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10 Common Genetic Diseases in Dogs: Protect Your Pooch

Diana Bocco - Writer for DailyTails
By Diana Bocco
Davor Štefanović - Editor for DailyTails
Edited by Davor Štefanović

Updated May 31, 2023.

A diverse group of dogs being walked on a leash

No matter if you share your home with a tiny Chihuahua or a massive St Bernard, all dogs have the same number of chromosomes (78, to be precise). These chromosomes carry all the dominant and recessive traits in dogs and help determine everything about your furry companion—their size, their color, and whether they have short or long hair. They also determine whether your dog has a genetic predisposition for certain illnesses or conditions.

Genetic disorders appear when a dog carries two copies of a recessive disease-associated gene. While these genes can appear in any dog across sizes and breeds, they do tend to run in families. This is why inbreeding causes genetic disorders. According to The Institute of Canine Biology, it amplifies recessive mutations, so your dog has a higher chance of getting certain diseases.

10 Most Common Genetic Diseases in Dogs

  • Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
  • Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome in Dogs
  • Mitral Valve Disease in Dogs
  • Luxating Patella
  • Cryptorchidism
  • Cruciate Ligament Rupture
  • Cancer
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Epilepsy
  • Degenerative Myelopathy

1. Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Black short haired labrador retriever mix running. Side angle view.

Hip dysplasia is an inherited condition often seen in larger dog breeds such as Saint Bernards, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds. In addition to genetics, factors like weight and excessive growth rate can contribute to its development.

This condition tends to appear during a dog's growth stage. Initial symptoms might include a reluctance to get up, apparent pain, or weakness in the back legs. As the hip joint deteriorates, these symptoms become more pronounced, leading to arthritis, limited mobility, and muscle atrophy. Regular check-ups and weight management can be effective preventive measures for hip dysplasia.

2. Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome in Dogs

Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome is a common genetic disorder among "flat-faced" breeds like English Bulldogs, Pugs, and Shih Tzus. Due to their "shortened face," these dogs often have narrowed nostrils and a smaller-than-normal windpipe, causing them to work harder to breathe.

You might notice these breeds snorting loudly or tiring easily. Severe cases can result in collapse or fainting post-exercise due to inadequate oxygen intake.

Are Dog Allergies Genetic?

There’s a strong genetic component in allergic skin disease in dogs, so while allergies can be triggered or affected by environmental factors, genes also play a role.

3. Mitral Valve Disease in Dogs

Mitral Valve Disease (MVD)—the most common form of heart disease in dogs—is a condition where the mitral valve thickens and fails to close properly, causing leaks and a heart murmur. As the disease progresses, this puts a strain on the heart and, over time, can lead to heart failure if not managed properly by a vet.

While any dog can develop MVD, breeds like Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Dachshunds, Shih Tzus, and Chihuahuas are genetically predisposed to it.

Symptoms of MVD include:

  • A heart murmur
  • Coughing that gets worse at night or when your dog is sleeping
  • Weight loss
  • Fainting or collapsing
  • Lack of energy
  • Faster breathing or heavy panting

4. Luxating Patella in Dogs

A Chihuahua lying on bed, its leg wrapped in red bandage - recovering from luxating patella surgery

Luxating Patella, a genetic condition often seen in toy breeds like Bichon Frise, Maltese, and French Poodle, occurs when the knee joint becomes unstable and moves out of place.

The severity and associated discomfort can vary, with symptoms ranging from a hesitant jump to a "skipping" gait. Surgery is the recommended treatment, aiming to stabilize the knee joint and improve the dog's quality of life.

» Learn about common dog illnesses

5. Cryptorchidism in Dogs

Cryptorchidism is a hereditary condition in male dogs, occurring when one or both testicles fail to descend into the scrotum at the expected time (around 6-16 weeks of age).

