German Shepherd Health Problems & Issues

german shepherd health problems

Bred to be the most efficient and powerful herding dog in the world, what came about is a remarkably intelligent, adaptable, and resilient canine. Yet unlike many working-class dogs, the German Shepherd is a great family pet. With those they love and trust, that natural aloofness vanishes and in its place rests a soft puppy-hearted animal that wants to adore and be adored.

If you’ve landed here it’s possible that you’re contemplating bringing a German Shepherd into your home. Maybe you’re doing your due diligence, or perhaps you want to know what you’re in for before purchasing a German Shepherd. This article is going to detail everything you need to know about the health and longevity of a German Shepherd.

History Of German Shepherds

Before moving forward, it’s important to note that the purebred German Shepherd—to say that which originates from 19th century Germany—is an animal of physical ingenuity. They’re lithe, quick, mid-heavy set, and threateningly powerful.

Unfortunately, popular dog breeds beget puppy mills. Being that the German Shepherd is the #2 most popular dog breed in America, irresponsible breeders focus their efforts more on quantity than quality. They breed German Shepherds without taking into consideration certain standards or regulations, the health of their parents, proper health clearances, and plenty of other facets of breeding that create the structure for a proper purebred.

german shepherd health issues

Before you purchase your German Shepherd, be sure to do the proper research beforehand.

Make sure your breeder is reputable, that they can provide health clearances for the parents, and that the parents are healthy, behaved, and in line with the personality and temperament of a proper German Shepherd.

While it’s unlikely your canine is going to experience any of these conditions, the ailments which can afflict a German Shepherd are as follows (ordered from most relevant to least-relevant):

Hip Dysplasia

Due to unethical breeding, German Shepherds are highly prone to canine hip dysplasia. If you’re familiar with the dog world, you know that this is a condition which often affects heavier-set dogs. Quite a few of them, too. To put it in perspective, 1 out of every 5 German Shepherds experience some form of hip dysplasia. The condition occurs when there’s displacement between the hip joint and thighbone.

The symptoms include canine lameness in the leg(s), pain and difficulty when walking, an abnormal gait, and in the most severe cases immobility. Because it’s rampant in the canine anatomy, there are plenty of different treatments available for the condition.

They range from simple physical therapy, all the way to corrective surgery if the severity of the HP calls for it. Often, however, the German Shepherd will adjust their gait to compensate for the weaker hip and live a completely healthy life. This condition is rarely life-threatening.

Elbow Dysplasia

As you could suspect, elbow dysplasia in dogs is similar to hip dysplasia, although it’s not as common. It occurs when there’s displacement in the elbow joint. While it’s rare for the joint to dislocate, the pain can make it difficult to walk, cause lameness in the leg(s), make it difficult to strengthen the leg, and in the most severe cases, the German Shepherd will struggle to place weight on the affected leg.

Perianal Fistula

This disorder is what causes canine diarrhea and bloody stool in German Shepherds, a problem they’re known for being prone to. It occurs when the skin around the anus cracks and drains. The open wounds leave German Shepherds vulnerable for infection and causes a foul odor, the latter being what owners usually notice first.

health issues of german shepherds

Due to the plethora of nerves running through the anus, the condition can be excruciatingly painful.

Still, there are various treatments available as this can be a rather common condition found in afflicted canines. Diet plays a huge part in mitigating the symptoms as well.


Another common condition in German Shepherds, this occurs when the esophagus loses strength and is unable to pass food properly.

Symptoms typically include vomiting in dogs or regurgitating dense foods and eventually manifest into malnourishment (as they can’t eat properly).

While there’s no cure for this condition, changes in diet can supply your pup with the nutrients he needs to live a healthy life. This condition certainly causes difficulties but it’s not always life-threatening and can be managed.


You’ve probably heard it before as it’s no different in the human anatomy. Osteoarthritis in dogs is a degenerative disease that affects the joints in the body. Coined for being the ‘wear and tear’ ailment, the symptoms typically include pain and difficulty when using the affected joint.

In German Shepherds, it commonly affects the spine, which will drastically reduce mobility. Often osteoarthritis is directly correlated with hip dysplasia but it can also manifest independently.

Degenerative Myelopathy

This tragic recessive genetic disorder is a neurological affliction that begins as weakness in the hind legs. As the condition progresses it eventually leads to dog paralysis. It can only be identified postmortem but as the symptoms, progress and other conditions are ruled out, generally, a veterinarian will be able to at least point towards DM.

This occurs most frequently in unethically bred German Shepherds but isn’t nearly as common as the aforementioned conditions. Today, there is still no cure for degenerative myelopathy.


