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7 Health Problems to Watch for in Your Doberman Pinscher

Kate is a former veterinarian's assistant of five years. She maintains a passion for training and caring for dogs of all types.

Do you know what to look for to make sure your Doberman Pinscher is healthy?

Do you know what to look for to make sure your Doberman Pinscher is healthy?

Doberman Health

Originally bred as guard dogs, Doberman Pinschers are marvelous and striking creatures who, with careful breeding, have transformed into reliable and loyal family pets. If you're lucky to share your home with a "Dobie," then you should know about the seven health concerns that are common in this breed.

Seven Common Health Concerns in Doberman Pinschers

  1. Dilated Cardiomyopathy
  2. Von Willebrand Disease
  3. Chronic Active Hepatitis (CAH)
  4. Cervical Vertebral Instability (Wobbler Syndrome)
  5. Hypothyroidism
  6. Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus Syndrome (GDV or "Bloat")
  7. Hip Dysplasia

1. Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM), which is a fancy medical way of saying an "enlarged heart," is a condition during which the heart muscle becomes progressively thicker and weaker (resulting in heart and respiratory failure).

Symptoms of this condition aren't always obvious, but here's what to look out for in your pup:

  • Depression
  • Fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness

Your vet might perform an echocardiogram to get clues into whether or not your dog has DCM, but the best way for them to reach a diagnosis is through an ultrasound of the heart. If your dog ends up with a DCM diagnosis, then you and your vet will sit down and talk about the best way to care for your dog while keeping him as comfy as possible.

Regular veterinary examinations may help catch and treat this disease, improving and possibly extending life. This is an area of ongoing and vigorous research as scientists and veterinarians search for specific genetic markers and new treatments.

DCM Update

A recent investigation was done by the U.S. Food and Drug administration into certain brands of dog foods and how they are linked to the development of Dilated Cardiomyopathy in dogs. Their investigation looks into many specific cases of Dobermans who have contracted DCM and is quite insightful.

2. Von Willebrand Disease

The most common hereditary bleeding disorder among dogs, von Willebrand disease (vWD), is similar to hemophilia and is a clotting disorder that can make your poor dog bleed excessively.

Here are the symptoms to look out for.

  • Nosebleeds (This is a pretty good clue since dogs aren't exactly known for nosebleeds!)
  • Blood in your dog's urine or stool
  • Bloody gums

Ugh. The good news here is that von Willebrand disease is rarely a fatal condition if managed correctly. Want more good news? This is one of the few canine diseases with a definitive genetic test. A little blood test will let you and your vet know if your dog is affected by or is a carrier of the disease. If your dog doesn't have any symptoms but is a carrier of the disease, then that'll affect breeding. (If your dog carries the gene for this disease, it is wise and responsible not to breed him/her and risk passing vWD on to the pups.)

Dogs with vWD can still safely undergo important surgeries like getting spayed or neutered as long as the proper precautions are taken.

Legumes, including peanuts, may be present in some dog food blends. Legumes contain copper, which is an element that is harmful to dogs dealing with Chronic Active Hepatitis.

Legumes, including peanuts, may be present in some dog food blends. Legumes contain copper, which is an element that is harmful to dogs dealing with Chronic Active Hepatitis.

3. Chronic Active Hepatitis (CAH)

Chronic Active Hepatitis or CAH is a disease where the liver cannot successfully metabolize copper which is present in many foods your dog consumes or that are part of his packaged dog food. The copper then builds up to toxic levels. This can lead to an accumulation of scar tissue, ending in liver failure and death. CAH is more common among females than males and often appears between four and six years of age. The first symptom is often extreme thirst, though this may not be constant and thus go unnoticed. As the disease progresses, symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal fluid retention
  • Lethargy

If CAH is suspected, your vet may test liver enzyme levels and eventually perform a biopsy. There is no cure, and the best treatment is to feed a low-copper diet. If a commercial dog food is used, this requires careful label reading. Ingredients such as legumes, shellfish, liver, nuts, and cereal grains should all be avoided. A dog with CAH should drink only distilled water. Some vets recommend holistic treatments such as milk thistle but talk to your veterinarian before giving any "natural" or over-the-counter medicine.