The condition makes dogs more susceptible to developing testicular cancer, and neutering (removal of the testicles) is always recommended to solve the issue. Because the procedure is no different from a normal desexing surgery, dogs go on to live normal, healthy lives.

Hybrid Vigor

Mixed breed dogs, also known as mutts, are often healthier and live longer than purebred dogs due to greater genetic diversity.

6. Cruciate Ligament Rupture in Dogs

A Brown Lab being examined after cruciate ligament rupture surgery

Cruciate ligament rupture is a condition that impairs the stability of the knee joint, caused by the degeneration and tearing of the cruciate ligament. While any dog can experience a cruciate ligament rupture, Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers are especially susceptible due to their genetic makeup.

Smaller dogs under 22 lbs can sometimes recover with just rest and exercise restriction, but most dogs will require surgery to regain full use of their knee and long-term complications like arthritis.

7. Dog Cancer

Unfortunately, cancer is one of the most common diseases affecting dogs. The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that 1 in 4 dogs will have to deal with cancer at some point throughout their lives. The numbers go up as dogs get older, however. Half of dogs over the age of 10 will develop cancer.

Just like in people, experts don’t know exactly what causes cancer in dogs, and it’s likely a mix of hereditary risk factors and environmental elements. Breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Beagles, and Rottweilers are known to be at a higher risk

Warning signs of cancer in dogs include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Lumps and bumps
  • Changes in bathroom habits
  • Sores and wounds that will not heal
  • Foul odors
  • Loss of stamina

Early Warning Is Crucial

Regular vet check-ups are vital to catching early signs of genetic disorders and implementing a treatment plan.

8. Hypothyroidism in Dogs

Professional veterinarian examining a German Shepherd for hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a common disorder, often resulting from an underactive thyroid gland unable to produce enough hormones necessary for body functions. The most common causes of hypothyroidism include immune-mediated diseases or inflammation of the thyroid gland. In some cases, the dog's immune system attacks the thyroid, which causes it to shrink.

Hypothyroidism can be confirmed with a simple blood test and can be easily treated. As long as dogs take daily medication to replace the missing thyroid hormones, they usually live a normal, healthy life.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Excessive shedding and hair loss
  • Cold intolerance
  • Dark pigmentation in the skin
  • Lethargy and exercise intolerance
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle loss

9. Epilepsy in Dogs

Beagle with Epilepsy Being Examined by a Vet

Considered the most common neurological disorder in dogs, epilepsy is a challenging condition that causes recurrent, unexpected seizures. Dogs are usually unaware of what is happening, and the seizures usually begin and end abruptly without causing pain. During a seizure, dogs experience loss of muscle control, disorientation, and sometimes loss of consciousness.

While the exact cause of epilepsy is not always possible to determine, and it can happen to any dog, breeds like Beagles, Dachshunds, Border Collies, and Boxers are genetically predisposed. Even though there's no cure for epilepsy, symptoms can be effectively managed with medication.

» Make sure you choose the right pet insurance

10. Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

A vet examining a German Shepherd, looking for signs of degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a progressive neurologic disorder affecting the spinal cord, causing muscle weakness, lack of coordination, and eventual paralysis. By the time the symptoms are obvious, the disease is usually quite advanced.

Although there is no known cure, veterinary care, including physiotherapy and assistive devices like wheelchairs, can help manage the symptoms and improve the quality of life. The average life expectancy of a dog with DM is 1 to 2 years.

Secure Your Pooch's Future

Caring for our furry companions means being ready for all the health challenges they may encounter, including genetic diseases. Pet insurance provides a much-needed safety net. MetLife, in particular, stands out, offering coverage for treatments of genetic conditions, as long as they are not symptomatic at the time of enrollment.

In addition, MetLife's comprehensive plans extend beyond genetic diseases, including coverage for accidents, other illnesses, holistic and alternative care, and periodontal disease, all without age limits. Thus, MetLife ensures you're prepared to provide the best care for your dog at every stage of their life.

MetLife Pet Insurance

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