Like any animal, the Great Pyrenees has a number of possible health problems, however in comparison to most other breeds of dogs, they are relatively few. This is likely in part to the fact that the Pyrenees has been allowed to evolve over many hundreds of years in comparison to mere decades like most other modern breeds of dogs. The single largest way to head off many potential health problems is through regularly scheduled vaccinations.
Health problems can be categorized as Infectious Diseases, Parasites and General Diseases.
An infectious disease is one that is acquired from another animal or dog. Some are more common than others and many can be prevented through regular vaccinations. Some are also more serious than others and can lead to the death of your dog if not handled properly. Fortunately, many of today's modern vaccines will inoculate your dog from a number of common canine diseases. This is why it is important to ensure that you are buying a puppy from a responsible breeder. If possible, always ask to see a copy of the mother's health documents, which will allow you to see how often and when she was vaccinated. If the breeder is at all evasive in regards to questions regarding vaccinations, it is often better to pass and locate a more suitable breeder.
Also referred to as "Parvo", this is an often fatal viral infection common to puppies and elderly dogs, although adult dogs are also at risk. It is often passed on from mother to pups and is most common in mothers that have not been properly vaccinated. Regular and timely vaccinations can reduce the chances of this greatly. Puppies should have been vaccinated at least twice before they are 8 weeks of age. Parvovirus comes in two forms, a gastrointestinal infection that can attack the stomach and intestines and also a myocardial form that affects the heart muscles.
This is another virus common to unvaccinated puppies and adult dogs. Coronavirus can cause listlessness, weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting and excessive thirst. Again, regular vaccinations can reduce the chances to an absolute minimum.
This is one of the more serious and often fatal viral infections. Canine distemper can be passed on from other animals. Related to the human measles virus, it can cause serious seizures and other neurological problems. Regular vaccinations can greatly reduce the chances of an infection. Distemper kills over 80% of puppies infected and 50% of adult dogs.
Rabies is the most serious of all common infections. It is passed through the saliva from other animals, including dogs, cats, bats, raccoons, squirrels and many other common mammals. There is no cure for Rabies once the symptoms begin presenting themselves, however it can be treated in the early stages and it can also be vaccinated against. Be sure to get your dog vaccinated for rabies and keep it up to date. Rabies can be passed to humans and once symptoms are seen, it is almost always fatal.
This is a bacteria that is common to kennels and other places where large numbers of dogs get together, such as obedience classes. Most reputable kennels and classes now require proof of vaccination. Bordetella can cause potentially serious respiratory infections. Once infected, it can be treated, however recovery is slow. Generally, if there is any chance that you will be boarding your dog or taking to to a place with a number of other dogs or traveling, get it vaccinated.
A canine version of the hepatitis virus, it is not transferable to humans however it can cause significant damage to your dog's liver and can also be fatal. This can also be vaccinated against.
Parasites are organisms that feed off your dog. Some can be regional and even seasonal. Some are more common than others. Parasites can be passed from other animals or from just being outside. Most can be dealt with fairly easily.
There are five common types of worms that feeds on dogs, these include roundworm, tapeworms, hookworms, whipworms and heartworms.
- Roundworms are most common in puppies and are transmitted via eggs in the dog's feces.
- Tapeworms are transmitted via ingestion of an infected flea, rodent or rabbit.
- Hookworms can be transmitted via eggs in the feces and also through skin penetration by the hookworm larvae or through a puppies drinking of an infected mothers milk.
- Whipworms are transmitted through dog's feces.
- Heartworms are transmitted through infected mosquitoes carrying larvae and is the most serious, causing significant damage to the pulmonary arteries. All of these are treatable and are also preventable through specialized dewormers available from your vet. Many of the dewormers on the market will protect against multiple worms, with the exception of heartworm, which usually requires a specialized treatment.
Fleas are the most common canine parasites. They can be difficult to spot in the dense cost of the Pyr, so it is often better to assume that your dog is infected and treat it accordingly. Flea collars and shampoos can have some very temporary effect, however the most effective prevention is through special flea medications available from your vet, which can in many cases eliminate the problem. An out of control flea problem can quickly spread to your home, where they can get into your carpets and can be difficult to contend with. Flea infections are most common in the spring to summer months and they are vary in intensity from region to region.
Ticks are also another common parasite that feeds on canine blood. They are more common in some parts of the country than others and can be year round problems in warmer climates, while being mostly a seasonal problem in others. Ticks are known to be carriers of many dangerous diseases, including Lyme Disease, Rock Mountain Spotted Fever, babesiosis, and ehrlichiosis. Ticks can be picked up in many places, including long grasses and fields. They can often be difficult to spot until they have gorged themselves on blood. The best offense is a good defense and there are a number of effective treatments that can minimize the chances of your animal becoming infected. If ticks are a problem in your area, the best bet is to consult with your local veterinarian on the best course of action.
Mites can also be a problem in many areas of the country. There are five common types of mites that can cause potential problems for your Great Pyrenees. Each type has a specific treatment, available from your veterinarian.
