Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi is an iconic breed with an impressive history that spans back to 1107 AD.
These pint-size bundles of energy are generally a healthy breed with a life expectancy of between 12-15 years.
However, the Welsh Corgi does have some genetic weaknesses that make them prone to several conditions.
Common Pembroke Welsh Corgi health issues include neurological disorders such as degenerative myelopathy and epilepsy. Being a chondrodysplastic breed, they may be prone to intervertebral disc disease and hip dysplasia. They may also be prone to a blood disorder called von Willebrand’s disease.
Using my experience as a veterinary doctor, I’ve compiled the following list of common Pembroke Welsh Corgi health issues, their symptoms, how they’re diagnosed, and the best course of action.
Read on for some of the main genetic issues you may encounter in the Welsh Corgi breed.
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi
To ensure that your Corgi stays happy and healthy, you should be aware of potential ill health endemic in the breed.
The smallest of the herding breed, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, is loveable and hardy and makes loving and loyal companions.
The Wesh Corgi is the smallest of the herding dogs with a lively nature and keen intelligence.
These low-slung foxy little creatures have been a British royal family favorite for over seventy years.
Although the breed’s popularity is in decline, it is still ranked the 10th most popular dog breed according to the American Kennel Club.
The Pembroke Corgi is a generally healthy and hardy breed, although their ‘true dwarf’ physiognomy does cause spinal complications, and they are prone to several genetic disorders.
If you are considering adopting a Pembroke Corgi, or wish to know more about the potential ill-health of this tenacious, lovable breed, here are some of the main issues to remain vigilant towards.
Common Pembroke Welsh Corgi Health Issues
Canine degenerative myelopathy or DM is a deadly neurodegenerative disease that affects several dog breeds, including the Pembroke Welsh Corgi.
Scientists have linked this condition’s genetic origins to the markers on CFA31 in the area containing the SOD1 gene.
What is of particular interest in the studies of the SOD1 gene is that human mutations in the SOD1 gene can cause a form of sclerosis.
This disease affects the white matter in a Corgi’s spinal cord, eventually progressing to hind limb paralysis, and there is no cure.
Corgis with this condition live between six months to three years with a progressive worsening of symptoms.
The disorder presents itself similarly to the onset of osteoarthritis, a common secondary condition to hip dysplasia, making diagnosis challenging.
However, DM then progresses fairly rapidly to weakness in the hind legs and ataxia (a wobbling or stumbling gait).
Most owners opt for euthanasia once significant paralysis occurs because eventually, the disease ascends the spinal cord to tetraplegia (four limb paralysis).
Studies don’t definitively agree on the onset of DM symptoms, but there is an agreement that the condition typically occurs later in the dog’s life, between 8-11 years.
Symptoms of early DM include:
- The turning under of hind paws so that the Corgi walks on its knuckles, particularly in turning.
- The hind legs exhibit a swaying motion when the Corgi stands still.
- The dog is unstable when standing and falls over easily when pushed from the side.
- The hind feet tend to scrape against the ground when walking, causing surface trauma in the paws’ top surface.
- The dog has difficulty raising itself from a lying position.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Your vet will consider the breed of your dog and its medical history and perform a physical examination.
Definitive proof of DM typically emerges from post mortem spinal cord analysis.
However, physical testing will typically include:
- Blood tests
- Cerebrospinal fluid analysis
- Computerized tomography
- Tissue biopsies
- MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging)
Your vet will usually recommend a DNA test for the SOD1 gene mutation due to the Welsh Corgi being at high risk for the condition.
There is no cure for DM disease, although your vet may treat concurrent conditions such as hip dysplasia and arthritis to alleviate pain.
Specific lifestyle changes are parts of the recommended treatment, such as weight management and exercises like walking and swimming.
Physical therapy may prolong your Corgi’s life and help preserve their muscle function.
Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)
Welsh Pembroke Corgis are considered achondroplastic, and the short-legged mutation makes the breed prone to intervertebral disc disease.
