01 Jan Health Matters
There are many aspects to Bernese Mountain Dog health but for the purposes of this page we will split them into two sections, namely: things to know as an owner and things to consider as a prospective owner who is choosing a puppy or considering the breed.
Health Issues for Owners
Hopefully most health issues will be dealt with adequately by the application of common sense. There are lots of sources of general advice for dogs both on line and published in the old fashioned way, not to mention advice on the end of the phone from your breeder or other knowledgeable dog owners. More serious or persistent symptoms will require veterinary attention and it is important you have a good relationship with your vet. If you are choosing a vet then one important consideration is opening hours, are they open at week-ends for example and the out of hours facility. Many vets engage third party companies for overnight cover and you may have to travel to unknown addresses and see strangers. This is not necessarily a problem but make sure you know the arrangements and don’t have to discover them in an emergency situation.
Health Check and Vaccinations
Most breeders request that you take your new puppy to your vets at the earliest possible opportunity, normally within a couple of days, for a health check and to arrange/have his or her first inoculations. Sometimes puppies will carry antibodies from their mother and these can compromise the effectiveness of the fresh vaccines so some vets may advise allowing more time for these to fade. This can affect socialisation and we advise getting your puppy out into the world as soon as your vet says it is safe to do so.
There are a few health conditions which can arise as an emergency requiring urgent action and a couple of these are given below.
As our average temperatures seem to be getting hotter this is more of an issue than ever. It seems to be a sad fact that more dogs are dying in hot cars as each year goes by. These owners are not usually callous, uncaring individuals they are just unaware of how quickly things can change in a car parked, or even being driven, in sunshine. Some tests done by a vet at a show in the summer of 2006 where the ambient temperature was in the 80’s Farenheit showed that within 10 minutes of the car being locked up the temperature inside was over 130F and in half an hour was 158F. Even with the windows several inches lowered the temperature still got into the 140s. These are obviously fatal temperatures for any dog (or humans) and a heavy Bernese with a thick black coat designed for the upper Alps is more prone than most. In strong sunshine problems can quickly develop even in open areas.
Most Bernese are quite sensible in this area (once mature) and will keep out of the sun as much as possible but during the really hot days may need some help to keep cool. Keeping them wet (particularly their heads), allowing access to well shaded areas. Not exercising in the heat of the day but going out very early and very late are all helpful precautions. Dogs loose heat by panting so heavy panting in hot weather is not necessarily a sign of problems. If this is accompanied by a rasp, listlessness, lack of co-ordination, loss of mental faculties (doesn’t recognise people or things) or collapse then you have major problems and need to cool your dog down severely and quickly and consult a vet urgently. Masses of water are required for this ideally a dip in water or sustained pouring or hose piping but make sure the water is getting through the coat and down to the skin.
Prevention however is much better than cure so make sure your dog has plenty of shade and water available and don’t force him out in strong sun or leave him in a car in even moderate sunshine. During really hot weather most owners walk their dogs very early and late in the day and give their Bernese little reason to move around in the heat of the day.
Bloat (Gastric Torsion or GDV-Gastric Distortion -Volvulous)
This is another condition which can be fatal within a few hours. All dogs particularly larger and deep bodied breeds as well as other animals can develop it, usually in the hours after feeding. Many Bernese owners feed adults 2 smaller meals a day rather than one large one and do not exercise within 1 hour before and 2 hours after feeding to reduce the risk of this occurring.
A dog experiencing bloat will appear uncomfortable and unsettled. He/she may be panting, belching, (or trying to belch) salivating or trying to swallow, there may be signs of trying to vomit or even actual vomiting. You may be able to feel hardness and/or swelling in the abdomen and a typical position adopted by the suffering dog is the dropped down front “praying” position, as if attempting to stretch the stomach. If you have any suspicion of bloat consult your vet immediately whatever time of day or night it is and tell them you suspect bloat. If it is bloat then ‘tomorrow morning’ will almost certainly be too late and lots of dogs experiencing bloat are sadly found dead in the mornings by their owners. It is usually confirmed by a quick examination and X Ray and, only if you are in time, cured by an emergency operation or very occasionally by pushing a tube down into the stomach to release the pressure. Whilst feeding is thought to be implicated, some feel stress is also involved sometimes so be a little more aware if your dog is having a change of routine it may not be entirely happy with.
Spaying and Neutering
Many pets are castrated or spayed and generally the benefits in ease of living with your dog can be significant. It is true that dogs can be better behaved and bitches will not have seasons however there are always two sides to everything. It is also true that dogs can put on weight after neutering but this can of course be controlled by diet and exercise.
If you have an unruly dog it is not a guarantee that having him “done” will correct this, training and control should always be your first approach and, if done properly, will be most effective. We have heard of vets being keen to recommend this surgical route to treat behavioural issues but it is not the correct first option to try. However, it is true that as dogs get older they can develop prostate problems which will invariably end in your vet recommending castration as a the correct treatment.
Bitches will not have “messy” seasons twice a year once “seen to” and you can relax about them getting pregnant if you have male dogs around. However, stopping the seasons proper will not necessarily totally stop false or phantom pregnancies or sexually motivated behaviour. The hormones that drive this behaviour obviously come from other places as well and the behaviour can be a learnt habit! Particularly as bitches get older they can develop a nasty womb infection called pyometra and this can be fatal within a few days and by the time you notice the symptoms it can be well established. Having your bitch spayed will avoid this but is not a reason to do it in a young bitch.
Some vets will be keen to perform these surgeries but many breeders feel you should wait until your dog is mature, at least until one or two seasons have occurred in bitches and maybe at least a year to 18 months), as the hormones involved play a part in their achieving full physical maturity.
It is quite possible that your Bernese puppy will have an umbilical hernia. We mention this because many of the breed have one of these and occasionally a vet will comment negatively on it. The advice of most breeders would be to leave it be if it is not problematical and your puppy will have it all of his/her life and not even be aware of it.
Issues for Prospective Owners
Like most breeds there are health related areas to ask about if considering a Bernese (or a specific breeder). The most visible of these would be Hip and Elbow scoring as responsible breeders would never breed from parents who are not hip and elbow scored and in the UK you should never buy a puppy from parents who are not both scored, even if occasionally this scoring is with an overseas organisation.
(More to follow …..
…… but there is much health information on the web site of the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Great Britain via www.bernese.co.uk then go to the health section. Much of this has been written or compiled by Steve so it be probbaly be repetitous to write very similar advice here)