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.

Distemper in Ferrets

Distemper in Ferrets

Distemper is a contagious disease of dogs & ferrets caused by a virus. It is very serious and can be fatal. Most dogs are protected from distemper by their annual inoculation, and it is now a very rare condition in the UK, simply because of the availability of reliable vaccines.

Recently there have been several cases identified in pet ferrets, especially in The Midlands. However it has spread South & has turned up in Maldon (near Chelmsford)


Whilst these may vary, the first sign is often mild conjunctivitis with a yellow or green discharge from the eyes. A high fever develops over a few days & it may lose it’s appetite and become lethargic. Another sign to check for is a reddening and thickening of the skin on the chin, lips and anal areas. This then becomes hardened and the animals footpads become thickened and hard. These signs do not occur with any other ferret disease.

Other signs exhibited include diahorrea, severe depression, strange behaviour and seizures. The disease can cause death within a few days and there is little in the way of treatment for this. The best course of action is preventative treatment.

Preventative Treatment

Whilst there is not a licenced vaccine for ferrets, it is possible to protect them using the dog vaccine. Although off-licence, this has been used in many ferrets for many years and appears to be safe. In light of the current outbreak, we are now recommending that pet ferrets be vaccinated. Working ferrets, or those that go outside regularly, should be vaccinated annually.. Strictly indoor ferrets should be vaccinated every 2 years.

There is no reason why the disease cannot transmit from ferrets to dogs, so owners of unprotected dogs should also make an appointment to ensure their pet is vaccinated. For more information please speak to our staff.

Breed related diseases in Dogs – Labrador

Breed related diseases in Dogs.

Welcome to our new series of blogs on breed related disease in pedigree dogs. Unfortunately, certain pedigree dogs are prone to certain diseases. We thought these guides would be helpful for people who own the breeds so that they can be more aware of some of the diseases their pet may suffer from and will be able to pick up the symptoms of disease more rapidly. We also thought they would be useful for people thinking of buying a specific breed so that they can be aware of some of the problems that may exist.

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of all the diseases that each breed can get- just the more common ones that we see regularly.

So, to start with, let’s look at the Labrador Retriever:

  • Allergic skin disease including Atopy and Food allergies
  • Hip dysplasia (animals used for breeding should be screened for)
  • Elbow dysplasia (animals used for breeding should be screened for)
  • OCD of hock and shoulder
  • Cruciate ligament rupture
  • Lipomas
  • