One of the giant breeds, Bernese Mountain Dogs (affectionately known as “Berners”) make excellent family companions. This breed is loyal, easygoing, sweet and very gentle with kids. They also play well with other pets and dogs and love joining in on family activities. Unfortunately, their life span is limited to 7-10 years, and there are some common health problems you should know about.
Below are the six most prevalent illnesses and diseases you should be aware of in case your Bernese Mountain Dog displays symptoms.
Large breeds often have CHD, which causes the head of the femur bone to meet with the hip socket incorrectly. This condition eventually leads to canine arthritis in the affected joint, but symptoms may not present for years. CHD is hereditary in Bernese Mountain Dogs. Learn More About Canine Hip Dysplasia.
- Pain or discomfort during exercise
- Stiff back legs
- “Bunny hop” like run
- Stiffness getting up or running
- Difficulty getting up
- Muscle tone loss in back legs
- Lack of enjoyment with physical activities that were previously enjoyable
Your vet will take x-rays of your dog’s hip sockets and decide a course of treatment, which may include surgery.
Like CHD, elbow dysplasia is common in giant breed dogs. This inherited condition involves developmental abnormalities that lead to malformation and degeneration of the dog’s elbow joints. Symptoms usually present between 4-10 months.
- Occasional or persistent forelimb lameness that’s worse after exercise
- Pain when extending the elbow
- A tendency to hold the affected limb away from the body
- Fluid build-up in the joint
- Diminished range of motion
Your vet will take x-rays of your dog’s elbows and a sample of fluid from the joints for laboratory testing. They also may conduct an arthroscopic examination using a tube-like instrument to see the inside of the joint. Surgery is often required to correct the affected joints.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy in dogs is an inherited eye disease in which the retina degenerates, and the dog suffers impaired vision and often blindness.
There are early- and late-onset forms of PRA. The early version involves abnormal cell development resulting in vision problems as early as 3-months-old. In late-onset PRA, cells develop normally but degenerate later in life, causing vision problems around 3- to 5-years-old.
- Night blindness
- Dilated pupils
- Disorientation in strange environments
- Reluctance to explore new places
Unfortunately, there is no cure for PRA. Dogs are typically blind within a year of diagnosis, but the good news is that it’s a painless condition. If you get your Berner from a breeder, ask for health certificates to prove that their parents didn’t have PRA. DNA tests are available to help detect this disease early in life.
von Willebrand’s Disease is the most common hereditary blood clotting disorder in dogs and can result in excessive bleeding, even from minor cuts. Although there’s no cure, you can give your dog a DNA test to see if they have vWD. This diagnosis is particularly crucial if your dog requires any type of surgery.
- Bleeding from the mouth or nose
- Bleeding in the GI tract (dark tarry stools)
- Blood in the urine
- Excessive bleeding
Histiocytosis is a cancer in which histiocytes, a type of white blood cell, reproduce rapidly and invade a variety of tissues. This hereditary disease is extremely rare in other breeds, but it’s the most common cancer in Bernese mountain dogs, comprising 25% of all cases.
There are two forms of histiocytosis, malignant and systemic. The malignant form is extraordinarily aggressive and usually leads to death in a matter of weeks. Systemic histiocytosis typically has episodes that come and go but eventually leads to death.
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Skin abnormalities (with systemic form)
There is no cure or successful treatment for histiocytosis. Chemotherapy may prolong periods of remission, but this disease spreads quickly leading to early death.
Gastric torsion, also called bloat, is a severe condition that causes a dog’s stomach to fill with gas, fluid or food, making it expand. If the stomach stretches too far, blood circulation to the heart and stomach is cut off, resulting in stomach tissue dying. The enlarged abdomen can also put pressure on the lungs, making breathing difficult.
The stomach can twist at the top and bottom, preventing gas from exiting the stomach. If caught early, the dog can receive emergency care. This condition can lead to death within hours, so if you think your dog has bloat, you need to act fast. Learn More About Canine Bloat.
- Enlarged abdomen
- Excessive drooling
- Inability to defecate
- Pale gums
If you suspect your dog has bloat, take them to your vet immediately. Your vet will sedate your dog and place a tube down their throat to release gas from the stomach.
If the stomach has already begun to twist, your dog may require emergency surgery to alleviate the gas pressure. Your vet may then staple the stomach in place to prevent gastric torsion from recurring.
These health problems aren’t as common as the above inherited conditions in Bernese Mountain Dogs, but they do occur. It’s always important to keep an eye out for any symptoms.
- Heart Disease
NOTE: Bernese Mountain Dogs are extremely prone to heat stroke, so take care in hot weather.
The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America suggests the following tests for all Berners:
- Hip Evaluation
- Elbow Evaluation
- Ophthalmologist Evaluation
- Cardiac Exam
- Von Willebrand’s Disease DNA Test
Petplan Pet Insurance says common illnesses they see in their insured Bernese mountain dogs are hip and elbow dysplasia, bloat and epilepsy. The associated costs for these health problems include:
- Hip dysplasia (surgery & physical therapy): $1,700 to $4,500 per hip
- Elbow dysplasia (surgery & physical therapy): $1,500 to $4,000 per elbow
- Bloat: $2,500 to $5,000
- Epilepsy Medications: $500+ per year
Petplan Customer Testimonial For Berner Health Issues
Petplan is by far the best insurance out there. They excel in customer service. Claims are easy to submit and handled with no hassle. Reimbursements are quick. The flexibility of the plans is great. They have covered two cruciate surgeries on my Berner including physical therapy, allergies, a GI blockage when he ate a glove plus his monthly arthritis medication. I have received over $20K in reimbursements, and my dog is just 5 years old. The company really cares and wants what is best done for your pet. I could not be happier with them. – Michelle F.
You have the option to pay for these illnesses out of your own pocket, or you can sign your dog up for pet insurance and have it covered. In many cases, pet insurance prevents you from having to make the hard decision between saying goodbye to your beloved pet vs financial hardship.
Have you had any health scares with your Bernese Mountain Dog?