top of page

Doberman Health Issues

Some things to know 

The Doberman Pinscher, like every pure bred dog, is affected by a variety of congenital and heritable diseases.  Some diseases have definitive tests, others have screens and still others have nothing.  The following is a list of diseases that can affect the Doberman.  Please note this list is by no means exhaustive, though it aims to bring to light some of the more common health problems in our breed.  If you would like more information, the DPCC suggests you contact a knowledgeable and reputable breeder or your veterinarian.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)

DCM is an acquired disease that is characterized by a markedly enlarged and weakened heart muscle. In the Doberman it affects mainly the left ventricle and left atrium. It results in irregular, abnormal or premature heartbeats. These abnormalities may result in sudden death as the very first clue of a problem in your dog. 

Males are more affected than females. Work at Guelph University suggests that about 60% of symptom free males and 40% of symptom free females will develop DCM. 

Dobermans may manifest one of two common symptoms related to DCM. Respiratory distress, usually noted as a cough, wheeze, or labored breathing, is the most common symptom. The next common symptom is called sudden death. In sudden death owners usually observe that their dog was running in the yard then fell over and died. One third of all Dobermans destined to develop DCM will experience sudden death as the first symptom of their disease. A few dogs are noted to demonstrate a loss of stamina as the main sign of DCM.

Testing for Cardiomyopathy
Unfortunately, there is no definitive test for DCM.  Responsible breeders will use either a holter monitor or ECG to test for irregular heart beats.  These tests are usually done annually can be an excellent way for early detection of the disease.  Sadly, a dog can test clear one day and be affected a week later.  These tests help researchers learn more about cardio in the Doberman, and are an important part of finding a DNA marker for the disease.  You can contact the University of Guelph for information on holtering your Doberman.  An ECG can be performed by a board certified cardiologist.

Recent DCM News / Research

The VCGL laboratory released a test for the genetic mutation associated with the development of dilated cardiomyopathy in Doberman pinscher dogs in October 2010 based on research from Dr. Kate Meurs at Washington State University. Dilated Cardiomyopathy Mutation (DCM) is a form of heart disease in the Doberman Pinscher dog. It is inherited and Dr. Meurs and her team has identified a mutation responsible for the gene in some Doberman Pinscher. However, it should be noted that in human beings with the same disease, there are many different genetic mutations which can cause this disease. VCGL does not yet know if this is the only mutation in the Doberman Pinscher or if there will be many different mutations.

VCGL Laboratory ask the public to: “Please keep in mind that we are continually learning about this disease and recommendations will be altered as we obtain more information.” To this end, As of January 2011 VCGL laboratory has tested 1280 samples. Approximately 15% of all proven DCM cases DO NOT have the mutation. VCGL is eager to continue to work on these 15% of the cases and is collecting samples from affected dogs that are negative for the mutation in order for our research to progress.

Currently the lab’s interpretation of the test is:

Negative results: The absence of the mutation in this dog, DOES NOT mean that it will never develop the disease. It means that it does not have the only known mutation that can cause the disease in the dog at this time.

Positive Results:: Dogs that are positive for the test will not necessarily develop significant heart disease and die from the disease. Some dogs will develop a very mild form of the disease and will live quite comfortably, some may need treatment. Importantly, breeding decisions should be made carefully. At this time we have do not yet know what percentage of Doberman Pinscher will be positive for the mutation. However, removal of a significant number of dogs from the breeding population could be very bad for the Doberman Pinscher breed. Remember that dogs that carry this mutation also carry other important good genes that we do not want to lose from the breed.

Positive Heterozygous: D(1 copy of the mutated gene and 1 copy of a normal gene) Dogs that are positive heterozygous should be carefully evaluated for signs of disease (Holter monitor and an echocardiogram). If abnormalities are detected, possible treatment options should be discussed with your veterinarian. Adult dogs that do not show signs of disease and that have other positive attributes could be bred to mutation negative dogs. Puppies may be screened for the mutation and over a few generations, mutation negative puppies may be selected to replace the mutation positive parent and gradually decrease the number of mutation positive dogs in the population.

Positive Homozygous: (2 copies of the mutated gene). We recommend not breeding the homozygous dogs. Dogs that are homozygous for the mutation appear to have more significant disease and will certainly pass on the mutation.

Stem Cell Therapy for Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Stem Cell Therapy for Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Doberman Pinschers Dilated cardiomyopathy is a common cardiac affliction of Doberman Pinschers. Once begun, the pathology of idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy is incessant, cumulative, and eventually fatal.

Conventional palliative medical therapy has assisted in the management of these clinical cases, but does not correct the underlying dysfunction of the cardiac muscle cells. Recently, cellular transplantation of adult stem cells has emerged as a novel means to repair left ventricular pump function with encouraging results in animal research models and early clinical trials in humans with ischemic heart disease. Nonischemic heart disease, such as idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), however, has yet to be addressed at all.

