Illnesses in German Shepherd Dogs

Even if your shepherd has an illness, he can probably get back to bone-chewing fun with a few pills.
i Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images

Everything about German shepherds is big, from their hearts to ears that look large enough to communicate with satellites. Although their big, muscular frame can't help them ward off a list of illnesses they're predisposed to, most of the nasty conditions are treatable with medicine and lots of love.

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia

German shepherds are well-known for their loyalty, aloofness and big ears, but they're also synonymous with hip and elbow dysplasia. The conditions cause an abnormality in the elbow or hip joint of your big guy. Sometimes the joint can even become dislocated. If affected, your pup will likely limp occasionally or constantly and appear less active. The diseases are usually hereditary, which is why it's so important to make sure the parents of any shepherd puppy you bring home are certified by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.


Going by the three-part scientific name of gastric dilatation-volvulus, bloat isn't a long-term illness, but it can happen in the amount of time it takes you to make dinner. Your pup's stomach goes haywire, filling with air, fluid and sometimes food, and balloons like a puffer fish. Sometimes the stomach will just expand, but it can also twist around itself. When it twists, your little guy has no way to release all the built-up gas and liquid, and blood circulation is cut off. If you see your tall-eared friend pace, attempt to throw up but only produce foam or nothing at all, or if his stomach is visibly larger, get him to the vet immediately. His abdomen will likely be tight and he may react in pain when you press on his belly. Bloat is more likely in larger breeds with deep chests, like German shepherds.

Spondylosis Deformans

Although sponydlosis deformans can occur in any dog due to trauma, German shepherds are predisposed to the condition. Instead of your pup's back maintaining proper bone structure, everything becomes out of whack when bony growths form along the spine. If not caught, more growths will form and eventually your pup can find himself in a lot of pain. But a little feeling around can help you catch those nasty bone formations before they get too bad. You'll feel the poky and abnormal growths by rubbing your hand along your pup's back and side.


Sometimes the immune system of a German shepherd goes insane and forgets that some things are totally beneficial, like nails and skin. Your shepherd's immune system wages war against his own body. Lupus is usually broken down into discoid lupus erythematosus and systemic lupus erythematosus. The former affects the skin of shepherds, causing their good-looking skin to become crusty, red, itchy and generally abnormal looking. The latter wreaks havoc throughout the entire body, causing organ failure, muscle atrophy, decreased appetite and a bunch of other symptoms that you'll likely immediately notice. Shepherds are also unlucky enough to be affected by symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy, which is when the immune system sees the pup's nails as evil infiltrators. The nails crack, separate from the quick and eventually fall off. Medicine, vitamins and a diet change can control lupus.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, also known as EPI, affects a short list of breeds, and German shepherds are unlucky enough to be on that list. The pancreas, which sends enzymes to break down that tasty food your pup fills his stomach with, stops sending those enzymes. So instead of getting all those beneficial vitamins, proteins and other nutrients, affected shepherds get nothing. They lose lots of weight, have little energy, eat more often and can die if the condition isn't treated.

Degenerative Myelopathy

Stumping even the most knowledgeable experts, degenerative myelopathy makes itself known in a big way without a known cause. German shepherds are predisposed to the disease, which takes those helpful myelin sheaths along the spinal cord and tosses them aside. What results is a lack of coordination, causing affected pups to drag their legs and limp. The disease will eventually cause paralysis of the legs. There is no known cure, but luckily the disease is not common.

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.

the nest