The short stature of the Corgi results from defects where cartilage is replaced by bone in the developing limb making the breed prone to endochondral ossification.
An FGF4 causes chondrodysplasia- retrogene inserted in chromosome 18, and this explains the short-legged phenotype in breeds such as the Welsh Corgi.
However, a concurrent mutation of the FGF4 retrogene insertion on chromosome 12 is responsible for intervertebral disc disease or IVDD.
Intervertebral discs are composed of a central gel-filled area called the nucleus pulposus and an outer fibrous ring called the annulus fibrosus.
This gel-filled area acts as a shock absorber to protect your dog’s spine as well as facilitating movement.
When the disc degenerates or is injured, it may bulge and place pressure on the spine and spinal nerves, causing pain, weakness, or paralysis.
The disc bulging may take the form of an outer ring called a protrusion or from a rupture of the inner nucleus called an extrusion.
Protrusions are typical of chronic disc degeneration and are called Hansen type II.
A ruptured disc is called Hansen type I. Corgis like other short-legged breeds, are prone to the Hansen type I, and it primarily occurs in younger dogs between 3-6 years.
Depending on the severity of the disc protrusion or extrusion, the symptoms may vary. The most common symptoms of IVDD are:
- Your Corgi shows reluctance to move their head, with apparent stiffness of the neck
- Neck pain
- Change in the way they walk
- A lowered head position with muscle spasms in the head, neck, and shoulders
- A small percentage of dogs may exhibit tetraparesis (partial paralysis in all four limbs)
Over time, your Corgi will begin to lose muscle mass around the shoulder area.
They may also show front leg lameness or knuckling due to the pressure on the spinal nerve roots.
Severe IVDD may present as partial paralysis of front and rear legs, which may be confined to one side of the body.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Taking into account your Corgis breed susceptibility and medical history, your vet will typically conduct a series of tests, including:
- Radiography (X-rays)
- Computed tomography
- Magnetic resonance imaging
- Cerebrospinal fluid evaluation
Depending on the security of the IVDD, your vet will recommend whether conservative pain management or surgery.
When symptoms are limited to moderate pain and a wobbly gait, your vet will typically prescribe pain relievers and anti-inflammatories.
Specific lifestyle changes are necessary, such as weight management and essential physiotherapy.
Other treatments include:
- Therapeutic laser
When the symptoms are more severe, the vet will recommend surgery.
The most common form of surgery is a hemilaminectomy which involves decompressing your Corgi’s spinal cord.
The surgeon will remove half of the vertebral arch, including the lamina, pedicle, and articular process.
The prognosis is good for your Corgi in most cases if the condition is caused by pain from cervical IVDD with a >80% chance of a return to a normal lifestyle.
With proper attention and treatment, your Corgi has a good chance of recovering.
Corgis are prone to a genetic predisposition to idiopathic epilepsy (IGE).
Idiopathic epilepsy is a generalized group of epileptic disorders that have a strong genetic basis.
Corgis with IGE subtype epilepsy are otherwise normal and have no structural brain abnormalities.
Epilepsy is a common neurological condition in the Corgi breed and presents itself as seizures, otherwise called convulsions of fits.
A seizure is a temporary and sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain usually accompanied by uncontrollable muscle activity.
Epilepsy describes repeated seizures, which may be single or occur in clusters with varying frequency.
Although there may be underlying triggers for seizures such as kidney and liver disease or brain tumors, if there is no physiological trigger, idiopathic epilepsy has genetic origins.
Genetic epilepsy usually presents itself between the ages of 10 months to three years of age but may occur as early as six months and as late as five years.
Seizures often happen during changing brain activity such as excitement, feeding, or waking and sleeping.
The seizure usually occurs in three stages:
- Pre-ictal phase. The dog will exhibit altered behavior before the onset of the seizure and be nervous, whining, shaking, or salivating.