This is a prospective clinical trial in Doberman Pinscher dogs with dilated cardiomyopathy which will evaluate the efficacy of adult stem cell transplantation into the dilated, failing myocardium of dogs afflicted with DCM and hopefully provide the groundwork for a new treatment option in this patient population. This project is supported by funding from the Doberman Pinscher Club of America.


Cervical Vertebral Instability (includes Wobblers, Spondylosis)
Description of the disease by Jessica Wilcock, DVM 

Wobblers Syndrome; is the term used to refer to compression of the cervical spinal cord in Doberman Pinschers and Great Danes. This disorder has many names but most of us refer to it simply as Wobblers.  Wobblers is characterized by progressive neurological dysfunction of all four limbs, usually starting with the hind legs. Common symptoms are an abnormal ‘drunken’ or ‘wobbly’ gait, scuffing or dragging of the hind feet, a short, choppy gait of the front legs, neck pain, and holding the head and neck in a flexed (downward) position. Signs may progress to the point where the dog may not be able to walk or get up on its own.

Wobblers usually occurs in older Dobermans (3 to 8 years of age) although it has been reported in dogs less than two. The spinal cord compression occurs in the lower neck, most commonly in vertebrae C5, C6 and C7. Some dogs may have multiple areas where the spinal cord is compressed.

Treatment depends on the severity of the compression. Milder cases may respond to rest and corticosteroid (i.e. cortisone) treatment to reduce the inflammation and swelling of the spinal cord. Acupuncture has also been shown to be helpful, especially in relieving pain. Chiropractic adjustment has also been suggested- however, in the case of a dog that has instability of its vertebrae, chiropractic adjustment has the potential to cause serious complications. In more severe cases, surgery is the only option. A myelogram or MRI must be done prior to surgery to determine where the compression is, whether there is more than one area of compression, and how severe the compression is. Different surgeries carry different success rates and it is suggested that you do your research before undertaking a surgery of this magnitude for your dog.

An alternative to surgery is Gold Bead Implants, a procedure where magnetically charged gold plated beads are implanted into the dog at specific locations to relieve the pain.  Dr. Terry Durkes pioneered this procedure, and several other veterinarians are currently practicing in the USA and Canada.  Click here for more information on this alternative treatment.

Testing for Wobbler's Syndrome
The cause of Wobbler’s Syndrome is still unknown. Genetics, conformation of the neck, nutrition, injury- all have been theorized to play a part. Neck x-rays prior to breeding have been suggested, but since the malformation and malarticulation in an unsymptomatic dog can be very subtle, they can be very difficult to interpret. Preventative breeding can be frustrating as most dogs do not show symptoms until they are past their prime breeding age. The best we can do at this point in time is to be aware of Wobbler’s in pedigrees, and breed responsibly.

Hypothyroidism is a hereditary condition. The thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which can affect the dog's overall condition. Hypothyroid dogs tend to have poor coats, be lethargic, seek heat, be overweight, and have problems with fertility. The thyroid gland affects many bodily functions and has be proven to be closely related to the immune system.  Dogs who have low thyroid function tend to experience a host of other problems throughout life.  Aggression has also been linked to low thyroid function.  

Testing for Thyroid Disease
The only way to know your dog's true thyroid function is to have a complete panel run by a qualified lab (Michigan State, Antech, Guelph).  These labs test for levels of T4, T3, TSH, Free T4 and Free T3.  Most veterinary in house testing is only for T4, and this is not an adequate indicator of thyroid function.  Testing should be done annually, as the disease can come on later in life.  Hypothyroidism is treated by giving thyroid hormone replacement pills a couple of times per day. Once started, however, the dog will have to stay on this treatment for the rest of his life.

Cancer works the same in dogs as it does in humans: there is a mutation of cells, and the body's immune system is unable to stop these mutated cells from reproducing.  There are many types of cancer that affect the Doberman.  Some of the more common types are mammary cancer in bitches and prostate cancer in dogs, but it can manifest in the bones or other organs just as easily.  Mammary cancer has been the #1 killer of female Dobermans for many years.  Spayed bitches have a notably decreased incidence of the disease, however.  

Some dogs have gone through chemotherapy and radiation to cure their cancers, while others have used holisitic or alterative treatments with much success.  There is no test for cancer.

Chronic Active Hepatitis and Copper Toxicosis
Chronic active hepatitis (CAH) is a liver disease where the liver does not metabolize copper properly. The copper will accumulate in the liver and eventually become toxic to the dog. The build-up may be caused by excessive absorption of copper or abnormal storage of copper because of a failure of excretion mechanism.

