Dog Disease - Health Problems with German Shepherds

The German shepherd dog breed, if correctly bred and reared, should go through life with very few visits to the vet, other than the yearly renewal of its vaccinations. The list of ailments discussed here must seem long, but although many of them are uncommon, they can all occur. We feel we must mention them all - or at least those we know about! 

EARS: These should be examined regularly to make certain they are clean and free from wax. To clean, soak some cotton-wool in calamine lotion. If the wax is dark-red in colour it could indicate an infection. Your vet will give you some ointment which will soon clear the condition. If your Shepherd keeps on rubbing an ear which appears sore and has a pus-like, smelly discharge, it is suffering from otitis (canker). Consult your vet.

MOUTH: Examine your Shepherd's mouth regularly and see that its teeth are kept free from tarter. A raw marrow-bone give once a fortnight will help keep teeth clean, but if they get badly discolored, take your dog to the vet to have its teeth scaled. Any teeth that are broken or appear to be going rotten, should be shown to your vet, who can advise on whether they should be extracted or not.

THORNS: An embedded thorn can be very painful and sometimes difficult to remove. Try softening the surrounding area by applying a hot compress and then, if possible, extract with tweezers. Dry carefully and dust with antiseptic powder.

GRASS SEEDS: Treat as above.

INTERDIGITAL CYSTS: These are pus-filled lumps in between the toes which can cause lameness. Try hot fomentation, then dry and apply antiseptic powder. If they continue, consult your vet. Sometimes a change of diet will help this condition.

NAILS: Keep your Shepherd's nails short. Unless the dog is running on a hard surface such as a road or concrete run, nails will need cutting fairly often. Check the dewclaws on the front legs. If these are not kept short, these sometimes grow round and into your dog's legs. Watch out for broken nails.

SKIN PROBLEMS: In most cases, a change of diet is indicated. In hot weather, maize or soya-meal based protein can often cause over-heating of the blood which will make your dog scratch. Garlic powder or tablets will help purify the blood. You might also encounter some skin problems while your shepherd is casting its coat. If you notice the dog scratching or licking, take a careful look and see whether you can see anything.

WET ECZEMA: If the skin appears raw and wet, with what seems like pus around the edges, your dog probably suffering from this. Quite a large area can appear overnight for no apparent reason. Use a sulfur based ointment twice daily, but if it does not improve, visit the vet who will give your Shepherd an injection.

DRY ECZEMA: This is a similar condition. It usually appears underneath the dog's belly and on the inside of the hind legs. Treat as for wet eczema. If, in both conditions, there is no improvement after an injection, your will probably take a skin scraping to find out what is causing the problem. Some dogs are allergic to straw, so if you are using this type of bedding, change to something different. Some types of wood-shaving can also cause skin irritation. It could be a flea allergy, so check your Shepherd for unwanted visitors.

CYSTS: As you groom your dog, you might come across a small lump, which when gently squeezed, emits a hard string-like pus. When empty, dab with a little disinfectant. If the lumps when squeezed, does not emit anything, leave it alone but keep a careful eye on it. It gets larger consult the vet and have it removed.

RINGWORM: If you notice rapidly-spreading circular bare patches on your dog, It might will be caused by ringworm. It can appear on any part of the body and is caused by a fungus. It is contagious, so isolate your Shepherd, burn all bedding and thoroughly disinfect its kennel. Consult your vet, who will prescribe a suitable ointment and probably some tablets.

MANGE (SARCOPTIC): If roughened bare patches appear on your Shepherd around the eyes, elbows and stifle causing the dog to scratch continually, it might be mange. Consult your vet, who will prescribe a skin shampoo with which to bathe your dog until the condition is cured.

MANGE (DEMODECTIC): Bare patches appear on any part of the dog. They are dark-grey in color and have peculiar smell. There is little or no scratching. At one time this was incurable, but with modren drugs - especially if you catch it clearly - this condition can be cured. If you suspect mange, consult your vet immediately.

