Common Dobermann Health Issues

Dobermans are generally healthy but, like other breeds, they have some problems that occur more frequently than in the general dog population. You should be aware of these problems when searching for your special puppy, and ask questions of your prospective breeder regarding the incidence of these problems in the ancestors of the litter.


"Up until recently, the Kennel Union did not have the facility or capability to be able to keep records of health screening test results. Much progress has been made and the Kennel Union is now able to record both clinical and genetic health tests results for each individual dog recorded on the KUSA data base. A certificate, on which all health test results are recorded, is available upon receipt of a written request, from the KUSA office, at no charge.

The following is a list of heredity problems experienced by the Dobermann Breed:

  1. Hip (and Elbow) Dysplasia:

    Hip Dysplasia (HD) is the malformation in the development of one or both ball and socket joints in the hip. The hip joint is composed of the socket which is formed by the bones of the pelvis and the "ball" (head) of the thigh bone (femur). Normally, this joint is very tight fitting, however if suffering from dysplasia there will be too much movement in the joint leading to pain and lameness.

    Hip (HD) and Elbow Dysplasia (ED) is a multifactoral, genetically based disease which is greatly influenced by environmental factors. The mode of inheritance of HD and ED is complex and the degenerative changes occur with growth if the genetic and environmental factors are present. Due to this complexity, normal hipped/elbowed dogs can produce offspring with all degrees of dysplasia and dysplastic dogs can produce normal offspring.

    The state of the hips shall be determined by X-rays which are interpreted by an expert selected from a panel approved by KUSA. For a Dobermann litter to be registered both parents shall have hips rated at B2 or better. This requirement will remain and in addition the parent's hip score will be reflected on the puppy's Health Certificate.

  2. von Willebrand's Disease- a blood clotting disorder:

    von Willebrand's Disease (vWD) is an inherited bleeding disorder that affects many breeds, including Dobermanns. Dogs clinically affected by this disease have a reduced ability to produce von Willebrand's Factor in their blood - a substance needed to achieve blood clotting.

    There is now a definitive DNA test for Dobermanns to determine their vWD status. This test is a simple swab of the cells from inside the dog's mouth (cheek) which is then sent to a lab for analysis.

    The outcome is Clear or Carrier/Affected. It is recommended that only Clear to Clear or Clear to Carrier be mated. If the mating is Clear to Clear, then all the offspring will be Clear by parentage. Provided KUSA is in possession of Certificates from an accepted Laboratory defining the vWD status of forebears as Clear, this status will carry through. The status of pups in a litter will therefore be: Clear, Unknown (Clear or Carrier/Affected), Not Tested. This is a definitive test, accessible to anyone from anywhere.

  3. Dilated Cardiomyopathy/DCM - also referred to as "Cardio":

    Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is where the muscle of the heart becomes diseased. This results in an enlarged heart which does not function properly. DCM can affect both sides of the heart with one side usually being more severely affected. The enlarged heart chambers lose their ability to contract effectively and are unable to pump blood out to the body or lungs.

    If the left side of the heart is affected, fluid builds up into the lungs, if the right side of the heart is affected, fluid builds up in the abdomen or area surrounding the lungs. This build up of fluid places pressure on the heart and creates breathing difficulties, eventually leading to death from congestive heart failure. Another cause of death from DCM is from irregular heart beats (arrhythmias) – these can lead to sudden death, often with no prior outward signs of the disease in the dog.

    Long term prognosis varies considerably. Dogs survive from weeks up to years after diagnosis of DCM.

    There is a new DNA test following work done by Dr Meurs in USA. It is not an exclusive test, but Dr Meurs is on record as saying that they had not had a Dobermann with DCM that did not test positive. On the other hand some 15% who had tested negative had developed DCM. The occurrence of DCM in Dobermanns is said to be in excess of 50%. The results of the test can be Negative, Positive Heterozygous, of Positive Homozygous. The recommendation is to breed Negative to Negative, or Negative to Heterozygous. If this results in a reduction of the incidence of DCM in Dobermanns it would be a worthwhile test.

  4. Teeth:

    The dobermann has to have a full dentition of 42 teeth.

    The potential for complete dentition will be determined in the following manner; Both parents are in possession of certificate or critique from a specialist Dobermann Judge confirming that they have a complete scissor bite and full dentition of 42 teeth. Alternatively, a letter from a Veterinary Dental Expert confirming complete scissor bite and full dentition based on full mouth radiograph submitted to such Expert.

    If one parent has previously sired or whelped a litter where puppies have missing teeth, then the other parent must have full dentition. It is suggested (Dr Steenkamp) that each puppy in the litter should be given a full mouth radiograph which should then be sent to a Veterinary Dental Expert for evaluation. This should be optional.

  5. Eye Tests:

    PHTVL/PHPV is a hereditary eye disease affecting the lens of the eye. To the affected dog, this is a serious condition that may entail complications demanding veterinary care, and regular eye tests during the whole life of the dog.

    Early in the foetal stage, there is a system of blood vessels coating the lens. These blood vessels normally regress before the puppy is born. But in a dog with PHTVL/PHPV this has not occurred the way it is supposed to, and also the vitreous body of the eye, has not developed normally. In its mildest form PHTVL/PHPV causes small pigmented dots in the posterior lens capsule. In more severe cases the dog has got fully developed blood vessels in the rear face of the lens and maybe a deformed lens. Then there is a high risk of cataracts (clouding of the lens) even young puppies can go blind.