The disease is most likely to affect a female aged four to six. The initial symptom, though often neglected, is polydipsia (heavy drinking), which may only be temporary or intermittent. When the condition progresses further a poor appetite, vomiting and weight loss soon follow. As the disease advances, the mucous membranes start to turn yellowish. This is most apparent in the eyeballs (sclera), the gums and on the skin in areas where hair is scarce. Weight loss becomes accelerated and the dog develops free fluids in the abdomen, often so much that it looks like a puppy that has just eaten a huge dinner. The only differences in the appearance are the pronounced ribs and spine. The dog is tired and lethargic, although not entirely incapable of running and playing if required.

Testing for CAH

As with any ailment, early diagnosis by a veterinarian allows for a greater chance of recovery.  Diagnosis can be confirmed by first testing the ALT (liver enzyme) levels in a dog, and then eventually by a liver biopsy.

The only known treatments for copper toxicosis are to reduce the dog’s intake of copper by changing her diet, and anticupric therapy as recommended by a veterinarian.

Many commercial dog foods are high in copper. In human diets, shellfish, chocolate, liver, nuts, legumes and cereals are all rich with copper. These may not seem to be things common to commercial dog food, but one should read the labels and packages. It is imperative to use distilled water for a dog who is positive for liver disease.  Alternative or holistic medicines have also been used with great success, one of which is milk thistle.

Von Willebrand's Disease
Von Willebrand's disease (vWD) is a common, inherited bleeding disorder in the Doberman. It is caused by a lack of von Willebrand factor (vWF or Factor VIII protein), which plays an essential role in the blood clotting process.  Although many dogs are affected by vWD, only a small proportion have severe problems.

Testing for vWD

This is one of the few diseases for which we have a definitive test.  Vet Gen Laboratories has developed a DNA test for vWD, which enables breeders to selectively breed to eliminate the disease over time.  The results of this test will classify a dog as either "clear", "carrier" or "affected".  It is important to note that clear and carrier dogs are at absolutely no risk of bleeding.  The label "affected" is used to describe dogs who carry two copies of the gene for vWD.  Most affected dogs will never experience a bleeding episode, and it is important to talk to your veterinarian to ensure he/she understands this.

Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia is a disease of the hip joints involving the ball and socket. HD can begin in very young puppies, but it is primarily a disease of an older dog. Sometimes there will be "wear and tear" on the ball which will show as flat spots. This can be extremely painful for the dog, and sometimes a hip replacement is required in extreme cases. Hip dysplasia can be hereditary, though injuries and nutrition have also been suspected causes.

Testing for Hip Dysplasia

Testing for the disease is simple through x-rays performed by your veterinarian and sent to a licensing board.

The OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) keeps a registry of x-rayed dogs that have been submitted for evaluation and certification. Hips free of the disease are rated as either Excellent, Good or Fair. Dysplastic hips will be graded as borderline or dysplastic (levels 1, 2, or 3.  A preliminary rating is given to dogs under 2 years of age, and a final reading is given at more than 2 years of age. The Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) also offers certification on a pass / fail basis. PennHip is a newer system for testing hips.  Three sets of x-rays are taken, and these can be done as young as 4 months of age.

Genetic Eye Diseases
It is estimated that approximately 40% of purebred dogs are affected by some sort of heritable eye disease.  This includes cataracts, glaucoma, diseases of the eyelids, lens, cornea, and other sections of the eye.

Testing for Eye Diseases

The Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) is an organization which certifies dogs whose eyes are clear of heritable disease.  Clinics are hosted around the USA and Canada where board certified ophthalmologists will examine your dog.   

Stomach Torsion (bloat)
Bloat is a disease common to deep-chested dogs that can involve twisting or torsion of the stomach with a subsequent blockage of the esophagus at one end and the intestine at the other. Bloat happens quickly and is often fatal without immediate veterinary attention

Its symptoms include retching with no vomiting, extreme salivation, obvious discomfort, and distention of the abdomen. Gulping food can bring on an attack of bloat, and it is often recommended that dogs should be fed twice daily to avoid the hunger pangs that lead to eating too fast. Some breeders believe that foods containing soybeans shouldn't be fed to breeds that are susceptible to bloat because the beans can produce gas.

Many cases of bloat occur in the evening, after the dog has perhaps shared the family snack of pizza or some other highly-spiced food and then exercised. Treatment is expensive and not always successful. Feeding moistened dog food and postponing exercise for a couple of hours after the meal may help prevent bloat. You can also visit the The Great Dane Bloat Book for more info.  If you own a doberman or other deep chested dog, you should google what to do for bloat so you are prepared should you have to cross that bridge.

bottom of page