetics. 

Often, surgical removal or some sort of non-surgical removal is required. Occasionally, dietary requirements are required. 

Epilepsy

Epilepsy is likely genetic, but the exact mode of inheritance is not completely known. It is the most common neurological disorder in dogs.

There is not currently a classification system for dog seizures, and much research has yet to be done. Therefore, there is actually very little we know about this disease. 

Some breeds are particularly prone to epilepsy, including Beagles, German Shepherds, and Dachshunds. 

There are some treatments for epilepsy, but the exact treatment can vary quite a bit from dog to dog. There are medications available. The medication that works for one canine may not necessarily work for another. 

Allergic Skin Disease

Tibetan Mastiff dog scratching flea

Allergic skin disease is caused by allergies, usually airborne substances or food. Dogs are often allergic to specific types of protein, usually after they have been exposed to them over and over again.

Dalmatians and French Bulldogs are prone to this sort of skin problem. 

These reactions typically pop up as rubbing, licking, biting, and scratching. With enough scratching and rubbing, secondary infections can develop, which can be quite serious.

Certain dog breeds seem to be particularly prone to this problem, so there is likely some sort of genetic component. However, there is no DNA test for this condition. 

It is treatable with medication and avoidance of the allergen. 

Cranial Cruciate Ligament Rupture

This is an extremely common knee injury in dogs. It is not extremely serious. However, surgical repair is required. There is no exact test to check for this genetic disposition, but environmental factors can cause it as well. 

There are several types of this condition as well. Some have more long-lasting effects than others. 

Conclusion

Veterinary doctor and a nurse examining the Border Collie dog

There are many different conditions that are transmitted through genes. There are some tests that can detect some of these conditions, both there is no test for others.

The American Kennel Club requires some dog breeds to undergo DNA testing but doesn’t require others. Environmental issues also contribute to many of these conditions, so canine genetics isn’t necessarily fate. 

There are other genetic disorders out there as well. Different breeds are prone to different genetic disorders. Some conditions are breed-specific, like Coloboma, which most affects Collies.

Dachshunds and Corgis are also prone to intervertebral disc disease due to their long backs. Dalmatians are very prone to deafness, especially those with little pigment. 

Many eye diseases are genetic as well, including lens luxation.

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