Top 20 Dog Breeds with Biggest Health Issues

Almost all pets are likely to develop an adverse health condition at some point in their life, but there are certain breeds that are more prone to serious diseases. We have reviewed the top 20 dog breeds with the biggest health concerns so you know what to look out for.
By Donna R.
Updated Sep 12, 2022
top 20 dog breeds health issues
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While you have plenty of good reasons to buy pet insurance for a healthy dog or cat, the reasons for buying the protection shoot up dramatically when you have a dog that has additional health concerns.

We have reviewed the top 20 dog breeds that experience more health problems than other dog breeds. If you own one of these breeds of dogs and do not have pet insurance, it is important to know what kind of care your pet may need and how much it can cost you.

See more in Tips for Saving Money on Pet Care

With today's advancements in technology, many dogs can lead full and healthy lives, even while experiencing health problems as they age. By having pet insurance, you can ensure a quality life for your pet. 

The following list starts with the 20th dog on the list and works down to the number one dog that has prominent health concerns, the Cocker Spaniel.

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#20 - The Poodle

The health concerns for the poodle are medium. However, the dog can develop bloat, which often proves fatal without surgery. The condition is serious and can cause thousands of dollars (around $7,500), surgical care. The prognosis is not assured either. Bloat is frequently tagged as the worst of emergencies, as every minute counts during the disease process.

Dogs who suffer from bloat, or gastric dilation-volvulus, accumulate stomach gas, which triggers a twisting in the stomach. This response causes the blood vessels to become pinched and leads to irreversible stomach damage or death, if not addressed immediately. 

Dogs seized by this illness may show signs of abdominal distension, nausea,  non-productive retching, and restlessness. 

During the emergency surgery, the doctor performs a stomach decompression first to relieve gas. The surgeon must relieve the stomach of its contents and untwist it. Sometimes, a partial resection may be necessary. Whatever is left of the stomach is affixed to the wall of the abdomen to limit the possibility of any future twisting. This procedure is known as gastropexy. If doctors do not perform this procedure, the risk of future bloat problems increases dramatically.

#19 - The Boxer

Unfortunately, the major disease that affects the Boxer is canine cancer. The breed is known for its high cancer rates. However, if doctors find the disease early, they can treat it successfully. Therefore, you need pet insurance to prevent the disease from spreading or to reduce treatment costs. For the Boxer, cancer is its number 1 health issue. 

One study, conducted over a 20-year-period by the University of Georgia revealed that around 44% of Boxers died from some type of cancer. The UK Kennel Club supports this fact, stating that 38.5% will receive a cancer diagnosis during their lives. Mast cell tumors and brain tumors are common in Boxers. White boxers also get skin cancer more often than other Boxers and dog breeds.

Often a boxer puppy will get bone cancer as an adult if he suffers an injury or breaks a bone when he is young. Nasal cancer is often a problem too, as dogs sniff the ground, thereby transporting harmful chemicals to the sinus cavities.

Cancer Signs and Warnings

Signs of cancer can include:

  • Bumps or lumps under a dog's skin

  • Rapid weight loss

  • Change in elimination habits

  • Fatigue

  • Cold-like symptoms, including coughing, nasal discharge, and sneezing

  • Swelling around a tooth (a sign of mouth cancer)

  • Difficulties with walking, impaired vision, or facial paralysis (in the case of brain cancer)

The Cost of Cancer Can Affect Owners of Many Dog Breeds

According to a report by CBS News in 2015, cancer is one of the leading causes of death among companion pets over 6 years old. Many owners even spend out-of-pocket on their pet's care. For some, spending $5,000 is worth keeping their pet alive a year longer.

In the article, Dr. David Vail, an oncology vet, and professor at the University of Wisconsin, asserts that a diagnosis of cancer can run about $15,000 one regular course of treatment from $3,000 and $5,000. Radiation treatments used for nasal or brain tumors can cost from $6,000 to $10,000, depending on the location, type of cancer, and other reasons for the disease. 