4. Cervical Vertebral Instability (Wobbler Syndrome)

Wobbler syndrome is a neurological disorder caused by the compression of the part of the spinal cord that affects your dog's neck. Symptoms include:

  • An unsteady or "wobbly" gait
  • Dragging or weakness of the hind legs
  • Short, jerky steps with the front legs
  • Holding the neck in a flexed or downward arc
  • Neck pain

As the condition progresses, your dog may be unable to rise or walk on his own. This syndrome occurs most often in dogs older than three. The cause of the compression is unknown, and since it doesn't usually show in younger dogs, it's hard to breed out but there are lots of treatment options for dogs with wobbler syndrome.

Milder cases may be helped by rest and steroids. Therapies for more severe symptoms include acupuncture for pain management, chiropractic adjustment, and surgery. No matter what route you end up going, always consult with your veterinarian on how best to help your pup thrive with this condition.

5. Hypothyroidism

You've probably heard of hypothyroidism since it's a condition that affects a lot of humans, too. Caused by a lowered production of thyroid hormones, this often hereditary condition is also fairly common in medium to large breed dogs, including Dobermans. Dogs should be tested annually as the condition may develop at any time.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism in Doberman's include:

  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Dry skin
  • Cold sensitivity

The disorder is diagnosed through physical examination, blood tests, and a urinalysis. There are several causes of an underactive thyroid, but treatment is generally simple and effective. If your dog is diagnosed with hypothyroidism, he'll probably receive a prescription for a synthetic thyroid hormone replacement along with adjustments to his diet to help him get the best nutrition possible to counteract the effects of a shoddy thyroid.

6. Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus Syndrome (GDV or "Bloat")

We're not talking the same sensation you get after a night of soft pretzels and diet Coke in front of a full season of the Arrested Development remix.

Bloat in your dog can occur in all deep-chested dogs, including Dobermans. It's an emergency condition where the stomach twists, cutting off the esophagus at one end and the intestines at the other, causing a build-up of gas and obstructing the flow of blood and food material. It may occur when the dog is fed a heavy or difficult to digest meal or eats too fast. Additionally, some veterinarians warn against exercise immediately after eating to avoid this weird, rare medical occurrence.

Symptoms of bloat in your dog can include:

  • Gagging but not throwing up
  • Excessive slobber
  • Obvious pain
  • A distended belly. Bloat is fatal unless treatment is received. Any dog showing signs of bloat should be taken to the vet immediately.

Your vet may perform gastric decompression by inserting a tube into your dog's stomach through his throat. If the stomach twist prevents this, a large needle may be inserted directly into the abdomen to relieve the pressure and allow the stomach to un-kink. Surgery to untwist the stomach is the final option. To help prevent bloat, consider giving smaller, more frequent meals, softening kibble in water, feeding a mild diet, and spacing out meal times and exercise to give your dog some time to rest and digest before heading out for a run.

To prevent emergency conditions like "bloat" in your Doberman, you should give your dog a chance to rest after each meal before taking her out for exercise.

To prevent emergency conditions like "bloat" in your Doberman, you should give your dog a chance to rest after each meal before taking her out for exercise.

7. Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a malformation of the hip joint where the ball and socket do not fit closely together and can lead to weakness and pain. This disorder is influenced by both heredity and environmental factors. It may become apparent in puppyhood or later as a form of osteoarthritis. Hip dysplasia has many fairly obvious symptoms including:

  • Reluctance to engage in running, jumping, or any climbing activity
  • Difficulty rising
  • Limping
  • Decreased activity

If hip dysplasia is suspected, your veterinarian may order blood work and urinalysis and take an x-ray of your dog's hips and lower spine. Treatment includes symptom management and sometimes surgery. The surgical options vary depending on the age and size of the dog. Non-surgical approaches to symptom management include anti-inflammatory medication, physical and hydrotherapy, weight loss, and dietary changes.

How to Prepare for Your Veterinarian Visit


A stool sample in a sealed plastic baggie so your vet can test for parasites and other issues

"What is the easiest route of testing that will give us the best answers with the least amount of discomfort to my dog?"

A pen and paper to write down recommendations and answers to your questions

"Are there any remedies besides medication that I should pick up?"

A friend, if you're feeling nervous about the visit or diagnosis

"What changes should I look out for and when should I bring him back?"

A list of recent symptoms and when they seemed to start, as well as any other pertinent information to your dog's changing condition

"Are the ingredients in my dog's food a good choice for him still?"

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2018 Kate Stroud


Marlissa on October 05, 2018:

What would cause a miniature Doberman Pinscher to dry heave and gasp for air