Breed Tips

6 Common German Shepherd Health Problems

Known for their ability to quickly learn commands, the German Shepherd breed is a large, muscular dog that was one of the first dog breeds to be used in therapy, military, and police work. To this day, German Shepherds are the preferred dog breed for many military and police units worldwide due to their courage, strength, and trainability. 

As purebred dogs, German Shepherds are more prone to a variety of health issues. Today, we’re going to break down some of the most common German Shepherd health problems so that you can provide the best care for your German Shepherd! 

German Shepherd Common Health Issues

These are some of the common health problems in German Shepherds.

  • bloat

  • hip dysplasia

  • canine von Willebrand disease (vWD)

  • hypothyroidism

  • osteosarcoma

  • pannus

Common German Shepherd Health Problems


Bloat, otherwise known as gastric dilation-volvulus, is a severe condition that occurs when air builds up in a dog’s stomach and puts pressure on their diaphragm, making it hard for the dog to breathe. The air-filled stomach can also put strain on their veins and prevent proper blood flow to the dog’s heart and potentially cause the stomach to rotate, resulting in a lack of blood flow to the stomach. Bloat is especially prominent in large, deep-chested dogs, like German Shepherds. 

Bloat is a serious condition that has a 50% mortality rate. The cause of bloat is unknown and can seem to affect an otherwise healthy dog suddenly. If your German Shepherd is showing signs of an enlarged abdomen, is salivating excessively, is restless, retching, or whining when you press their belly, immediately contact your veterinarian.

Signs and symptoms of bloat in German Shepherds:

  • abdominal discomfort

  • restlessness

  • dry heaving

  • heavy salivating

  • shallow or rapid breathing

Hip dysplasia

Like many large dog breeds, German Shepherds are more prone to hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is a genetic disease that affects big dogs at a much higher rate, which is likely due to their larger growth spurts during puppyhood and the extra strain these growth spurts can put on their joints.  German Shepherds genetic problems include other types of dysplasia, like elbow dysplasia, for example.

Hip dysplasia occurs when the ball and socket part of the hip joint forms abnormally, often resulting in limping, lameness, arthritis, and pain. To reduce your German Shepherd’s risk of hip dysplasia, it’s crucial that you monitor their weight closely. A study using German Shepherd puppies found that overweight puppies were nearly twice as likely to develop hip dysplasia when compared to the puppies at a healthy weight. Unfortunately, hip dysplasia is a common disease in dogs, particularly large breeds.

Signs and symptoms of hip dysplasia:

  • decreased range of motion

  • decreased activity

  • “bunny hopping” gait

  • thigh muscle mass loss

  • grating joint during movement

  • lameness in hind legs

Canine von Willebrand disease

Canine von Willebrand disease (vWD) is another common issue with German Shepherds, and is a genetic bleeding disorder caused by a lack of von Willebrand factor protein in the bloodstream. Without sufficient amounts of this protein, the blood can not clot properly. 

German Shepherds can be screened for this disorder, and responsible breeders should test their dogs for vWD before breeding them.

Treatment for severe bleeding is usually a transfusion of canine blood. There is currently no cure or medicine that can make up for the lack of vWD protein in the bloodstream.

Symptoms of von Willebrand disease in German Shepherds:

  • prolonged or excessive bleeding

  • blood in urine or stool

  • bleeding from the mouth

  • skin bruising

  • anemia


German Shepherds are at a higher risk of developing a thyroid disorder throughout their lifetime. Hypothyroidism can cause a German Shepherd to become lethargic, suddenly overweight, and cause their coat to become thin and brittle. 

Diagnosis is usually straightforward as thyroid disorders can be tested via blood work. If your dog is diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, they will likely be placed on medication to support their thyroid. While not life threatening, hypothyroidism may cause your canine to become lethargic and gain weight.

Your veterinarian may recommend a weight management dog food to help control any weight issues your canine might be facing if they are diagnosed with hypothyroidism.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism in German Shepherds:

  • weight gain

  • lack of energy and lethargy

  • dull hair, excessive shedding

  • failure to regrow hair after trimming

  • cold weather resistant


Osteosarcoma is a cancer tumor within the bone. Longer bones, such as arm and leg bones, are more commonly affected in dogs. The reason for osteosarcoma developing is currently unknown, but there is a clear trend of osteosarcoma showing up more in large dog breeds. Side effects include lameness, swelling, lethargy, loss of appetite, and sudden reluctance to run or play due to pain caused by the tumor.

Unfortunately, osteosarcoma is an incredibly aggressive form of cancer in dogs. Cancer cells are usually found in other parts of the body by the time osteosarcoma is even diagnosed. 

Currently, treatment for this health issue focuses on controlling the tumor and limiting its spread. Treatment often involves amputation of the affected limb, which can understandably be upsetting to many dog parents. However, dogs are typically able to bounce back and live happily post amputation. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are usually used post-surgery to aid in controlling remaining cancer cells.

Signs of osteosarcoma in canines:

  • lameness

  • swelling in limbs

  • lethargy or lack of energy

  • loss of appetite

  • reluctance to play or move


Otherwise known as Chronic Superficial Keratitis, Pannus is a health issue that occurs in German Shepherds more than any other dog breed. Pannus occurs when scar tissue and blood vessels suddenly invade the cornea of the eye. In severe cases, this can cause blindness in the affected eye. 

The exact cause of Pannus is unknown, but it seems to occur in areas of higher elevation, possibly due to ultraviolet radiation. Treatment for Pannus is lifelong, since there is no cure at this time. Treatment usually consists of medications, steroids, and avoidance of ultraviolet radiation. Your vet may also recommend doggie sunglasses to help decrease your pup’s exposure to UV rays when outdoors.

Symptoms of Pannus in dogs:

  • gray or pink film around the eye

  • cornea opacity

  • pink mass on the eye

  • inflammation and tearing

Health Outlook

Despite common German Shepherd health issues, these large breed dogs tend to live very happy lives. They share an average lifespan of 10-12 years, much like their large dog breed counterparts like the Golden Retriever, for example.

German Shepherds are beautiful, loyal dogs that will bring you joy all throughout their lives. With regular exercise, stimulation, and nutrition, these dogs are sure to make great companions.

Dog Insurance For German Shepherds

Having your beloved companion diagnosed with health problems is heart-wrenching, which is just one reason that preventive veterinary care is so critical. Regular veterinary visits can help prevent health problems and discover diseases early on in your German Shepherd. 

Pet insurance provides a safety net for your German Shepherd by helping with the cost of high-quality veterinary care. Your pup’s health plays a massive role in their happiness, so let Spot give you peace of mind today, knowing that you can be reimbursed later on if your German Shepherd does develop health problems.


  • American Kennel Club

  • Veterinary Centers of America

  • Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine

  • Mid-Atlantic German Shepherd Rescue

  • Veterinary Centers of America

  • Animal Eye Center

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