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You are here: myPetSmart.com > Pet Care Library > Articles > Terrier Breed Related Medical Problems

Terrier Breed Related Medical Problems

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Many conditions appear in terriers but as a breed group they are less afflicted than some of the others. Good news for terrier owners. Sometimes it is possible to identify the genetic basis of a problem, but in many cases we must be satisfied with merely identifying the breeds that are at risk and how the conditions can be identified, treated and prevented. Following are some conditions that have been recognized as being common in terriers, but this listing can never be considered complete, as more research is being done every day. Also, many genetic conditions may be common in certain breed lines, but not in the Terrier Group in general.

ALLERGIES
People with allergies often sneeze and their eyes water; dogs with allergies scratch and they're itchy. The most common manifestations include licking and chewing at the front feet. There may also be face rubbing, a rash on the belly or the armpits and subsequent bacterial infections on the skin surface. The offenders are molds, pollens and household dusts that arepresent in the air.

It is difficult to pinpoint what, exactly, a dog may be allergic to. Beyond dust and mold, they can have allergic reactions to cleansers, fabrics, factors in the environment and, commonly, food ingredients. That's why Nature's Recipe devised the Group Specific Diets to help identify and eliminate food stuffs that may cause allergies in certain breed types.

Mild cases of allergy can be treated with antihistamines, fatty acid supplements (combinations of eicosapentaenoic acid and gamma-linolenic acid) and frequent soothing baths. Allergies that last for more than three to four months each year or are severe are best treated with immunotherapy (allergy shots). Corticosteroids effectively reduce the itch of allergy but can cause other medical problems with long-term use.

CATARACTS
Cataracts refer to an opacity or cloudiness on the lens and ophthalmologists are careful tocategorize them on the basis of stage, age of onset, and location Many dogs adapt well to cataracts, but cataract removal surgery is available and quite successful if needed. Affected animals and their siblings should obviously not be used for breeding and careful ophthalmologic evaluation of both parents is warranted.

HIP DYSPLASIA
Hip dysplasia is a genetically transmitted developmental problem of the hip joint that is common in many breeds, including some terriers. Dogs may be born with a "susceptibility" or "tendency" to develop hip dysplasia but it is not a foregone conclusion that all susceptible dogs will eventually develop hip dysplasia. All dysplastic dogs are born with normal hips and the dysplastic changes begin within the first 24 months of life although they are usually evident long before then.

It is now known that there are several factors that help detemine whether a susceptible dog will ever develop hip dysplasia. These include body size, conformation, growth patterns, caloric load and electrolyte balance in the dog food.

You can reduce the risk of your terrier developing dysplasia by controlling its environment. Select a food with a moderate amount of protein and feed your pup several times a day for defined periods (e.g., 15 minutes) rather than leaving the food down all day. Avoid all nutritional supplements, especially those that include calcium, phosphorous and/or vitamin D. Use controlled exercise for your pup rather than letting him run loose. Unrestricted exercise can stress the joints, which are still developing.

If you have a dog with hip dysplasia, all is not lost. There is much variability in the clinical presentation. Some dogs with severe dysplasia experience little pain, while others that have minor changes may be extremely sore. The main problem is that dysplastic hips promote degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis or osteoarthrosis), which can eventually incapacitate the joint. Aspirin and other anti-inflammatory agents are suitable in the early stages; surgery is needed when animals are in great pain, when drug therapy doesn't work adequately, or when movement is severly compromised.

HYPOTHYROIDISM
Hypothyroidism is an endocrine (hormonal) problem. The disease itself refers to an insufficient amount of thyroid hormones being produced. There is a great deal of misinformation about hypothyroidism. Owners often expect their dog to be obese with the condition and otherwise don't suspect it. The fact is that hypothyroidism is quite variable inits manifestations and obesity is only seen in a small percentage of cases. In most cases, affected animals appear fine until they use up most of their remaining thyroid hormone reserves. The most common manifestations then are lack of energy and recurrent infections. Hair loss is seen in about one-third of cases.

Fortunately, although there may be some problems in diagnosing hypothyroidism, treatment is straightforward and relatively inexpensive. Supplementing the affected animal twice daily with thyroid hormone effectively treats the condition. In many breeds, supplementation with thyroid hormones is commonly done to help confirm the diagnosis. Animals with hypothyroidism should not be used in a breeding program and those with circulating autoantibodies but no actual hypothyroid disease should also not be used for breeding.

PROGRESSIVE RETINAL ATROPHY (PRA)
Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) refers to several inherited disorders affecting the retina that result in blindness. PRA is thought to be inherited, with each breed demonstrating a specific age of onset and pattern of inheritance. Progressive retinal atrophy encompasses both degenerative and dysplastic varieties. This distinction may seem confusing to owners, but it is important to remember that there are many distinctly different disorders that can result in PRA. Retinal dysplasia refers to malformation in the retinal tissue during fetal development.

All of the conditions described as progressive retinal atrophy have one thing in common. There is progressive atrophy or degeneration of the retinal tissue. Visual impairment occurs slowly but progressively. Therefore, animals often adapt to their reduced vision until it is compromised to near blindness. Because of this, owners may not notice any visual impairment until the condition has progressed significantly.

RETINAL DYSPLASIA
Retinal dysplasia is an abnormal development of the retina present at birth. It is presumed to be inherited as an autosomal recessive trait meaning that both parents must be carriers if a pup is affected. Fortunately, the condition is usually evident on the initial veterinary examination, since the problem on the back of the eye can be seen as soon as the eyes are opened. There are no cures, although blindness does not occur in all cases.

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