Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM
As a responsible pet parent to your beloved German Shorthaired Pointer, you want to ensure that it lives a long, healthy, and happy life.
To do so, you must know and recognize several common health issues affecting the breed. Knowing is the first step to diagnosis and treatment.
Five common German Shorthaired Pointer health issues include cancer, gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), hip dysplasia, Von Willebrand’s Disease, and entropion. Veterinarians can diagnose and recommend treatment for these conditions after a physical examination and testing.
This article identifies five conditions commonly affecting GSPs, their symptoms, methods of diagnosis, and treatment options. Read on to learn more.
German Shorthaired Pointer Overall Health
Generally healthy canines, German Shorthaired Pointers have a life expectancy of 12 to 14 years.
With that said, all dog breeds have susceptibility to certain conditions — the GSP is no exception.
GSPs show an increased rate of the diseases listed within this article.
However, that’s not to say that your dog is guaranteed to experience these conditions.
It simply emphasizes that the breed is more at risk than other canines.
Use this article as a general guideline to know what to look for so that you can seek veterinary care if any of these signs or symptoms present themselves.
According to a survey taken by German Shorthaired Pointer pet parents, cancer is one of the most common health problems in these canines.
The most common types of cancer reported in GSPs include:
- Mast Cell Tumors
- Mammary Tumors
Mast cell tumors, in particular, occur with more frequency in GSPs than other types of cancer — and, unfortunately, it’s a dangerous one.
There are multiple signs and symptoms that potentially indicate cancer in your canine.
First, I’ll discuss mast cell tumors, then move on to other symptoms caused by different types of cancer.
Signs of Mast Cell Tumors
As mentioned above, German Shorthaired Pointers are more susceptible to mast cell tumors.
These tumors may cause lumps on the skin or nasal tumors.
Because mast cell tumors often start off appearing as regular skin bumps or lesions (such as an insect bite), pet parents may overlook and/or underestimate the seriousness of the growth.
Therefore, it’s essential to have any strange lumps, bumps, or sores checked by a veterinarian.
Other Signs of Canine Cancer
Different types of cancer may cause various symptoms. Below, I’ve compiled a list of the most common signs of cancer in dogs:
- Bleeding – Any abnormal bleeding (not associated with trauma) could indicate cancer, particularly bleeding from the nose.
- Change in Bowel or Urinary Habits – Excessive or decreased urination output, diarrhea, constipation, or discolored stools could indicate a serious underlying issue in your canine companion.
- Change in Eating Habits – Loss of appetite may be a sign of illness, even cancer, especially if accompanied by other symptoms on this list.
- Difficulty Breathing – If your GSP breathes rapidly, slowly, or seems to have trouble breathing or increased work of breathing, see your veterinarian immediately, as this could be a sign of lung issues, including cancer.
- Discharge – Vomiting, diarrhea, blood, excessive nasal mucus — any type of fluid leaking from the body requires immediate veterinary care.
- Foul Odor – GSPs with pungent odors emanating from their mouth, ears, rectum, skin, or any other part of their body could indicate tumors.
- Limping – Dogs that limp, drag their hind legs, or refuse to put pressure on one or more limbs could have arthritis or another joint issue, but it’s also a cancer symptom.
- Recurrent Infections – Some infections, such as UTIs, can be a sign of cancer in dogs.
- Reduced Activity Level – If your German Shorthaired Pointer suddenly loses interest in playing, walking, or exercising, it could be a sign of illness.
- Swelling – Lumps, bumps, lesions, or any swelling that doesn’t go down after a day needs immediate attention.
- Unhealed Wounds/Sores – With a compromised immune system, wounds and sores may not properly heal. Because cancer wreaks havoc on the immune system, it’s best to have non-healing sores checked as soon as possible.
- Weight Loss – Losing weight without a change in dietary or exercise habits could indicate a serious underlying problem, including cancer.
Schedule a veterinary appointment if your pet displays any of these symptoms.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Cancer diagnoses in canines can be tricky, but early diagnosis and prevention increase the likelihood of successful treatment and a favorable prognosis.
Sometimes, cancer signs show up through routine blood work, but that’s not always the case.
Pet parents need to regularly check their pets for skin abnormalities, including lumps, bumps, bruises, or lesions.
Bring up any suspicious skin issues with your veterinarian.
From there, your veterinarian can take the necessary steps to diagnose your pet. Some tests to check for cancer in canines include:
- Needle aspiration
- CT scans
If the veterinarian determines that your GSP has cancer, they’ll perform more tests to specify the severity.
From there, the veterinarian creates a treatment plan.
Treatment plans for canine cancer may include:
- Surgery – Skin cancer often involves the removal of the offending lump, bump, or lesion, which the veterinarian sends to a lab for testing. Fortunately, many cancers do not recur once the offending lump has been removed.
- Chemotherapy/Radiation – Certain types of cancer may require canine chemotherapy or radiation treatments. In addition to these types of care, dogs receive palliative care.
- Immunotherapy – This therapy involves introducing specific genetic material into the dog’s system to activate the immune system.