- Ictal phase. The ictal or seizure stage lasts from a few seconds to several minutes and varies from mild mental changes such as staring or shaking up to grand mal seizures and losing consciousness. Typically the more severe seizures are accompanied by spastic muscle movement and salivation.
- Post-ictal phase. After the active seizure, dogs will generally salivate and exhibit confusion, disorientation, and restlessness.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The age of your Corgi when the seizures manifest and type and frequency of attacks are essential in the diagnosis.
Your vet will need to rule out physiological causes for the symptoms, such as poisoning and whether your dog has a head trauma history.
The vet will then eliminate potential root causes, including liver, kidney, heart, or blood sugar disorders.
The physical examination typically includes:
- Blood tests
- Urine analysis
- Sometimes an electrocardiogram (EKG)
Treatment depends on the severity of your Corgi’s symptoms, but most of the treatment is outpatient-based.
Owners should be cautious of potential drowning hazards of epileptic dogs and affect specific lifestyle changes and weight management strategies (long-term anti-epileptics tend to cause weight gain).
Your vet will prescribe medication according to the type of seizures and their frequency but generally prescribe:
- Corticosteroid medications
Von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD)
Von Willebrand’s disease is an inherited bleeding disorder commonly found in the Pembroke Welsh Corgi breed.
The basis of vWD is a deficiency of a protein called Von Willebrand’s factor, which is essential for proper blood clotting.
Von Willebrand’s factor causes blood platelets’ stickiness to sites of blood vessel injuries and stabilizing factor VIII blood clotting factors.
Corgis bodies cannot deal effectively with blood vessel injuries with a reduced Von Willebrand factor because they cannot produce an effective platelet ‘plug’ at the injury site.
Both female and male dogs affected by this disease may express or transmit this trait genetically, and the most common form of Pembroke Corgis is the milder Type 1 vWD.
The signs and symptoms of the vWD may differ due to the severity of the disorder and may be moderate to severe.
Affected dogs may bruise easily or bleed from the mouth when losing puppy teeth.
Due to the variations in severity, often, the disease is only discovered after significant trauma or surgery.
However, most dogs will still have a normal lifespan if a professional diagnoses and treats the condition.
Many dogs with vWD do not exhibit any outward symptoms despite having the disease.
Others may show spontaneous bleeding from the oral mucous membranes, genitalia, nose, or urinary bladder.
Signs of mucosal surface hemorrhage affect the following areas:
- Blood in the feces
- Blood in the urine
- Bleeding gums
- Excessive blood from the genitalia
Other symptoms include:
- Bruising of the skin
- Excessive and prolonged bleeding after surgery
Diagnosis and Treatment
Typically your vet will conduct a buccal mucosal screening time (BMBT) and the platelet function analyzer (PFA 100) to determine prolonged bleeding.
If there is concern that your pet may suffer from vWD, your vet will confirm the diagnosis through laboratory blood tests.
These tests include:
- Blood chemical profile
- Complete blood count
- Electrolyte panel
Most pets diagnosed with mild to moderate vWD will continue to have a good quality of life, requiring minimalism or no medical treatment.
Severe forms may need blood transfusions.
Specialists have found success in treating donor dogs with DDAVP before blood collection, elevating the von Willebrand factor in their blood before donation to vWD sufferers.
Corgis with more severe vWD can also live happy and healthy lives owners need to monitor and limit their pet’s activities to prevent injury.
Canine Hip Dysplasia
Pembroke Welsh Corgis is prone to developing hip dysplasia (HD), a common complaint in achondroplastic breeds.
The particular form of dwarfism that results in the Corgis short legs increases their susceptibility to inherited hip dysplasia.
This condition occurs during a dog’s growth and results in losing the hip joint, causing pain and secondary ailments.
During puppyhood, the hip’s ball and socket joint do not develop uniformly; the result is laxity of the joint and eventually degenerative joint disease.
As the dog ages, the cartilage and bone in the dog’s joint wear down, leading to arthritis and limited mobility.
