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Common Health Issues in Doberman Pinschers

Doberman Pinschers (as well as all living beings) are prone to certain health issues. Listed below are the most common to be seen in the breed. Any quality breeder will do their absolute best to breed away from health issues and strive to produce the healthiest puppy's possible. Unfortunately breeders do not have a crystal ball to foresee the future and even the best laid plans (and breedings) out of health tested parents can result in puppies that develop issues as they age. That is one of the reasons why the breeder/owner relationship is important to maintain so an open line of communication can be maintained for the life of the dog.

Von Willebrand Disease (vWd)

   vWd is an inherited bleeding disorder where symptomatic dogs present with a prolonged bleeding time and a factor IX deficiency.

The disease is an "autosomal recessive", which means that affected animals have two doses of the mutated gene, and a mild to moderate risk of bleeding. There are 3 categories of vWd Clear, Carrier, and Affected. It should be noted that while Affected dogs are genetically affected the are not typically clinically affected (meaning they rarely have actual bleeding issues). Based on preliminary data, it is believed that about 36% of all Dobermans being homozygous affected (two of the abnormal gene and at risk for bleeding), 48% being carriers (one abnormal and one normal gene, no risk of bleeding), and 16% being homozygous clear (two of the normal gene). This is a very common disease and probably the most well known "Doberman" disease.

Carriers of the mutant vWD gene are at no risk of bleeding from vWD, but can transmit the mutant gene to their offspring 50% of the time. It is important to realize that this DNA test is very different from the old protein-based factor assay (elisa blood test). The DNA test is definitive and final, a lifelong, permanent determination of the vWD status of each dog tested as contrasted to the factor assay, in which the levels could change drastically over time.

The two companies which offer a DNA test for vWd are:

Vet Gen

Vet Nostic

Please note there are many other diseases that can cause prolonged bleeding including liver issues and anemia.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is the abnormal formation of the hip socket that, in its more severe form, can eventually cause crippling lameness and painful arthritis of the joints. It is a polygenic trait that is also affected by environmental factors.

The causes of hip dysplasia arehave been historically considered inheritable, but new research conclusively suggests that environment also plays a large role. To what degree it is genetic and what portion is environmental is a topic of current debate. Environmental influences would include overweight condition, injury at a young age, overexertion on hip joint at a young age, ligament tear at a young age, repetitive motion on forming joint (i.e. jogging with puppy under the age of 1 year). As current studies progress, greater information will help provide procedures to effectively reduce the occurrence of this condition.

Doberman Pinschers have a relatively low incidence of Hip Dysplasia at 6.1 % of those tested.

Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia is a condition involving multiple developmental abnormalities of the elbow in a dog, specifically the growth of cartilage or the structures surrounding it. These abnormalities, known as 'primary lesions' give rise to osteoarthritic processes. 

Most primary lesions are related to osteochondrosis, which is a disease of the joint cartilage . Other common causes of elbow dysplasia included ununited anconeal process (UAP) and fragmented or ununited medial coronoid process (FCP or FMCP).

The "primary lesion", causes an abnormal level of wear and tear and gradual degradation of the joint, at times disabling or with chronic pain. Secondary processes such as inflammation and osteoarthritis can arise from this damage which increase the problem and add further problems of their own.

Doberman Pinschers have a low incidence of Elbow Dysplasia at 0.8% of those tested.


Cancer is an unfortunately common disease of dogs - 1 in 4 dogs will die of cancer according to the Morris Animal Foundation. For dogs over 10 years of age, approximately 50% of deaths are cancer-related. Like humans, there are many types of cancers and many clinical signs seen.

Cancer is an abnormal growth of cells and may be benign (slow-growing, removable) or malignant (aggressive, spreading throughout body). The causes of these cancers are largely unknown, making prevention difficult. Being aware of possible signs of cancer in pets will help provide early detection and care. Cancer can affect any area of the body and any body system. Cancers of the skin, lymph nodes, gastrointestinal tract, blood and bone are common in dogs.


aka Cervical Vertebral Instability (CVI) - is suspected to be an inherited condition in Dobermans. Dogs suffer from spinal cord compression caused by cervical vertebral instability or from a malformed spinal canal. Extreme symptoms are paralysis of the limbs (front, hind or all 4). Neck pain with extension and flexion may or may not be present. Surgical therapy is hotly debated and in some surgically treated cases, clinical recurrence has been identified.

Cardiac issues

Dilated Cardiomyopahy (DCM) is suspected to be an inherited disease in Dobermans. Research is in progress in several institutions. An echocardiogram of the heart will confirm the disease but WILL not guarantee that the disease will not develop in the future. A 24 hour holter will record Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVCs.).

Drs Meurs' and Estrada's Cardiomyopathy presentationscan be viewed online at UStream. Click here for details


The first AKC registered white albino Doberman was registered under the name Padula's Queen Shebah born in November of 1976, a product of Rasputin VI and Dynamo Humm, both of normal coat color. All current white albino Dobermans descend from this single blood line. Such line breeding virtually guarantees that any genetic abnormalities will be displayed and is a likely source more many of the health and temperament problems currently observed in the white Doberman.