In some cases, the risks of surgery or other treatments outweigh the benefits.
The best treatment plan in these circumstances typically consists of comfort care.
Comfort care ensures that your canine doesn’t experience pain or discomfort associated with their illness.
This type of therapy often involves pain medication, steroids, and tube feeds, among other treatments.
If your veterinarian diagnoses your pet with cancer, they may refer you to a veterinary oncologist for additional testing and treatment.
Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV)
As a pet parent to a German Shorthaired Pointer, you’ve probably heard all about the dreaded canine bloat.
Bloat happens when dogs ingest too much food, air, or fluid. Exercising after eating may also cause bloat in dogs.
This serious condition rapidly develops and worsens quickly, often leading to gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), a potentially life-threatening condition common among GSPs.
Gastric torsion happens when the full stomach twists, cutting off circulation to different parts of the digestive tract.
Seek veterinary care immediately if your canine has signs of GDV.
Gastric dilatation-volvulus or bloat in dogs may cause one or more of the following symptoms:
- Abdominal Distention – Your GSP’s stomach may appear larger than usual. When looking at your canine from above, you may notice the belly expands beyond the normal waistline. However, this symptom may not present itself early on.
- Anxious Behavior – Dogs with GDV or bloat may pace back and forth, anxiously move around from room to room, pant heavily, or appear unable to get comfortable.
- Collapse – If your GSP collapses, get medical attention immediately.
- Downward Dog Position – When in pain due to bloat or GDV, some canines press their front end to the floor with their rear up in the back, similar to a play bow.
- Extreme Pain – Signs of pain in dogs include whimpering, tachycardia (fast heart rate), trembling, excessive panting or drooling, flattened ears, and aggression.
- Pale Gums – If your GSPs gums appear pale or discolored, seek immediate medical attention, as this could be a sign of shock or internal bleeding associated with GDV.
- Retching – Dogs suffering from bloat or GDV may dry heave or cough up foamy liquid.
- Stomach Guarding – Due to intense pain, your canine companion may prevent you from touching or looking at their abdomen. Some dogs may show aggression if you attempt to get near the site of pain.
Diagnosis and Treatment
When bloat or GDV is present, most veterinarians simply have to observe your dog to diagnose the condition.
This is especially true if symptoms include a distended stomach.
In addition to a physical examination, veterinarians may also perform one or more of the following tests:
- Blood Test – Blood work provides an overall idea of your GSPs current state of health. Additionally, it can rule out or diagnose any other potential issues.
- X-Rays – Imaging allows veterinarians to confirm bloat or GDV and determine the severity of the illness. If bloat progresses to GDV, surgical intervention is necessary.
Treatment for bloat and GDV differ, but both require hospitalization.
With bloat, canines receive intravenous fluids and medication to reduce pain.
Then, dogs are encouraged to walk, stimulating the stomach to push gas, food, or liquids through the body.
Once the bloating subsides, dogs typically recover within one to two days and resume their normal activities.
GDV, however, requires more intensive care. Dogs receive intravenous fluids, pain medication, and decompression procedures.
They’re placed on monitors to check the heart, as heart issues often occur due to decreased circulation to the gastrointestinal tract.
Once the veterinarian stabilizes your pet, they can perform surgery.
Surgery involves untwisting the dog’s abdomen and removing necrotic tissue.
Before stitching the dog’s stomach, veterinarians attach the stomach to the body to prevent future gastric torsion.
Dogs with GDV often stay in the hospital for one to seven days (sometimes longer, depending on potential complications) after surgery.
Canine Hip Dysplasia
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals conducted a decade-long study indicating that incidences of hip dysplasia in canines seemed to decrease overall.
However, with the German Shorthaired Pointer, there was a significant increase in hip dysplasia.
Canine hip dysplasia involves the hip joint.
The condition results in a hip joint that’s too loose, resulting in other complications — including stretched ligaments and muscles — ultimately causing joint instability.
Untreated hip dysplasia frequently causes the development of osteoarthritis.
Dogs with hip dysplasia usually show symptoms early on, between 6 to 12 months of age.
Some dogs, however, do not show signs until they’re older.
Symptoms of hip dysplasia in German Shorthaired Pointers include:
- Abnormal Gait – Pain caused by hip dysplasia often causes dogs to change their gait (the way they walk). They may hop, skip, or gallop to reduce pressure on the affected joint.
- Atrophy – Over time, the muscles around the joint may deteriorate, leading to immobility or hind leg lameness.
- Inactive – Dogs with hip dysplasia attempt to reduce activity to prevent pain and discomfort. They may refuse to stand, jump, or climb onto raised surfaces.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Veterinarians diagnose hip dysplasia using radiographs.
Treatment for canine hip dysplasia depends on the canine’s age, state of health, and severity of the condition.
Several treatment options include:
- Triple Pelvic Osteotomy – Puppies showcasing signs of hip dysplasia early on may undergo a triple pelvic osteotomy. This surgery realigns the hip joint while protecting and preserving the natural bone.