ANAL FURUNCULOSIS: This is horrible complaint. If you notice your Shepherd licking its anus a lot, have a look. In most cases it is nothing, or possibly an indication of worms or full anal glands, but if you see pus-filled holes appearing, you know your dog is suffering from this. Take your dog straight to the vet. If the condition is not too serious, it can be cured by an injection, but if several holes already appeared, skilled surgery is necessary which is not always successful.

ANAL GLANDS: If your Shepherd regular has a marrow-bone, the anal glands should empty themselves normally. If, however, they are full and your dog is rubbing its bottom along the ground, anal glands might well be the problem. Take your dog to the vet and ask him to show you how to empty them - it is not difficult, just a case of knowing where to squeeze.

PARASITES: We are including external parasites in this section because they are often the cause of some of the skin conditions we have already mentioned. In a well-run kennel, parasites should not occur. However fleas and lice can be very easily picked up from hedgehogs and rabbits. If, when grooming your dog, you notice of little black things, these are probably flea excrement. The usual sites are the chest, round the ears, and at the root of the tail, although if badly affected, you will find them all over the body. Bathe the dog in shampoo containing pesticide, then spray your dog with a good flea spray. As fleas breed off the dog, it is advisable to spray its living quarters as well.

TICKS: If you live in the country, especially where there are sheep or deer, sooner or later you are going to find a tick on your dog. Do not pull it off, because if you do the chances are that the head will still remain inside the dog's skin and could cause a nasty sore. Cut the tick in half with a sharp pair of scissors, and the head should drop off. Dab the place with a little disinfectant. If you live in a hot country, or anywhere infested with ticks, dip your dog once a week in a tick-killing insecticide, obtainable from the vet. In some places, flies bite around the edge of the dog's ears causing a lot of discomfort. Consult your vet, who will give you suitable spray to control this.

INTERNAL PARASITES: There are five different varieties of worms, not all of which are found in every country. The presence of hookworm, heart worm and thread worm can be diagnosed by a test on feces. These three are uncommon in the UK.

ROUNDWORM: These are usually found in puppies. A good breeder will have wormed the puppies three times before they are eight week old, and will give you particulars as to when they need worming again.

TAPEWORM: Usually found in adult dog. If you see what look like grains of rice which are moving in your Shepherd's motions, the dog has tapeworm. As with round worm, there are many preparations found in pet shops. However, we get tablets from the vet. Fleas are the host of tapeworm so if your Shepherd has fleas, take the precautions of worming.
In whatever country you live, check with your vet or puppy's breeder to find out what varieties of worm your puppy would likely to get and how to treat them accordingly. If your Shepherd is thin in spite of having a voracious appetite, or rubs its bottom on the ground, or has a staring coat, suspect worms and treat accordingly.

DIGESTIVE PROBLEMS: It is a common misconception that German Shepherds are more prone to digestive problems than other breeds. If your Shepherd is fed a sensible diet, suitable for the amount of work or exercise it is getting, there is no reason why the dog should suffer from digestive complaints unless it picks up an infection. However, as problems can occur, we list those that you are most likely to come across.

GASTROENTERITIS: This is an inflammation of the intestines and can be caused by an infection. The symptoms are diarrhea. If the infection is mild, it will quickly clear up. Starve your Shepherd for two days, giving a drink of honey and water at regular intervals. Do not let your dog drink too much at any one time because it will cause sickness. Give a kaolin-based medication. If your dog vomits or passes blood, and seems off-color, take its temperature, and go to the vet who will prescribe a broad-spectrum antibiotic.

PANCREAS DEFICIENCY, MAL-ABSORPTION, BACTERIA OVERGROWTH: Any of the above can be caused by a serious attack of gastroenteritis. If your Shepherd appears to be active, has a voracious appetite but is as thin as rake and has perpetual diarrhea, suspect one of these three conditions. Take your dog to the vet, who will collect blood samples to identify which condition it is suffering from. With these three conditions, the digestive system does not absorbing all the food, hence the poor condition. Once the condition has been diagnosed, tablets will be given to help control the situation. If your dog is found to be suffering from one of these conditions, great care must be taken with diet, which must be bland, such as chicken and rice. There are now several food manufacturers who cater especially to these conditions. You might not be able, in all cases, to cure the condition but, with careful feeding and tablets, it can be kept well under control. 

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