This line, all descended from Padula's Queen Shebah, has produced more than 11,300 Dobermans of which more than 1830 are white albino. In 1982 the AKC Doberman standard was amended to only include black, red, fawn, and blue coats. White coats are no longer allowed AKC registration. In an effort to stem the destruction being caused by the albino line, in 1996 descendents, possible carriers of the albino gene, are tracked by placing them on the z-list and recording a WZ designation in front of their AKC registration number.

Besides the obvious problems of not having melatonin pigment to protect the body, the genes responsible for albinism are closely related to other genes. These genes are responsible for other body functions unrelated to pigmentation such as liver, kidney, and blood functions where problems can develop.

Additionally, behavioral problems have been observed in Dobermans suffering from albinism. These Dobermans have had problems with aggression and adjusting to new situations. The physical and mental challenges accompanying the albino Doberman’s white coat are apparent.

Eye issues

While there are multiple eye issues seen in Doberman the most common are:

Cataracts- A cataract is an opacity in the lens of a dog’s eye, causing him to have blurry vision. If the cataract is small, it won’t likely disturb the dog’s vision too much, but cataracts must be monitored because the thicker and denser they become, the more likely it is they will lead to blindness.

Cataracts can develop from disease, old age and trauma to the eye, but inherited conditions are the most common cause. Cataracts may be present at birth or develop when a dog is very young-between one and three years of age. A high-incidence of cataracts is also often attributed to diabetes.

PRA (PROGRESSIVE RETINAL ATROPHY) - is an inherited condition in Dobermans. Clinically, visual acuity is diminished, first at dusk, later in daylight. The disease progresses over months or years, to complete blindness. A screening test is available and can be performed by a veterinary ophthalmologist.

PHTVL / PHPV {Persistent hyperplastic tunica vasculosa lentis (PHTVL) and Persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous (PHPV)}-refer to the persistence of the embryonic vascular system of the lens. PHTVL /PHPV is a congenital eye anomaly which occurs in many animals as well as in people.


This is a common disease in Doberman and can manifest in sudden behavior changes (aggression, tiredness, feeling "off"), weight gain, or poor quality of coat. Hypothyroidism is potentially inherited and means that the thyroid gland is not producing enough hormone to adequately maintain the dog's metabolism. It is easily treated with thyroid replacement pills on a daily basis. Full thyroid testing (T3, T4, TSH and autoantibodies) should be performed thru Michigan State or Texas A&M for defintive results. Finding auto immune antibodies to thyroglobulin (T4 autoimmune antibodies) is an indication that the dog has "Hashimoto's Disease". Low thyroid dogs, manifested by a high TSH and a low T4, should be treated and monitored on a regular basis.


Umbilical-Umbilical hernias in dogs can be a relatively minor condition, if it's examined and treated properly. A hernia in a dog occurs when the inner parts of the stomach actually extend beyond the abdominal wall. In this case, the hernia occurs at the site of the umbilical cord. There is no way to prevent an umbilical hernia from developing, but treatment options for this type of hernia are great and most dogs can will easily recover successfully from an umbilical hernia.

A normal umbilical is open so that a mother can nurture the puppy while he resides in the womb. Shortly after birth and under normal conditions, the umbilical area closes because it is no longer needed and infection is prevented by its closure. If the umbilical remains open and does not close properly, a hernia will develop as the inside of the abdomen will no longer have the abdominal wall which secures it into place. The true cause of an umbilical hernia, or the inability of the umbilical area to close properly, is not something that medical science has been able to pinpoint. There is evidence to suggest that the dam can cause an umbilical hernia either by ripping the umbilical cord too close to the skin or being overly zealous with cleaning of the stomach.

Inguinal-Much like humans, dogs can suffer from hernias. An inguinal hernia is a condition in which the abdominal contents protrude through the inguinal canal or inguinal ring, an opening which occurs in the muscle wall in the groin area. In dogs, inguinal hernias may be acquired (not present at birth but developing later in life) or congenital (present at birth). Factors which predispose a dog to develop an inguinal hernia include trauma, obesity, and pregnancy. Most inguinal hernias are uncomplicated and cause no symptoms other than a swelling in the groin area.


 Cryptorchidism is the medical term that refers to the failure of one or both testicles (testes) to descend into the scrotum. In most cases of cryptorchidism, the testicle is retained in the abdomen or in the inguinal canal (the passage through the abdominal wall into the genital region through which a testicle normally descends). Sometimes the testicle will be located just under the skin (in the subcutaneous tissues) in the groin region, between the inguinal canal and the scrotum. In cases of abdominal cryptorchidism, the testicle cannot be felt from the outside. Abdominal ultrasound or radiographs may be performed to determine the exact location of the retained testicle. Many dogs will only have one retained testicle, and this is called unilateral cryptorchidism. The testes develop near the kidneys within the abdomen and normally descend into the scrotum by two months of age. In certain dogs it may occur later, but rarely after six months of age. Cryptorchidism may be presumed to be present if the testicles can’t be felt in the scrotum after four months of age. Cryptorchidism occurs in all breeds. Approximately seventy-five percent of the cases of cryptorchidism involve only one retained testicle while the remaining twenty-five percent involve failure of both testicles to descend into the scrotum. The right testicle is more than twice as likely to be retained as the left testicle. Cryptorchidism affects approximately 1.2% of all dogs.

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