Along with genetic susceptibility, the occurrence of HD, the incidence and severity are affected by:
- Growth rate
- Muscle mass
Although HD may go undetected, the condition is a pain source despite some dogs’ stoic natures.
Signs of HD may be evident from puppyhood but typically manifest around the age of two years.
- Occasional or chronic lameness
- Limping without a source of injury
- Sounds of cracking or popping of joints
- Trouble rising from a lying position
- Abnormal sitting postures
- Difficulty jumping up onto surfaces navigating stairs, or jumping into cars
- ‘Bunny hopping’ when running
Diagnosis and Treatment
Your vet will consider your dog’s breed and history and then perform a hip radiograph under general anesthetic.
Laxity of the hip joint and clinical symptoms at preliminary diagnosis and determine whether further tests are necessary.
It would be best if you began treating the disorder as early as possible to alleviate secondary conditions such as osteoarthritis.
Treatment depends on the severity of your pet’s condition and the pain that your dog may experience.
Typically non-surgical treatments include:
- Medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) with minimal side effects
- Nutrition and vet-approved glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. Polysulfated glycosaminoglycan injections paired with omega 3 fatty acid help the symptoms and progression of HD.
- Lifestyle adjustments such as weight management and moderate exercise are vital, and avoiding high-impact activities may help prevent hip joint deterioration.
- Physical therapy is also highly effective in the treatment of HD.
- Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, class 4 laser, and stem cell treatments are also viable options when treating HD.
Depending on the age of your Corgi and the severity of the condition, your surgeon may recommend the following surgical options:
- A triple pelvic osteotomy is suited for dogs under ten months old and involves bone cuts in the pelvis to enable the joint’s socket area to rotate over the ball of the femoral joint. The surgeon then stabilizes the area with a bone plate.
- Juvenile pubic symphysiodesis is an excellent option for puppies less than 18 months. It involves surgery to cause the hip socket to rotate and improve the contact with the femur’s ball.
- Total hip replacements and femoral head osteotomies are alternatives for skeletally mature dogs which experience more severe joint pain.
Forewarned is fore-armed when it comes to your beloved Welsh Corgis health, and keeping an eye out for potential disease can extend your pet’s lifespan.
The very joy of your Corgis personality and physical confirmation may be behind specific ailments that can shorten their lives.
Take care that you seek professional veterinary advice should your Corgi display any of the discussed symptoms to ensure a long-lived companion fit for a queen.
- Wikipedia: Pembroke Welsh Corgi
- American Kennel Club: The Most Popular Dog Breeds of 2019
- VCA Hospitals: Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs
- PubMed: Genome-wide association analysis reveals a SOD1 mutation in canine degenerative myelopathy
- Universities Federation for Animal Welfare: Genetic Welfare Problems of Companion Animals
- PubMed: Epsilon-aminocaproic acid (EACA)
- Michigan Animal Hospital: N-acetylcysteine
- Welsh Corgi News: What Kind of Dwarf are We?
- Wedgewood Pharmacy: Prednisone for Veterinary Use
- Animal Labs: Chondrodystrophy (CDDY and IVDD Risk) and Chondrodysplasia (CDPA) | Veterinary Genetics Laboratory
- Wag Walking: Hemilaminectomy in Dogs – Conditions Treated, Procedure, Efficacy, Recovery, Cost, Considerations, Prevention
- Med Vet For Pets: Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD) and Treatment in Dogs
- VCA Hospitals: Seizures in Dogs
- PetMD: Dog Seizures – Causes, Symptoms & More
- VCA Hospitals: Von Willebrand’s Disease in Dogs
- PetMD: Dog Bleeding Disorder – Von Willebrand’s Disease in Dogs
- VCA Hospitals: Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
- PetMD: Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: Signs, Treatment, Surgery
- VCA Hospitals: Femoral Head Osteotomies (FHO) in Dogs
- VCS Vets: Triple Pelvic Osteotomy
- MedVet for Pets: Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis for Treatment of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
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