    Of the eye problems currently tested for PHTVL/PHPV is the most significant and in severe cases can lead to blindness. Although annual eye test are usually recommended, PHTVL/PHPV should not change during the dog's lifetime so should only need to be tested for once. An eye specialist performs the test and a certificate is issued. It is recommended that at least one of the parents be clear. The health certificate should contain the results of tests on the dam & sire. Puppies can be safely tested even at 8 weeks of age so if a breeder chooses the puppies can be tested and results recorded. Two clear parents do not however ensure clear offspring.

  6. Hypothyroidism (Thyroid Insufficiency):

    Hypothyroidism (thyroid hormone insufficiency) is fairly common in Dobermanns. Symptoms include lack of energy, weight gain, inability to keep warm, hair loss (especially in areas such as the dog's back and sides), and temperament changes.

    TSH and T4 tests can be done but results are only valid at the time of testing. Testing should be available at your usual vet. It is recommended that the dam & sire be tested before mating if there are known instances of Hypothyroidism. Results to be recorded on health certificate or show 'not tested'.

  7. Cervical Vertebral Instability (CVI) - also known as "Wobblers":

    Cervical Vertebral Instability (CVI), commonly known as "Wobblers" is the compression on the spinal cord between the 5th, 6th and 7th cervical vertebrae located in the neck. It usually develops gradually and is seen in the affected canine typically between 7 and 8 years of age.

    The early visual signs that the dog may have Wobblers is the dragging of hind feet causing abnormal wear to the dog's toenails. The hind legs will often be awkward and sway, making the animal walk like he is drunk - thus the name "Wobblers". The disease will progress from this point, eventually affecting all four limbs.

    Occasionally, in more serious cases, there is a rapid decline in the dog's condition. This is associated with extreme pain, arching of the neck, and the dog is unable to raise his head higher than shoulder level. All four legs are extremely rigid and walking is impossible.

    This condition is symptomatic. Dogs or Bitches exhibiting such symptom should not be used for breeding. Offspring from previous litters should be carefully monitored for evidence of the disease.

  8. Cryptorchidism:

    A bilateral crypt orchid is infertile and thus, is unable to produce offspring. As a result, the undesirable allele is self limiting through natural and artificial selection as they are unable to bear young with the same defect. However, the unilateral crypt orchid is fertile. Through artificial selection, we may also decrease the percentage of undesirable characters by eliminating affected animals (those with one testicle but fertile) from breeding programs, thus preventing them from producing 'carrier' and similarly affected progeny. If breeders continually introduce "mutants" into a population, that population will have a natural tendency to move toward homozygosity for the recessive allele/s; in this case, cryptorchidism.

    Over many generations, cryptorchidism becomes the norm rather than the exception. In other words, we "fix" the allele for cryptorchidism. Conversely, a population will experience a decrease in cryptorchidism if we systematically eliminate affected animals from the breeding program. Where cryptorchidism may have been the norm, it now becomes the exception. Thus, results are not seen overnight but rather, are realized over a period of generations.

  9. Cancer:

    Cancer causes the early deaths of far too many of our beloved Dobermanns. Signs to be alert for include abnormal swellings especially in the lymph nodes, unusual bleeding or discharge, sores that do not heal, loss of appetite, loss of energy, weight loss, persistent lameness, lumps in the mammary area (bitches), abnormal feel/size of the testicles (dogs).

    If your dog displays any of the above symptoms or anything else you feel is unusual, the sooner you can have your dog examined by the vet, the better.

  10. Chronic Active Hepatitis (CAH):

    Chronic Active Hepatitis (CAH) is suspected in the presence of persistently elevated ALT values and can be definitively diagnosed by a liver biopsy. The liver is a major filtering organ for the body. During CAH, as the liver cells die they release a protein that causes the elevated ALT values. Scar tissue then replaces the dead liver cells reducing the filtering effectiveness of the liver and creating a build up of toxins in the body. This degenerative state will continue to the point of liver failure and death.

    Occurrence tends to be high in Dobermanns, but it is also found in other breeds, most notably, Bedlington Terriers, and Golden Retrievers.

    Among Dobermanns, this disease is more common among females with the average age of onset between 4 and 6 years of age. Initial symptoms of CAH include excessive drinking. As the disease progresses and at least half the liver has been destroyed, the dog will be quite sick presenting with jaundice, abdominal swelling, vomiting and weight loss.

    There are no studies that prove CAH is heritable. Low fat, low protein diets can help, and some have used steroids with a degree of success. If your Dobermann shows any of the above symptoms please see your veterinarian as soon as possible.

  11. Gastric Dilation Volvulus (GDV) - more commonly known as "Bloat":

    The technical name for bloat is "Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus" ("GDV"). It is frequently reported that deep-chested dogs, such as German Shepherds, Great Danes, and Dobermanns are particularly at risk.

    Bloating of the stomach is often due to swallowed air (although food and fluid can also be present). It usually happens when there's an abnormal accumulation of air, fluid, and/or foam in the stomach ("gastric dilatation"). Bloat can occur with or without "volvulus" (twisting). As the stomach swells, it may rotate and twist between its fixed ends at the esophageus and at the upper intestine. This twisting of the stomach traps air, food, and water and obstructs veins in the abdomen, leading to low blood pressure, shock, and damage to internal organs. The combined effect can quickly kill a dog – bloat is a medical emergency!

    Symptoms of bloat are that the dog may have an obviously distended stomach especially near the ribs, but the main symptom is that the dog will appear highly nauseated and is retching but little is coming up.

    If this is seen, rush your dog to the veterinarian IMMEDIATELY for relief of pressure in the stomach and management of shock. Treatment usually involves surgery to untwist the stomach and tack it into place (called gastroplexy).

    To avoid the risk of bloat in your Dobermann, latest research points to feeding your dog several small meals during the day rather than one large meal, not feeding your dogs using raised food bowls, and restricting the amount of water and food consumed before heavy exercise.

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