- Chyletiella mites live on the surface of your dog's skin. They are the cause of a skin flaking condition known as walking dandruff
- Demodex mites live in the hair follicles and sebaceous glands of your dog. An infection causes a reddish patch around the infection, accompanied by hair loss and commonly referred to as red mange or demodectic.
- Scabies mites will burrow under the skin of your dog and lay its eggs, which causes irritation and sarcoptic mange.
- Chiggers are mite larvae that can be picked up by your dog, often found in grassy or wooded areas. The larvae's saliva can cause irritation and swelling which can be long lasting.
- Ear mites cause an ear infection that is often accompanies by significant dark earwax discharges. Ear mite infections can cause significant irritation and a sometimes painful condition.
Bloat is a serious gastric disease, known as Gastric Dilation Volvulus Syndrome or GDV. Bloat is not as common in Great Pyrenees as most other large dog breed's, however it is still seen. Bloat causes the dog's stomach to become bloated with air and then the stomach twists so that nothing can flow from it to the small intestine. This affects the small intestine and blood vessels and can cause death in a number of hours. Survival will depend on the severity and how soon you seek immediate veterinarian assistance. The cause of bloat is still not fully understood, however it can be minimized by breaking your dog's meal in 2 or 3 parts and always providing access to water to prevent gorging itself on water as well as avoiding feeding within an hour of vigorous exercise.
Heat stroke can occur to any mammal exposed to direct sunlight and heat for to long a period of time. As a long coated breed, the Great Pyrenees is no exception. Definitely avoid shaving your dog as this can actually increase the risk of heat stroke as the dog's coat helps to insulate it against the heat. The best way to prevent heat stroke is to provide plenty of fresh water, along with a cooler, shady spot or shelter. Be aware that heat stroke can occur within minutes if the dog is confined in a small enclosed space, such as the interior of a vehicle, so always avoid this.
Cancer tends to be the largest killer of older Great Pyrenees and it is also known to occasionally affect younger dogs as well. Bone cancer tends to be the most common type of cancer. There is no current cure for bone cancer, however sometimes amputation of an infected limb can delay the death of your dog, however it almost always re-presents itself later in life.
Skin problems tend to be the most common afflictions of Great Pyrenees. These usually tend to be allergies or other forms of skin irritation from other causes. This often cause skin eruptions, and some hair loss in affected areas at times. Many times the Pyr is allergic to fleas and their eggs, in which case it is import that you stay on top of the flea situation through flea treatments available through your veterinarian.
Ear infections can often be caused by allergies as well or a foreign body or substance in the ear which is causing irritation. There are two types of infections, an inner ear infection and an outer ear infection. Excessive scratching, head shaking or signs of pain can be a indication, as can inflammation or a foul smelling discharge. Outer ear infections can often be treated by cleaning the ear well and applying a topical ointment. Inner ear infections often require antibiotics available from your veterinarian.
Hot spots are a common type acute skin irritation known as moist dermatitis. This tends to be an area of skin which the dog has scratched, licked or chewed into a spot that is inflamed, oozing and devoid of hair. The size of the hot spot can greatly increase quickly if left untreated, as well as causing secondary bacterial infections. Hot spots are generally caused by an allergy or an infection, which must first be treated to prevent it from reoccurring. The hot spot inflammation itself can be treated with dermal mediation or spray.
This is a serious degenerative and crippling disease affecting large breed dog's. It is a heritary disease, making it up the utmost importance to ensure that the dog's parents have been cleared of the disease. Hip Dysplasia can vary in severity from mild to severe. Mild cases will cause pain which can sometimes be treated with special medications. More severe cases will many times require expensive surgery or euthanasia to spare the dog great amounts of ongoing pain. Avoiding allowing your dog to become overweight can help to minimize its onset.
Arthritis affects the vast majority or senior Great Pyrenees and cause stiffness of the joints and inflammation, causing a painful condition. There is no cure for this, although it can sometime be treated by a veterinarian to minimize its effects on your dog. Arthritis varies in intensity and it can be crippling in more severe cases. Generally, allow your senior dog plenty of rest, as well as limiting vigorous exercise and preventing it from becoming overweight.
This disease causes lameness, most often in young dogs between 5 and 15 months of age. It can sometime rotate from leg to leg and generally only lasts one to 2 months and then will usually go away on its own.
This condition causes the dog's patella, or kneecap to become displaced, causing pain and lameness. This tends to be temporary, although it can be persistent and reoccurring. More serious cases will require corrective surgery.
Osteochondrites Dissecans (OCD)
This is a degenerative condition, usually affecting young dogs which causes cartilage in joints such as the hip, shoulder, elbow and other joints to become exposed to the joint. More serious cases will require surgery.
This condition is rare in the Great Pyrenees and is generally recognized by the experienced breeder early in development. It causes a dwarfing condition which stunts the dog's growth.
Next: Finding your Great Pyrenees