Oasmia Pharmaceutical, which manufactures one of the FDA-supported cancer therapies for dogs, has projected the size of the market for cancer medications at around $500 million. Whether you have a Boxer or other pet, you can see that treating any type of cancer represents a substantial cost.

#18 - The Toy Poodle

Along with its bigger cousin, the Toy Poodle can also present you with health concerns as it gets older. While the adorable and seemingly healthy little dog may live up to 18 years old, you may also need to pay for treatment for several major conditions during that time. Some of the common vet problems include the development of cataracts, joint disorders, cardiac problems, and the skin condition sebaceous adenitis. Sebaceous adenitis can cause hair loss, so you need to keep on top of your dog's grooming and skincare.

Toy Poodles also frequently experience bladder stones. Signs a toy poodle may have bladder stone include problems with urination, blood in the urine, or urinates frequently, it may have bladder stones or a similar infection.A laser lithotripsy can costs between $1,300 to $2,800 for removing any type of urinary tract stone. Dog owners need to monitor their dog's diet to keep the stones from returning. Lithotripsy is not necessarily a one-time expense.

#17 - Goldendoodle

Part Golden Retriever and Poodle, the Goldendoodle represents a popular designer dog. If you adopt the pet, be on the alert for problems with the heart, or subvalvular aortic stenosis. Also known as SAS, this hereditary condition may be mild or severe. A common heart malformation in canines, SAS presents itself as a fibrous sheath, which constricts blood vessels and blocks blood flow, causing tiredness or, sometimes, sudden death. 

Without treatment, a dog with SAS cannot live beyond 3 years old, although dogs with milder SAS may live a normal span of time. A dog that has SAS can experience an infection of the aortic valve, arrhythmia, or heart failure.

#16 - Shih Tzu

One of the primary health concerns for the Shih Tzu is patellar luxation, a condition that causes a dog's kneecap or patella to move out of place. Affecting one or both knees, luxation to the inside knee is frequently seen in the Shih Tzu, and other small breeds, such as the Maltese, Chihuahua, and Yorkie. 

The condition, which advances from Grade 1 to Grade IV, requires corrective surgery in the fourth phase, using a tibial tuberosity transplant. The cost for the surgery can range from $1,500 to $3,000 with added costs for medicine.

#15 - Shetland Sheepdog

Shetland Sheepdogs may suffer from a skin condition known as dermatomyositis, or Sheltie skin syndrome, which can trigger hair loss in dogs. Also called DMS, for short, Sheltie skin syndrome leads to spotty hair loss in the areas of the feet, tail, ears, or eyes. 

Vets who treat DMS cannot cure it. Therefore, any dog with the condition should not be used for breeding. Make sure your dog is spayed or neutered to prevent continued transmission of the disease. The usual treatment for DMS involves administering steroids. If the skin condition clears up, it just means it has gone into remission. It still can return. 

Reports indicate that vets treat around 160 skin disorders in pets, each year, which cost, on average, over $500. However, continued care or when treating a disease as an underlying condition will increase overall costs.

#14 - Kerry Blue Terrier

Another high-risk for health problems, the Kerry Blue Terrier often suffers from vision difficulties or hip problems, including dry eye, cataracts, and canine hip dysplasia (CHD). Hair follicle tumors may also be a problem with some dogs.

Hailing from Ireland, the Kerry Blue Terrier once was used as a farm dog in western and southern Ireland. It lives up to 15 years when you take it regularly to the vet and feed it a nutritious and natural diet. 

One of the vision concerns affecting the Kerry Blue is entropion, a genetic condition where part of the eyelid is folded inward or inverted. When this happens, an eyelash may scratch the eye's surface, leading to ulceration or perforation of the cornea. Scar tissue may also build up over time. These problems can lead to vision loss or difficulties with sight.

Entropion treatment can cost from $1,100 to $2,000. If your Kerry Blue requires cataract removal, it can cost around $3,000, including postoperative assessments. To treat both eyes, the cost increases to around $4,000.