This condition is also called the ‘wandering lameness’ and it often attacks at random, causing lameness in the leg(s). It occurs in their early ages of development and can last for over a year.

german shepherd diseases

Thankfully, the German Shepherd will grow out of the disorder and live a perfectly healthy life. The period in which it lingers is frightening for the owner, but it’s incredibly rare for panosteitis in dogs to have any sort of lasting effect.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

This is a condition that affects dogs of all shapes, sizes, and origin. While it’s bone structure that’s usually the source of a German Shepherd’s health complications, sometimes their eyes fail as well.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy in dogs is a degenerative disease that affects the photoreceptors in the back of the eye.

The symptoms first begin with night blindness and then progress into difficulty with daytime vision. Unfortunately, the progressive nature of the disease causes complete blindness. PRA can be detected early, however, which allows proper time for the owner and canine to prepare for blindness.


This is a condition that while not as common in German Shepherds, still affects quite a few of them. If you’re unfamiliar with canine epilepsy, it’s a neurological disorder that causes seizures. However, while you might have an idea of what seizures in dogs look like, they’re a bit different.

A seizure in a German Shepherd can be anything from excessive running, barking at nothing, walking with an abnormal gait, hiding in dark corners for hours on end, and more. Epilepsy is almost never a life-threatening issue and with the proper adjustments your pup can go on to live a perfectly healthy life.


This condition spurs from a recessive gene that manifested through generations of inbreeding. It’s a disease that affects that blood’s ability to clot, in so that wounds can heal properly.

Symptoms include excessive bleeding (which can come from the gums, nose, ears, and eyes) and difficulty closing open wounds. While this isn’t an incredibly common disorder in German Shepherds, it affects them more than any other dog breed. There is no cure for this disease but it’s manageable with the right treatment.

Ensuring Your German Shepherd is Healthy

If there was one right process for ensuring a German Shepherd’s indestructible health, then there would be a lot of happy pups running around. Unfortunately, the health and longevity of your German Shepherd depends on multiple different variables. Here are some tips on what you can do to optimize your canine’s health.

Beware of Puppy Mills

The US is now cracking down on puppy mills that strive to mass-produce puppies without any regard to their responsibility as breeders. Because the German Shepherd is the #2 dog in America, unethical breeding has quite literally tarnished their ‘pure’ genetic structure.

health problems of german shepherds

The reason why so many German Shepherds fall victim to health complications is often due to unethical breeding.

That’s why, before you purchase your puppy, it’s incredibly important that you ensure your German Shepherd is coming from a reputable breeder. This breeder should be able to provide health clearances for the parents.

Take Your Dog to The Vet

It’s incredible just how many owners don’t frequent the veterinarian enough. With a breed like the German Shepherd, it’s important to take your pup at the very minimum to an annual checkup. 

By staying consistent, the veterinarian will be able to track the development of your dog and in doing so identify anything malicious if it’s to surface.

Exercise is Key

This is a tricky one as you’ll need to do some research before exercising your German Shepherd. These dogs grow ‘too quickly’ into their bodies and have an extremely long puppyhood. Often, when an owner doesn’t have a fundamental understanding of the German Shepherd’s anatomy, they’ll work their pups bodies too hard in their youth (and the German Shepherd will happily oblige due to their excessive enthusiasm).

In their adulthood, because of the stress and strain on their developing joints, they have a higher propensity for canine joint issues, something rampant in the breed. The trick is to find the right balance of exercise that keeps your pup from becoming obese and regulates his metabolism but doesn’t wear on his ‘fragile’ joints.

Watch Your Pups Diet

German Shepherds love to eat. They’re not necessarily glutinous about their food but their high physical drive certainly produces an appetite. Feed this breed high-quality food. Being that they have a predisposition for health complications, their diet should be impeccable.

This is one of the factors that you as the owner have direct control over. Make sure your dog’s food intake is balanced with his activity level and that he is receiving a nutrient-filled diet.

Examine Your Pup While Grooming

You’re going to need to groom your dog a lot, as this breed is known for their heavy shedding. While you do this, however, it’s important that you examine your pup for anything suspicious. Things to look for: rashes, redness, inflammation, infection, parasites, abnormal discoloration, and bumps.

german shepherd health

Be sure to wipe your dog’s face clean and inspect his nose, eyes, ears, and mouths for anything that could be a sign of an ailment.

Just as well, make sure you’re taking care of his hygiene. Brush your pups teeth 2-3 times a week. Clean his paws and tail too.

At the end of the day—despite all that you should be aware of—these are fantastic dogs with sturdy and resilient structures.

The average lifespan of a German Shepherd is usually past a decade and they can often adapt or live through complications.

It is important to note that while these conditions mentioned above can affect a German Shepherd, it doesn’t mean they will.

You have a much higher chance of raising a healthy, loving, disease-absent canine than one which falls victim to an ailment.

The risks of these health complications lowers dramatically if you follow the tips above, remain diligent in your canine’s life. The German Shepherd has kept their #2 popularity spot for good reason, and that’s because there is arguably no better breed.

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