German Shepherd Dogs

German Shepherd Dogs have been around since the 1890’s. They were the result of cross breeding of rural sheep dogs from rural Germany by Max von Stephanitz who was aiming to produce a herding dog that could trot for long periods. The first breed show was in 1899 and since then, it has gone on to become one of the most popular breeds across the world. They are widely known as Alsatians in the UK after a change in breed name in the UK in 1917. The first registered GSD was called Horand von Grafrath

GSD’s are very intelligent, bold, fearless, courageous and loyal – all traits that have made them the most popular dog with the military & police across the globe. They are also popular as family pets and can be very good with children, especially those it grows up with. The dog should be confident, not timid and shy as they will often then display nervous aggression. They are classified in the category ‘Pastoral’ by The Kennel Club as being part of a group used for herding.

The male is up to about 25 inches in height and will usually weigh 35-40kg. Bitches are around 23 inches in height weighing about 30-35kg. They should be lean athletic dogs and need a healthy active lifestyle with lots of mental stimuli. A bored GSD will go looking for trouble and wrecked furniture will often be the result.

The most common colouring is black and tan, though there are variations. Coats are generally thick and the outer layer hides a fluffy undercoat. There is a long haired variety, and anyone getting one of these must expect to spend regular time grooming to keep it in good condition.

They have a life span that can exceed 12 years in a healthy dog, so it is important to choose a good breeder when buying one as a pup. Many will have certificates showing a line of healthy dogs and ‘the breed council’ can assist with a list of good breeders.

GSD’s bond strongly in a family but they sometimes favour one person they trust and respect the most. They should be well socialised so as not to be aggressive towards other people or animals.

Be prepared to take them on long walks, they are tireless and love to play and roam. Dirty water and mud are impossible for them to resist so expect to be having to clean them. Grooming should be at least once a week and twice a week for those with long coats. They shed hair throughout the year so expect the vacuum cleaner to be working overtime.

Pups are unbelievably cute with their bright eyes, fluffy fur and oversized paws, but they are hard work and need much time and patience. They should be made to trust and respect the owner rather than fear them. The more time you put into them, the more likely you are to get a dog with a good temperament that will be fiercely loyal and loving. The alternative is to get an adult from a rescue centre or shelter. A good shelter will know their dogs and which have the right temperament for different prospective owners.

Working GSD’s require a lot of interaction with their handler and mental stimulation. They can be trained to track, sniff out weapons or drugs and victims of avalanches. Although popular with the police and military, they have been trained as guide dogs too. GSD’s from ‘show lines’ make good family pets and will usually have the best temperament and health.

Below are some of the commoner diseases that we see at Cherrydown Vets in German Shepherds. Obviously these are not all the diseases that they can get. Many of these diseases are believed to have a genetic cause.

Heart Disease

Congenital heart disease including aortic stenosis
Pericardial effusion- when fluid accumulates around the heart stopping it working properly

Skin conditions

Allergic skin disease incl food allergies and atopy casuing itchy skins and secondary infections
Anal furunculosis- a painful condition where large ulcerated tracts form around the bottom
Mucocutaneous pyoderma-a deep infection in areas where the skin and mucous membranes meet eg at the nose
Symmetric lupoid onchodystrophy- a condition causing the nails to fall out and become infected

Endocrine problems

Pituitary dwarfism
Cushings disease

Gastro-intestinal problems

GSDs are very prone to chronic diarrhoea causes by all sorts of inflammatory bowel diseases and pancreatic insufficiency
Megaoespohagus- where the oesophagus either does not develop properly or becomes diseased due to myasthenia gravis

Blood problems

Immune mediated thrombocytopaenia – immune system destroys platelets leading to problems with blood clotting

Musculo-skeletal conditions

Hip dysplasia
Elbow dysplasia
Panosteitis- a painful inflammation of young growing bones
Lumbos sacral disease- lower back problem causing pain, lameness, difficulty moving


Unfortunately GSDs are prone to many tumours including:

Skin tumours
Tumours of blood vessels called haemangiosarcomas which commonly affect the spleen, Liver and heart
Lymphosarcoma- cancer of the white blood cells
Eye tumours called melanomas
Neurological problems

Intervetertebral disc protrusions which can cause paralysis
Degenerative myelopathy (also called CDRM) is a progressive hindlimb paralysis
Discospondylitis- infection of disc spaces in the spine

Eye Conditions

Pannus- an inflammatory condition of the cornea
Plasmoma- inflammation of the third eyelid
Congenital eye conditions including cataracts and retinal dysplasia

Prevention is often better than cure and owners should check their dogs regularly. Check their movement for any signs of a limp or change in gait. Eyes should be bright & clear, whereas cloudy eyes or a discharge can be signs of something wrong. Look out for changes of appetite and behaviour as signs of illness. Redness or crusting on the tips of the ears, head tilting or excessive scratching can again be a sign of infection. The nose should be black and wet without discharge. Teeth and gums should be healthy, without sores or bleeding. If you notice any changes in your dog then phone your vet & get some advice.