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Known Health Disorders

This list is a collection of known health disorders (rather than infectious diseases) that can have a serious impact on the quality of life of your dog. They are known to have occurred in the German Wirehaired Pointer/Deutsch Drahthaar in the UK and Europe.

Most of these conditions are extremely rare, with only a few cases recorded or only impact the dog very late in life. If you suspect your dog has one of these conditions you should always seek the latest veterinary advice as treatments are improving all the time.


There is little surprise that many disorders are related to muscle and bone issues, since the GWP is a very active breed and some of these conditions can occur through injury as well as genetic pre-disposition.

Hip Dysplasia (HD) -is one of the most common disease in dogs, where the ball and socket joint in the hip is malformed, causing pain and difficulty in movement. Fortunately it is rare in the GWP and is a mandatory test for KC Assured Breeders of the GWP and an advised test for all other GWP Breeders (also mandatory in German breed club). Breeders should aim to breed from dogs with less than the current breed average (currently 9.6).

Elbow Dysplasia (ED) – is a condition involving multiple developmental abnormalities of the elbow-joint in the dog, specifically the growth of cartilage or the structures surrounding it, giving rise to arthritic issues. Though rare, it is known and is a mandated test in the German breed club.

Osteochondritis Dessecans (OCD) – is a shoulder joint disorder in which cracks form in the articular cartilage and the underlying subchondral bone, causing pain and lameness. Though rare, it is known and is a mandated test in the German breed club.

Cruciate Ligament Disorders – are a fairly common disorder, often caused through injury, though some bloodlines may be more susceptible. It is caused by a rupture of either the cranial or anterior ligament in the knee joint, usually requiring surgery to correct.

Patella Luxation – occurs when the dog’s kneecap (patella) is dislocated from its normal position in the groove of the thigh bone, causing lameness and later may lead to a rupture of the cruciate ligament. If severe enough it can require surgery to correct.

Craniomandibular Osteopathy (CMO) – commonly known as ‘lion’s jaw’ is caused by bony swelling of the jaw, which usually occurs between 3-6 months of age. It can be inherited but canine distemper has also be implicated as a possible cause. It is a painful but self-limiting and regresses by about 1 year old.

Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis (DISH) – although most common in Boxers, this condition, though rare, has been confirmed in the GWP. DISH is considered a form of arthritis, where there is a flowing calcification of the vertebrae in the spine. Though often slow to progress, in a few more severe cases it can cause limited spinal flexibility in younger dogs and intense pain from compression of the nerves. Treatment is difficult, in the early statges anti inflammatory drugs and steroids may help, but in more extreme cases spinal surgery or euthenasia may be the only options to relieve the pain.

Steroid Responsive Meningitis-Arteritis (SMRA) – is an auto-immune disease that targets the leptomeninges and associated vessels. Basically it causes severe pain (or anticipation of pain), in the neck and spine causing them often to have a short, choppy gait. It is diagnosed by imaging and spinal fluid analysis. As the name suggests, it is treatable with cortico-steroids but may take up to 6 months to recover.

Masticatory Muscle Myositis (MMM) – is an idiopathic autoimmune disorder that causes muscle mass loss and fibrosis of the jaw muscles. It occurs in dogs under 2 years and in older dogs. Early, careful treatment with drugs is required.

Bone Cancer (Osteosarcoma – OSA) – is the most common type of bone cancer in dogs (about 5% of all canine tumours). It usually arises in the limbs but also seen in the skull, spine and ribcage. It is a rare but aggressive cancer that is difficult to treat, with a poor outcome prognosis.


Being an active breed, some heart issues become apparent at a early age, however, others lay dormant until old age, often assumed to be a death by ‘natural causes’.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy – is a progressive disorder where the heart enlarges and the heart muscle walls get thinner, causing the dog to collapse when exercising. It normally affects dogs in middle to old age but there have been fatal cases in young GWP’s. If detected early enough the progression can be slowed with drug therapy but there is no cure. Ideally breeders should test their breeding stock by echocardiogram annually (about £200-300) and not breed from affected dogs, however they may only develop symptoms later in life.

Aortic Stenosis – is a congenital defect caused by narrowing and obstruction of the blood flow out of the heart into the Aorta. It is treated the same as most congestive heart conditions, to manage and ease the symptoms with drugs, diet and restricted exercise but there is no cure and it is progressive.

Pulmonary Stenosis – is a congenital defect caused by narrowing and obstruction of the blood flow through the pulmonary artery into the right ventricle of the heart. It can be treated with beta blockers and balloon valvuloplasty.

Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) – is a congenital condition more commonly known as ‘hole in the heart’, where some oxygenated blood flow can pass between the two atria, rather than circulating the body. If severe, this condition is usually apparent under 3 years old. Treatment is the normal congestive heart regime in mild cases, however surgery can be an option in life treatening cases, but is high risk.

