Most Common Bernese Mountain Dog Health Concerns

If you have ever been lucky enough to meet or own a Bernese Mountain Dog you’ll know how incredible the breed is. Known for being an affectionate, loyal and loving family companion. The most popular complaint about these happy dogs is the amount they drool. But it is easy to forgive them when they show you their big smile.  

This breed is truly the whole package of beauty, brains, and loyalty! Their calm nature is great for families with children both young and old. Overall this working-class breed almost seems like they aren’t much work at all on paper. 

Sadly these gentle giants can be prone to many different health problems. This tricolored breed hailing from the Swiss Alps can add joy to any family’s life but is important to know the health risks and factors associated with the breed. If you’re looking to adopt a Berner of any age it’s important to understand their most common health problems. 

1. Hip Dysplasia & Elbow Dysplasia

Bernese Mountain Dog wheelchair
A pair of Bernese Mountain Dogs out for a walk. One BMD is in a Walkin’ Wheels® Rear Dog Wheelchair

While Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia are not unique to the Bernese Mountain Dog alone, they are both common in larger breeds. Both of these conditions are passed down through genetics and can’t be stopped completely. A  proper diet, exercise, and proper vet monitoring is good way to try and slow progression. Keeping a watchful eye on the progression of your dog’s dysplasia is the best way to ensure you notice signs of progression so you can be sure they are getting the needed care for management and treatment. 

There are a few different options your vet may recommend to help ease pain and keep up your dog’s mobility. Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia can cause arthritis and even cause pain and issues with mobility. 

Be sure to look out for the following signs in your Berner: 

  • Sudden Decrease in activity 
  • “Bunny Hopping” (Hip Dysplasia)
  • Loss of muscles mass by the affected area
  • Shows signs of pain when being touched in either the hips or elbows 
  • Weak back legs or hind legs collapse
  • Shaking legs, especially when standing for long periods of time
  • Loss of range of motion 

Caring for Your Bernese Mountain Dog’s Dysplasia

If you have noticed these signs it is time to discuss what you can do to help manage their pain and potential corrective surgeries. Bernese Mountain Dogs with hip dysplasia often experience hind leg weakness. If the condition has not progressed to a point that has taken away their ability to walk, your vet may suggest a combination of different non-surgical options to make a plan moving forward.

If the condition is severe enough your vet will discuss surgical options to assist in correcting the issue. The use of dog wheelchairs is also common when the condition has more severely affected a dog’s mobility. 

Dog wheelchair for large Bernese Mountain Dog
Walkin’ Wheels Dog Wheelchair
Walkin’ Lift Rear Harness
Walkin’ Lift Rear Harness
Iris in a Walkin' Hip-EEZ hip brace for hip dysplasia
Hip-EEZ Hip Brace

2. Progressive Eye Conditions and Vision Loss

One of the most common health issues associated with Bernese Mountain Dogs is their eyes. They are not prone to just one eye issue or disease but tend to be susceptible to many. Eyelid abnormalities and cataracts are both very common and can be painful for any dog who has the condition, but Berners seem to be more prone to these conditions than other breeds are. 

While painful conditions like eyelid abnormalities and cataracts are prevalent, they are not the only eye conditions common in the breed. 

Progressive Retinal Atrophy ( PRA) is another hereditary condition that commonly affects the breed. This condition can start early in their lives but is harder to notice in its early stages of development. The first noticeable symptom is the onset of night blindness. This condition tends to affect a dog’s confidence, especially in dark spaces. While thankfully it is said not to be painful, there are no known effective treatments, but similar to other blind dogs, special harnesses and halos for dogs could also assist in this situation to help them regain confidence in moving through any space. 

3. Bloat and Allergies in Bernese Mountain Dogs

Full support wheelchair for Bernese Mountain Dog
Bernese Mountain Dog out for a walk in a Walkin’ Wheels® Rear Dog Wheelchair

Both skin allergies and food allergies are common conditions for Bernese Mountain Dogs. If they are constantly licking their paws, or scratching their ears an extensive amount they are most likely displaying signs of allergies. 

These allergies can also be food-related and your dog can display more symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea because of an upset stomach. If your dog displays these symptoms you should talk to your vet right away as they can discuss a change in diet and allergy medication to assist in a decrease in symptoms. 

