German Shepherd Health Problems

German Shepherd Health issues

German shepherds are well known all over the world, especially as K-9 partners to police and to the military. You will often see them at airports checking out luggage and people for anything that is illegal.

German shepherds, sometimes called Alsatians, were first bred to herd sheep, often on farms.

These dogs were quite handsome in appearance, unlike some of the sheepdogs of the day, but also had the brains to master many tasks. These dogs were not “just a pretty face!”

This breed was used by Germany during the first and second World Wars and this is when the name Alsatian came about.

The Allied countries did not want them called “German” shepherds. After World War II, they regained popularity and were used by the United States in wars in Korea, Vietnam, and up to the present day.

Today the German shepherd is also quite famous for working as a guide dog for the seeing impaired and in fact, the very first seeing eye dog was Buddy, a German shepherd. They also make excellent family dogs, being loyal and loving.

Any breed of dog can develop health problems and purebred dogs are more prone to health issues due to inbreeding and improper breeding.

Seeking a reputable breeder and not buying a purebred dog at a pet store is a step to somewhat ensure that you take home a healthy puppy who grows into a healthy adult.

If you are considering getting a German shepherd, you should know that there are a few diseases they are prone to.

It doesn’t mean they will come down with any diseases, but it’s best to be aware of these and know what to look for.

In this post, I will give you information on the German shepherd’s common health problems as well as include some issues that are possible but not as probable.

I have also added German shepherd health problems symptoms so you know the signs.

German Shepherd Health Problems
Image from Pixabay

For your dog’s vitamin supplement, food, toys, or other dogs product please visit the Health Extension website.

German Shepherd Common Health Problems

The conditions listed below are ones that are more common in German shepherds.

hip dysplasia/elbow dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is the most common condition found in German shepherds and is a malformation of the hip joint.

The German shepherd is not the only breed that suffers from this issue and is found more often in larger-boned dogs.

Hip dysplasia is a hereditary disease and either one or both parents have this or are carriers. Reputable breeders screen their breeding dogs and do not breed any that are carriers or have it.

Symptoms are weakness in the legs, hopping, limping, hip pain when touched, difficulty standing from a sit, and avoidance of stairs or physical activity. This is diagnosed with an x-ray.

To help manage hip dysplasia if diagnosed at a young age, don’t overfeed or over-exercise when young, as this will add strain to developing bones.

Anti-inflammatory medication can be used for pain, keeping weight steady, supplements for joints, and the right exercises which can border on physical therapy are many of the treatments.

Elbow dysplasia is also a condition that is congenital and occurs in the front legs. Symptoms are similar to hip dysplasia, except occurring in the front legs and treatment is also one or more of the above depending on the severity.


Cataracts are often a problem in older German shepherds just as in many older dogs and in humans. These are age-related cataracts and German shepherds are prone to them.

You may notice that one or both of your pup’s eyes are cloudy and they may begin to have trouble getting around in unfamiliar places.

If cataracts advance, they may not be able to see much at all. If you notice symptoms, have your veterinarian check their eyes. Options for treatment are eye drops or surgery.


Diabetes is another fairly common disease in German shepherds. The cause of diabetes can be genetic in nature or like type 2 diabetes in humans, due to weight gain due to overfeeding and improper diet.

Symptoms can be drinking and urinating in excess, swollen feet, lethargy, and fatigue. Diabetes can be controlled with diet and exercise but in some cases, insulin may be needed for management.

Perianal Fistula

This commonly affects German shepherds, is sometimes called anal furunculosis, and can be quite serious.

A fistula forms between two areas like organs or tissues that are not normally connected, causing a hole or tunnel to develop.

This type of fistula is in the perianal area and causes infection. This generally becomes worse and worse if not treated.

The cause can be from infected or impacted anal sacs causing pain, pus, and bleeding and your dog may seem agitated or aggressive if the area is touched.

Some studies suggest fistulas develop due to autoimmune disease and also may be genetically linked.

Surgery may be recommended but research on the usage of drugs that target the immune system has proven to work effectively in treating fistulas. Antimicrobials may be used as well.

To check your German Shepherd’s health status or their DNA, please visit the Embark vet website for all the help you may need.

German Shepherd Common Health Problems

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency

This disease is thought to be genetic in nature and inherited but studies are ongoing as to how it’s passed on. Dogs don’t always develop EPI even when both parents are affected.

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is caused when the pancreas does not produce enough enzymes that are necessary for proper digestion, causing undigested food to pass through the digestive tract quickly causing diarrhea.

Dogs suffering from this are generally underweight, can be malnourished and deficient in vitamins and minerals, and are always hungry.

Powdered pancreatic enzymes are used to treat this by mixing with each meal and being conscious of what your German shepherd is eating as well.


Epilepsy can occur in any dog or breed. Unfortunately, compared with mixed-breed dogs, German shepherds have two times the risk of developing epilepsy.

The cause of epilepsy can be very hard to determine and can range from having a medical disease to poisoning, to a head injury.

Symptoms of a seizure can be simply staring, with you unable to get their attention to a full-blown seizure with shaking of body and limbs, drooling, foaming at the mouth, and loss of bladder and/or bowels. Epilepsy can be controlled with the drug phenobarbital.

Canine degenerative myelopathy

Canine degenerative myelopathy or CDM is an inherited neurological condition where both mother and father must carry the recessive gene for your German shepherd to be affected.

It begins with weak and wobbly hind legs and progresses to paralysis. CDM is usually seen in geriatric dogs, eight years and upward and makes euthanasia necessary somewhere between the diagnosis and eighteen months.

In German shepherds, canine degenerative myelopathy is the leading cause of euthanasia.

Canine degenerative myelopathy
Image by dendoktoor from Pixabay

German Shepherd Health Problems

Listed below are a few more health problems of German shepherds that are possible but not as common as those above. A brief overview is provided.


Your German shepherd may suffer from environmental allergies due to pollen, grass, and even dust or food allergies caused by an ingredient in their food.

Allergies can cause upper respiratory, gastrointestinal, or skin symptoms such as rashes, itching hot spots, etc.

Medications for environmental allergies can be used and switching foods for food allergies is usually the solution. Skin problems may need topical ointments or oral drugs.


Bloat can usually occur in large chested dogs such as German shepherds. and is a life-threatening emergency.

This is believed to be caused by eating too quickly or exercising right after eating. Feed smaller more frequent meals and wait more than an hour before or after eating to exercise.


This is simply another name for “growing pains” and is found in German shepherds between six and fourteen months. It causes limping and is not permanent.

Dental Problems

The German shepherd is prone to dental issues of teeth and gums. These can be prevented with proper oral hygiene by regular brushing, the use of dental bones, and veterinary dental checks. and sometimes cleanings.

Bladder Stones

Germans shepherds can develop bladder stones which can often be difficult for your pup to pass. Medication to dissolve the stones is used or sometimes surgery is necessary.


German shepherds can develop cancer just as humans can. Some of those cancers are melanoma (skin cancer), lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system), and osteosarcoma (bone tumor).

While there are no guarantees in life or that the German shepherd puppy you bring home will be healthy their whole life, there are a few things you can do to possibly prevent health problems.

Make sure to choose a reputable breeder who includes genetic testing in their business. Feed your German shepherd high-quality food and give them plenty of exercises.

Take your pup for regular veterinary wellness visits. If you notice any symptoms listed above or something just doesn’t seem right, don’t delay.

Make an appointment for your German shepherd with their veterinarian for their best health and well-being.