#13 - Great Dane

The primary health concern for the Great Dane is hip dysplasia, which is often seen in larger dogs, although happening in smaller dogs, as well. The condition, which is genetic,  causes the ball and socket of the hip joint to rub and grind because of poor development or fit. Over time, joint deterioration occurs, which often requires surgery.

If your dog needs surgery, 3 types of procedures are available:

  • Double or triple pelvic osteotomy (DPO/TPO), usually performed in dogs under 10 months old

  • Femoral head ostectomy (FHO), used for treating all ages of dogs to relieve pain.

  • Total hip replacement (THR) - the most effective surgery, totally replacing the ball-and-socket joint with a plastic prosthesis to restore more normal functioning of the hip. 

According to PetMD, a THR is one of the most expensive pet surgeries, ranging in price from $3,500 (per hip) to $14,000 (for two hips). Most dogs need a bi-lateral THR, which pushes the surgery costs in the upper range.

#12 - Miniature Australian Shepherd

With health concerns rated at a medium level, the Miniature Australian Shepherd can still cause you a great deal in healthcare costs, given that the dog can suffer from hip dysplasia, cataracts, and persistent pupillary membrane (PPM), which is often diagnosed in younger dogs.

When a patient is diagnosed with PPM, strands of tissue, or remnants of blood vessels, are seen in the eye. Depending on the location of the strands, they may affect vision. If the condition affects a dog's vision or produces cataracts, a vet usually recommends cataract surgery, which costs about $3,400, according to Rutgers research.

#11 - Chihuahua

While the Chihuahua can live a long life, it still can experience health issues as it ages. The tiny yet assertive dog may live as long as 15 years. This breed may develop patellar luxation, which leads to arthritis, or suffers from diseases of the eye or heart disease.  

According to CNBC, arthritis costs about $325 per year for dog owners to treat. If you need the therapy for your dog over five to seven years, it all adds up, including the tests, preventive care, and other health treatments your vet provides.

#10 - The Chow Chow

The Chow Chow presents a high level of health risk for owners, as the dog can suffer from several orthopedic problems, such as hip and elbow dysplasia. The abundant and thick hair on the dog can cause them to overheat as well. Therefore, he usually is not happy in hot temperatures, which can lead to conditions, such as heat stroke. 

Also, small eyes on the dog may lead to visual difficulties related to entropion. The dog's insufficient respiratory channels may trigger snoring or labored breathing, and the dog's angled joints may cause mobility difficulties. If your dog has just a few of these health conditions, you can spend thousands of dollars on treatment, especially if he has problems with dysplasia.

#9 - The Miniature Poodle

LIke the Poodle and Toy Poodle, the Miniature Poodle also has its share of health concerns, especially with cataracts. It also can suffer from heart disease, patellar luxation, Cushing's syndrome, and bacterial and viral infections. To prevent infection, you need to schedule regular vaccinations.

Monitoring your dog's weight is helpful, as Miniature Poodles are susceptible to joint disorders, digestive, and metabolic conditions, heart disease, and back pain. This breed is also subject to matting if it is not regularly brushed. If your dog gets cataracts, expect to spend at least $3,400 for treating both eyes.

#8 - Newfoundland

LIke the Goldendoodle, doctors often diagnose the Newfoundland with subvalvular aortic stenosis (SAS), which, in severe cases, can lead to sudden death. If the condition is mild, the dog can live a healthy and normal life. However, in severe cases, his quality of life is greatly diminished by the condition. 

The heart ailment begins with the development of a fiber sheath that disrupts blood flow. Young dogs, who do not receive surgical intervention for severe SAS, have short life expectancies and do not live very long after a diagnosis is made. Even if the dog receives treatment, the prognosis may still not look too good. Surgeries can cost as much as $15,000.

#7 - Rottweiler

Another dog that poses a large health risk is the Rottweiler. Rottweilers may suffer from epilepsy or osteochondrosis, a degenerative bone disease. Osteochondrosis is a common veterinary condition that affects the joints of young Rottweilers, or breeds, such as Great Danes or Labradors. During the process, the bone's surface or cartilage fails to convert to bone, causing weakening. The process, known as Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD), mainly affects the dog's elbow, knee (stifle), shoulder, or ankle (hock) joints.

