The Doberman breed is neither recognized as the least disease-prone, nor as the most. It is known to have dealt with several potential health conditions, most of which can be reasonably avoided with a minimum amount of due diligence from the buyer, and with a thorough and disciplined breeding program from the breeder.
The list below is not meant to be exhaustive, but merely an indication of the most Doberman-specific health conditions breeders have traditionally fought hard to – and should – maintain outside of their bloodlines. Any ethical and responsible breeder should at least conduct systematic DCM & CHD health testing for any Doberman that is considered to be bred. Consultation of results should be made available by the breeder to potential homes on during the household screening process.
Von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD)
vWD is by far the most commonly misunderstood health condition associated with the Doberman. It is a common inherited bleeding disorder that is caused by a lack of von Willebrand factor (vWF) which plays an essential role in the blood clotting process. Normally, the body responds to a bleeding injury through a complex defense system including local changes in the damaged blood vessels, activation of platelets, and the coagulation process. A reduction in von Willebrand factor leads to abnormal platelet function and prolonged bleeding times.
There are three types of vWDs and Type I vWD is the most common and also the one that affects the Doberman, among other breeds. When testing for Type I vWD (blood or DNA) there are three potential results: "Clear", "Carrier" and "Affected".
While it is ideal to have a Clear result for any Doberman, owners should be reassured that the likelihood that a Carrier or Affected would pass away as a direct result of the condition is incredibly improbable. If a Doberman is involved in an accident that injures him in such a way that profuse bleeding threatens his life, the vWD status will have very little to do in the way of improving or limiting his chance of surviving or not. What will be the unique determining factor in any such situation will be immediate access to a veterinarian.
Dilated Cardiomiopathy (DCM)
DCM is a disease of the heart muscle where the heart becomes thin-walled and dilated. There are two common consequences for the affected Doberman.
First, it can develop a congestive heart failure, which leads to a build up of body fluids, especially around the lungs. In addition, dysrhythmias – abnormal heart beat – can develop, which may often result in sudden death due to a failure of the heart to adequately circulate blood around the body. DCM can be diagnosed using ultrasound examination and a blood test also exists for detection in animals that possess the mutant gene.
All dogs diagnosed with DCM will have a higher probability to develop the disease, and will pass it on to their offsprings, which is why a responsible and ethical breeder will not breed a Doberman diagnosed with DCM.
Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD)
CHD causes malformations and loosening in the hip joint, which in turn can cause pain, limping and instability of the hip and legs. It is diagnosed by radiographs. CHD is polygenic – involving different genes – and multifactorial – influenced by many non-genetic factors – and it is still unknown how it is passed on. To increase the likelihood of having CHD-free litters, parents and grandparents should all be OFA-certified – Orthopedic Foundation for Animals – prior to breeding.
Cervical Vertebral Instability (CVI)
Also called “Wobbler’s Syndrome,” CVI is a neurologic disease in dogs that affects their spine in the neck region. It is a very important and common cause of neurologic disability in large breed dogs, including Dobermans.
Symptoms usually appear first in the rear legs as a mild lack of coordination in stride and potentially escalate to the forelegs. The only definitive diagnosis of CVI is a mylogram where dye is injected into the spinal column and the neck is flexed and x-rayed. The cause of CVI is unknown, although propositions related to fast growth and genetics have been formulated.
The term hypothyroidism simply means the underproduction of thyroxin, the hormone produced by the thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism usually occurs between the ages of two to six years. The most common signs of this hormonal disease are increase in bodyweight, lethargy and some forms of skin diseases. It is a life-long problem once clinical signs have started, and there is no cure.
Color Dilution Alopecia (CDA)
CDA commonly affects Blue and Fawn Dobermans, which are a dilution of Black and Red respectively. Dilution is caused by irregularities in melanin – natural pigments found in most organisms – transfer and storage. Common signs of CDA include hair loss and recurrent skin infection on the back, but can also show on the whole body. There is no cure for CDA. Treatment is limited to preventing/controlling the progression and any associated itching with various shampoos or topical treatments.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
PRA is an inherited condition in Dobermans. Vision is diminished, first at dusk, later in daylight. The disease progresses to complete blindness over months or years. A screening test is available and can be performed by a veterinary ophthalmologist.