Cancer and old age are the most common killers of the bichon frise. The breed is also prone to a number of genetic health problems that are present from birth, although these issues are not necessarily life threatening. It’s always smart to know the health of risks associated with your pet so you can spot the signs early.
The hip is a ball-and-socket joint. Hip dysplasia is a painful and potentially debilitating disease that arises when the ball doesn’t snugly fit inside the socket. This results in weakness of the hip, causing severe pain and limiting mobility. Symptoms include exercise intolerance, unwillingness to climb stairs, pain when getting up and lying down and a labored gait. Your bichon's risk of hip dysplasia is strongly influenced by his parents. Responsible breeders will always have their pet’s hips scored to assess the risk of offspring developing hip dysplasia. Dogs with weak hips should not be used for breeding.
Bichon frises are at higher-than-average risk of epilepsy, which causes seizures of varying severity and duration. Seizures typically last between two and five minutes. Seizures are preceded by a period of atypical behavior that may include vacant staring or mild twitching. During the seizure, your dog will become unconscious, his body may go rigid, he may foam at the mouth and twitch his limbs. Depending on the intensity, duration and recurrence of the seizures, our vet will probably prescribe anti-seizure drugs, normally either Phenobarbitone or Epiphen. These can control, but don't cure the condition. With early diagnosis and correct treatment, your dog can live a happy and rewarding life despite his epilepsy.
A liver shunt is the result of an incorrectly positioned artery. In utero, the liver function is partially handled by the mother while the fetus develops. As it grows, the main artery is supposed to close off. A liver shunt occurs when the artery fails to fully close off and instead of passing through the organ, it passes around it, resulting in impaired renal function. Symptoms of liver shunt include lack of growth, low intelligence, low energy and increased thirst. Bichon frises are at relatively high risk of this condition.
Like most small breeds, the bichon frise is at risk of teeth crowding. This is due to the fact that the breed has evolved to be small, but it hasn’t yet evolved to have fewer or smaller teeth. Symptoms of teeth crowding include reluctance to eat due to pain, bad breath caused by trapped bacteria and inflamed gums. The best way to detect this problem is to visually inspect your dog’s mouth and look out for any decayed teeth, gum swelling or teeth that are situated side-by-side on the same gum.
Other Common Problems
While the term "genetic disorder" refers specifically to conditions that the dog is born with, the breed exhibits various nongenetic conditions with sufficient frequency to warrant your attention. These include diabetes and Cushing's disease, two potentially serious yet entirely treatable metabolic conditions. Other diseases for which your bichon frise may be at higher risk are cataracts and gingivitis. The former typically occurs in older dogs, who are likely to succumb to old age before a cataract results in total blindness. The latter is a painful inflammatory gum disease that can be avoided or minimized with diligent preventive care, including regular tooth-brushing.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.