The acute phase of osteochondrosis affects growing dogs while the condition moves into the chronic stage (leading to lameness and pain) when dogs are fully grown. In growing dogs, two primary modes of treatment are used, a conservative treatment approach, which involves pain relief, exercise restrictions, and dietary monitoring, or corrective surgery, recommended in both younger and older dogs. If surgery is indicated, treatment costs can be as high as $3,000.

#6 - Labrador Retriever

The Labrador Retriever can cause you to spend a great deal of money on treatment costs, as the popular breed is often diagnosed with cancer, which can cost as much as $2,500 to $7,000 for radiation therapy and from $500 for surgery.

The dog can also suffer from an exercise-induced collapse (EIC), common in this particular breed. According to veterinary researchers at the University of Minnesota, dogs with EIC can tolerate exercise that is moderate. However, if they take part in strenuous exercise, they can experience collapse. While some dogs experience exercise-induced collapse now and then, other dogs collapse whenever they are over-exercised.

#5 - Lhasa Apso

While some dog care experts describe the Lhasa Apso as vigorous, it does have health issues that you need to note. For example, you need to give the dog regular eye care, as it has problems with constant tearing - something that is standard. You need to clean the optical fluid from the eye on a regular basis with a saltwater solution. Also, the dog's coat needs regular brushing and care to prevent problems with tangles, snags, and matting. Genetic kidney disease also affects the breed.

If you are faced with caring for a pet with kidney disease, your best option is to do everything to make it comfortable as its kidneys fail. By the end of treatment, you probably will spend several thousands of dollars on chemotherapy or other drugs for your dog's care.

#4 - Basset Hound

With its soulful eyes and droopy eyes, you cannot help but love the Basset Hound. However, the dog's droopy folds of skin can disrupt its vision and its big floppy ears are prone to infection, which calls for regular inspections of the ears. 

Their short legs can trigger intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), which is a disease that affects the spine. If you don't treat the condition, your dog will find walking painful. IVDD progresses to the point where the discs of the spine no longer can cushion the vertebrae. Expect to pay from $1,500 to $4,000 for an IVD procedure.

#3 - Dalmatian

Gentle dogs, Dalmatians are known as a symbol among firefighters or fictional stars in Disney films. If they don't hear your command or seem to ignore you, it is because they may be deaf, a defect breeders are working to correct. 

The breed also has a tendency to develop kidney or bladder stones that can cost $1,300 to $2,800 to treat. Also, just because the vet removes the stones does not mean they will not return. Pet parents need to monitor their Dalmatian's diet and water to prevent problems with urinary tract conditions.

#2 - German Shepherd

A popular dog breed with pet owners, the military, and police, the German Shepherd, when older, often suffers from hip dysplasia. Therefore, the dog should be exercised regularly to maintain optimal health. Because of its tendency toward canine hip dysplasia (CHD), the dog may also need treatments for arthritis. 

German Shepherds may also be subject to health problems, such as elbow dysplasia, bloat, hemophilia, cataracts, and degenerative disc disease. The dog may experience diabetes as well. CNBC states that pet owners spend about $889 annually to treat their dogs for diabetes.

#1 - Cocker Spaniel

The dog that carries the highest health risk for owners is the Cocker Spaniel. While sporting flowing and glowing coats, the dogs also need frequent grooming to keep their hair free of matting and tangles. 

Cocker Spaniels may develop cataracts and glaucoma as they age, and may suffer from heart disease, liver disease, or epilepsy. Also, to prevent problems with infections, the Spaniel's ears need regular cleaning.

Final Thoughts

While it may not be guaranteed that your dog will develop any of these conditions, it is important to know what to look out for when shopping for certain breeds. And more importantly, it is important to make sure you have a solid pet insurance plan that will help keep you covered should your pet develop any of these health issues. Often times pet insurance companies will not cover pre-existing conditions so getting pet insurance while your pet is young can save you in the long run.