Atrioventricular Block – is an abnormality in the regulation of electrical impulses in the heart that has been seen in GWP’s, though more common in the GSP. In these cases the heart cannot regulate sufficiently to keep up with exercise, causing collapse, or may even cause the heart to stop when the dog is sleeping. These issues can be resolved by fitting a pacemaker, which is a highly successful and simple procedure, though expensive (£2-3,000).


There are a few neurological disorders known in the GWP. Epilepsy is by far the most common of these rare conditions.

Idiopathic Epilepsy – is a chronic condition, affecting 1 in 130 dogs, where the dog has repeated seizures (‘fits’). Idiopathic epilepsy is a form for which no underlying cause can be found, can be hereditary and often affects young dogs. In less severe cases it can be controlled with drugs. This is the most common of the rare conditions affecting GWP’s hence the GWP Club is working with the Animal Health Trust on resaerch on this condition. There have been at least 2 known ‘clusters’ of Idiopathic Epilepsy in the UK.

Degenerative Myelopathy – is an irreversible and progressive disorder that usually affects older dogs (typically over 8 years of age) and thought to be a genetic abnormality. It starts as a non-painful weakness in a hind leg and gradually progresses to a general weakness of the back end with the dog dragging or crossing its back legs when walking. Eventually it progresses to rear end paralysis and incontinence and can progress to the front limbs eventually.

Idiopathic Vestibular Disease – is a condition that affects old dogs and onset can be sudden. The dog suffers from loss of balance, disorientation, head tilt and irregular eye jerking movements. If severe the dog will be reluctant to stand or walk and may vomit due to motion sickness. It is very distressing for both owner and dog and often mistaken for a stroke. Treatment depends on the underlying cause and often needs an MRI scan.


There are a number of other types of disorder that have been seen in the GWP, some of which now have DNA or other tests available.

Von Willebrands Disease Type II (vWD) – is the most common inherited bleeding disorder in dogs (70% of Dobermanns are carriers). It causes a an inability for blood to clot normally and leads to prolonged bleeding after surgery or injury, so can be life threatening in affected animals. Carriers do not show any symptoms, but fortunately there is a DNA test for this disorder in the German Wirehaired Pointer. It is a mandatory DNA test for KC Assured Breeders of GWP’s and advised for all other GWP breeders.

Haemophilia B – is another genetic bleeding disorder that affects the Deutsch Drahthaar and GWP, though usually relatively mild. It is a sex linked, recessive trait that causes a deficiency of coagulation Factor IX. There is a DNA test for this disorder in the GWP available.

Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC) – has been suspected in some GWP’s, though a confirmed case in the UK is unknown. It affects young dogs (usually between 3 months and 3 years of age) where they show signs of leg weakness or collapse after 5-20 minutes of strenous exercise. It is genetic in origin and a DNA test exists for the German Wirehaired Pointer.

Junctional Epidermal Bullosa (EB) – is a skin blistering disorder. Affected dogs show erosion and encrustation on knees, elbows, ankle joints, carpal bones, hips, lips and tongue. No cases in UK GWP’s are known but it does occur in the GSP. There is a DNA test for the condition available.

Hypothyroidism – is caused by an underactivity of the thyroid gland. It can cause hair loss, poor hair growth, inactivity, lethargy, unexplained weight gain and generalised weakness. There are various tests for thyroid function and the condition is easily treated with synthetic hormones. GWP’s in the American Kennel Club system are tested for thyroid function.

Myasthenia Gravis – is a disorder causing a breakdown in transmission of impulses to the nerves of the muscles. It can be a congenital defect but is more often an acquired problem caused by the immune system. It causes general muscle weakness and dogs can have trouble swallowing and drinking. It may be eased with anticholinesterase drugs but there is no prevention or cure for this disorder.

Entropian/Ectropian – Entropian is a turning in of the eyelids, Ectropian is the opposite, a turning out – Entropian is the more common in HPR breeds. Obviously for a working dog, poor fitting eyelids are problem as seeds and other matter can infect and irritate the eyes and corneal ulcerations can result in extreme cases. Correction requires expensive plastic surgery. 

Cataracts – have been seen in a few old GWP’s, often part of the aging process, but rare cases have been recorded in GWP’s as young as 6-18 months of age. The mode of inheritance is unknown, so breeders are advised not to breed from any dog with a cataract.

Day Blindness – is a hereditary disorder that appears at 8-12 weeks of age and causes a loss of vision when in bright light, taking several minutes to recover. It is more common in GSP’s, but rare in GWP’s and is not progressive nor does it affect night vision. Affected dogs and parents should not be bred from