- Total Hip Replacement – Older dogs often require a total hip replacement, especially if they also suffer from osteoarthritis. This procedure involves replacing the affected joint with a prosthetic to provide a normal range of motion, gait improvement, and pain elimination. Total hip replacement therapy in canines is typically a successful procedure that significantly increases a dog’s quality of life.
- Femoral Head Ostectomy – Also known simply as FMO, femoral head ostectomy is the surgical removal of the hip joint and the subsequent “recreation” of a false joint through scar tissue. I, along with other veterinarians, do not recommend this procedure in most cases. It often leaves dogs with an abnormal gait, even when pain levels are reduced, and may cause a decrease in activity levels.
Surgical procedures are pretty aggressive, so some veterinarians recommend more conservative treatments to hip dysplasia, especially early on and in minor cases.
Some treatments include medication, joint supplements, weight loss, and physical therapy.
With that said, the condition typically continues to worsen over time. As such, it’s likely that surgery is eventually needed.
Von Willebrand’s Disease
The Von Willebrand Factor (VWF) protein essentially prevents excessive bleeding.
Dogs without this protein are diagnosed with Von Willebrand Disease (VWD).
This inherited condition can prevent the control of bleeding in canines.
There are three forms of VWD (I, II, III). Type II is the main type of Von Willebrand’s disease seen in German Shorthaired Pointers.
Symptoms of Von Willebrand Disease in GSPs include mild to severe bleeding.
Severe cases often involve random bleeding from different orifices, including the nose, mouth, eyes, urinary tract, or rectum.
Surgery, dewclaw removal, tail or ear docking, and dental work are particularly dangerous for dogs suffering from GSP.
Bleeding can often be excessive.
Infections, hormonal issues, and medications (including blood thinners, Aspirin, and sulfa-based antibiotics) can increase the likelihood of severe bleeding.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis of Von Willebrand Disease requires a blood test to check the concentration of VWF.
Once diagnosed, treatment depends on the severity of the condition.
Severe bleeding requires a blood transfusion, whereas less serious symptoms involve sutures, bandages, and wound glue.
Clot-promoting medication often helps in mild cases.
Dogs suffering from Von Willebrand Disease can receive blood transfusions before other surgical or other procedures with bleeding risk.
These transfusions reduce the likelihood of hemorrhage on the operating table.
German Shorthaired Pointers may suffer from an eye condition that results in the eyelids rolling inward, irritating or injuring the cornea.
Entropion occurs in one or both eyes and is an issue frequently experienced by GSPs. The condition is painful and typically caused by genetics.
Entropion symptoms in canines usually become apparent at less than a year old. Signs and symptoms include:
- Chronic eye irritation
- Eye rubbing
- Excessive tearing
- Frequent squinting
- Light sensitivity
Over time, if left untreated, it can cause visual impairment due to corneal ulceration and scarring from the turned-in eyelid.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The appearance of entropion is highly noticeable, so veterinarians can diagnose the condition with a physical examination.
Veterinarians may drop a dye into the eye(s) to determine whether there are corneal ulcers.
Surgical treatment is necessary for the curing of entropion.
It’s best to perform surgery on adult dogs, as a puppy’s eye structure and surrounding tissue are still growing and changing.
Performing surgery on this tissue could cause deformation or other optical issues in the future.
Several surgical procedures may be required. It’s best to correct the condition over time instead of overcorrecting in one operation.
German Shorthaired Pointers showcase a genetic predisposition to several medical conditions, including cancer, gastric dilatation-volvulus, hip dysplasia, Von Willebrand’s Disease, and entropion.
Knowing about these diseases and their symptoms can help you keep your GSP healthy by knowing what to look for.
If you suspect your dog has any of the conditions on this list, make an appointment with your veterinarian immediately.
- German Shorthaired Pointers Club of Illinois: Commonly Asked Questions About GSPs
- Orvis: German Shorthaired Pointer
- Colorado State University: Top 10 Warning Signs of Cancer in Pets
- Point Vincente Vet: Dog Cancer
- United States National Library of Medicine: Bacterial Urinary Tract Infections Associated with Transitional Cell Carcinoma in Dogs
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Cancer Care
- Friendly Animal Clinic: Common Signs & Symptoms of Cancer in Dogs
- PetCure Oncology: Pet Cancer Diagnosis – What To Expect
- Frontiers in Immunology: A Role for Dogs in Advancing Cancer Immunotherapy Research
- PetMD: Bloat in Dogs
- Companion Animal Psychology: The Function of Play Bows in Dog and Wolf Puppies
- Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital: Canine Hip Dysplasia
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Canine von Willebrand Disease
- UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory: German Shorthaired Pointer
- Veterinary Medical Center of Central New York: Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus
- American Kennel Club: 10 German Shorthaired Pointer Facts
- American Kennel Club: Bloat in Dogs – A Potentially Life Threatening Condition
- United States National Library of Medicine: Trends in Hip Dysplasia Control
Veterinary Hospital Director at UCE
Dr. Marcelle is a general veterinarian with a Small Animal Medicine Specialty | Director of the UCE School of Veterinary Medicine | Certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society