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Introduction: Why do dogs have health problems?

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

Australian Cattle Dog puppy

Australian Cattle Dog puppy, also known as a Blue Heeler – for experienced owners only, as this breed is challenging to train and live with

There are three major causes of health problems in dogs:

  1. heredity (bad genes)
  2. abnormal/deformed structure
  3. bad stuff in your dog's environment

1) Your dog can INHERIT health problems.

Joint disorders, eye diseases, epilepsy, heart disease, thyroid disease, kidney disease, liver disease, certain types of cancer.... many health problems in dogs are hereditary.

Do you know if any specialized health tests  were done on your dog's parents before they were bred?

Now I don't mean an examination and health certificate from the vet! Those seldom mean anything.

Specialized tests  include X-rays of the hips and elbows, a professional eye exam by a licensed canine ophthalmologist, a cardiac exam by a board-certified cardiologist, specialized blood and DNA tests that can detect certain hereditary health problems.

Each breed has a different set of tests that should be done before breeding. To find out what those are for your breed, go to my Breed Reviews, find your breed, then click on the Buying page for that breed. At the bottom of that Buying page, you'll see the health tests that should be done for that breed.

✔ If those tests were done on your dog's parents, with normal results, your dog is less likely to develop those problems.

× If those tests were not done..... that's unfortunate, because over 500 hereditary defects occur in purebred dogs. (About 100 hereditary defects occur in mixed breeds.)

Now, do you also know how closely related  your dog's parents are (or were)?

If your dog is purebred, the answer is that his parents were more closely related than you might think. You see, within each breed, ALL the dogs are related to some degree – and the closer that relationship is, the greater the risk of health problems.

If you're a science fiction fan, you've probably seen a movie or read a novel where a small population on some isolated planet has been breeding among themselves for generations. Now those people are developing mental and physical defects and are in desperate need of an influx of new genes to strengthen their gene pool so they don't all die off.

Those plots are based on fact. In a population of any living creatures, re-combining the same genes over and over, without the regular introduction of new and unrelated genes, is not good. It leads to an insidious condition called "inbreeding depression."

In purebred dogs, each breed has a "closed" gene pool (Pug is bred only to Pug) that never allows any new genes. From a scientific genetic/health perspective, "pure" breeding is unwise.

Close breeding increases the risks of a weaker immune system, chronic infections, a shorter lifespan, and behavioral abnormalities such as shyness, aggression, or a high-strung temperament.

Now, if your dog is a mixed breed, his parents were probably unrelated. Thus a mixed breed enjoys a sort of "hybrid vigor" that comes from greater genetic diversity, which translates to fewer potential health problems.

2) Your dog's STRUCTURE can cause health problems.

sad dogBreeders have pushed Mother Nature beyond the breaking point by deliberately producing unnatural features in dogs.

Flat faces that must snort and snuffle through life... large protruding eyes vulnerable to injury.... bowed legs.... long bodies.... wrinkled skin.... loose lips.... long ears with narrow ear canals.... massive bodies.... tiny bodies.... and so on.

All of these exaggerations in structure are deformities. 

Did you know that a "natural" dog (breeding without the influence of man) is about 15 to 22 inches at the shoulder, 30 to 50 pounds, with an agile build, shortish hair, and a longish nose?

The more a dog varies from this natural size and build,  the more likely the chance of health problems.

3) Your dog's ENVIRONMENT can cause health problems.

Once you HAVE your dog, you can't do anything about the first two causes of health problems.

If his parents weren't tested for specific hereditary health problems or if he is inbred to a high degree, or if he has an exaggerated/unnatural build.... the risk is greater that he will develop health problems at some point in his life. We can't get around that now.

So in this book, we're going to focus on the LAST  cause of health problems – the one you CAN do something about at this point – your dog's environment.

By environmentally-caused health problems, I mean accidents and injuries, infections, parasites, allergies, digestive upsets, some autoimmune diseases and cancers, side effects of medications or excessive vaccinations.... the good news is that there's a long list of health issues you can minimize or prevent simply by controlling, adjusting, and monitoring your dog's environment.

YOU  (not your veterinarian) are the primary driver of your dog's health.

The things YOU  do with your dog at home will make all the difference in his short- and long-term health and lifespan.

In the chapters of this free book, you'll learn how to make everything  in your dog's daily life health-promoting.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

My best-selling books – now available  FREE  on my website

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy is for puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know. Click here to read for free.
book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say. Click here to read for free.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life. Get my honest advice about all 11 Things before you bring home your new puppy, because some mistakes with early health care cannot be undone. Click here to read for free.