Bloat or Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus are more likely to occur in dogs with deep and narrow chests, or barrel chests. This is also very common in dogs like Labrador Retrievers. It is a twisting of the stomach that then fills with gas. This can be very serious and even fatal so it is very important precautions are taken. Using a slow-feed food bowl to preventative surgery are just two steps that can be taken to lessen the likelihood of developing this issue. Be on the lookout for the common identifiers they are suffering from this condition: 

  • Acting restless
  • Drooling
  • Extended Abdomen
  • Tachycardia 
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pale gums
  • Retching

If you notice these conditions you will need to take them to the E.R. immediately for treatment. 

Blood Disorders

Bernese Mountain Dogs are also susceptible to several different blood-related disorders that can affect their day-to-day and quality of life. The main culprit is known as Von Willebrand’s Disease. This can be diagnosed by your Vet through a DNA test and is mainly done after a surgery or an injury. Diagnosis can happen at any age, and symptoms tend to appear around 12 months of age if the case is very extreme. Be on the lookout for symptoms no matter the age of your Bernese Mountain Dog. 

  • Easy to bruise
  • Persistent Nose Bleeding
  • Acute Bleeding of the gums/mouth
  • Anemia
  • Excessive bleeding after an injury
  • Blood in urine and stool

This disease can not be cured, but with monitoring of this blood-clotting disease, you will be able to make your vet aware and keep your dog safer if surgery and or medications are required. 

White Blood Cell Issues and Cancer in Bernese Mountain Dogs

Bernese Mountain Dog with weak back legs
Bernese Mountain Dog out for a walk on the beach in a Walkin’ Wheels® Full Support/4-Wheel Wheelchair

The Berner is also susceptible to several different kinds of cancer as any aging dog, but they are at a higher risk than most other breeds for Histiocytosis. This is a type of cancer that affects white blood cells. This type of cancer can occur as either malignant or systemic. 

It can be a very serious and aggressive issue, so if you notice any indicators that your beloved Bernese Mountain may have developed this cancer it is important to go in for a visit right away to discuss what can be done, whether surgery or chemo. While histiocytosis can not truly be cured, there may be potential options to prolong your pet’s life. 

  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid weight loss 
  • Increasingly growing sluggish
  • Lesions on skin

The Berner breed is also at a high vulnerability to Lymphomas, which also affects white blood cells. There is no centralized area for common development. Thankfully this form of cancer is more easily treated than some other forms of cancer. It is best treated by Chemotherapy and can be diagnosed with a blood test. It is recommended that your dog is tested twice a year for this form of cancer. 

How to improve your Bernese Mountain Dog’s Mobility

The Bernese Mountain Dog is a large dog, so it can be a significant challenge when they are unable to walk. Luckily there are mobility solutions available to help you lift your dog, help them to stand, and even support them as they walk. A Bernese Mountain Dog wheelchair supports your dog’s back legs and provides the stability your dog needs to exercise. Wheelchairs aren’t just for paralyzed dogs, here are some ways that a cart can help your Bernese Mountain Dog:

  • Dog stumbles or loses his balance, the wheelchair will help to keep them upright and in a standing position
  • Joint pain, from hip dysplasia or arthritis makes walking painful, by supporting the dog underneath the pelvis and hips so your dog doesn’t need to put its full weight on it’s hind legs
  • Help your dog get the exercise it needs, a wheelchair’s main purpose is to encourage a dog to walk. Dogs can still walk on all fours, that continued movement exercises those muscles and prevents your dog from losing muscle or leg strength

A support harness is another excellent mobility tool. Picking up a large dog and supporting its full weight can place a lot of strain on you and your best friend. Special lifting harnesses can help you to stabilize, lift, or guide your dog’s front or back legs. Choose a harness with adjustable straps to avoid bending over to pick up your dog and straining your back. While your dog is wearing the harness, you can help them up or down stairs, lift them into the car, or even help them outside.

Conclusion

Although this breed may be prone to health issues, they are still an incredible option for any family looking for a large, loyal and at times slobbery teddy bear. If your Bernese Mountain Dog does develop some health problems down the line, with vigilance and an open line of communication with your vet you can ensure they will be living their best life!

dog wheelchair for retriever

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