Your German Shepherd is a large, energetic herding dog. German Shepherds are very intelligent, loyal, and obedient. Originally bred for herding, modern-day German Shepherds work with police and search and rescue units across the world because they are task-oriented, curious, and creative.

Like all dog breeds, German Shepherds are uniquely vulnerable to certain diseases. German Shepherds are more likely than dogs of other breeds to suffer from degenerative myelopathy, hip dysplasia, and dilated cardiomyopathy.

Degenerative Myelopathy in German Shepherds

Degenerative myelopathy is a nerve disease that starts in a dog’s spinal cord. If your German Shepherd suffers from degenerative myelopathy, you’ll begin to notice them losing motor function in their hind legs.

Over time, the weakness will get even worse. Your dog might struggle to get up, and, as the disease progresses, and your dog could lose bowel and urinary control. The dog might also struggle to get up because the disease causes muscles to atrophy. Dogs with degenerative myelopathy can become paralyzed by the disease.

There is no cure for degenerative myelopathy. But if your dog has the disease, you can take a few steps to reduce their suffering. Kinesiology tape has been used successfully to help dogs with degenerative myelopathy. You can also give them a comfortable bed: they’ll need it, because of the mobility problems. And, because your German Shepherd will be spending more time sitting and lying down, they are at greater risk for bedsores. Clean and trim them often.

German Shepherds that become partially paralyzed by degenerative myelopathy are good candidates for wheelchairs. Custom dog wheelchairs like the ones we build at K9 Carts can help your dog stay mobile and preserve their quality of life.

Hip Dysplasia in German Shepherds

German Shepherd playing with ball in a K9 Cart dog wheelchairHip dysplasia is a genetic condition that causes German Shepherds’ leg bones to fit poorly into their hip sockets. The bones will eventually begin to scrape against each other in the dog’s hip joint. If your German Shepherd suffers from hip dysplasia, they will eventually develop joint pain, damaged cartilage, and arthritis.

Hip dysplasia starts when your dog is a puppy, but it might not be noticeable until the dog is well into maturity. Dogs with hip dysplasia will show a reluctance to exercise, move slowly, and might favor one leg over another. Take your dog to the vet if you notice any of these symptoms.

Hip dysplasia can be treated and managed. Your dog can experience better quality of life through physical therapy or anti-inflammatory drugs if their case is not severe. They could require surgery. In extreme cases, the dog may need a wheelchair.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy in German Shepherds

German Shepherds, like other large dog breeds, are vulnerable to dilated cardiomyopathy, a heart disease.

A heart affected by dilated cardiomyopathy is inefficient at pumping blood, and oxygenated blood is not adequately distributed through the body. The heart becomes enlarged, and its ventricular walls get thinner. In some cases, changes in heart rhythm will also be a result of the thinned chamber walls. Also, dilated cardiomyopathy can cause fluid to build up in the lungs.

If your dog has dilated cardiomyopathy, they might tire easily, have trouble breathing, cough often, struggle to exercise, or suffer fainting spells. If you notice any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with a veterinarian.

Dilated cardiomyopathy can be fatal. It can be mitigated with certain drugs, like ACE inhibitors, but it is a chronic disease. However, if dilated cardiomyopathy is detected early, and the dog is medicated and managed property, it can still live for some time with a good quality of life.

Consult Your Vet

This guide doesn’t list all the conditions and diseases that could affect your German Shepherd. It does give you an idea of diseases you may not have heard of that could develop. And remember—if your dog has any of these diseases, they should be treated by a veterinarian.

Learn More About Your German Shepherd’s Health

Ask A Vet: What Are 5 Important Health Concerns for German Shepherd Dogs? — I Heart Dogs

Dilated Cardiomyopathy — Washington State University

Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy — Cornell University

Hip Dysplasia in Dogs — VCA Hospitals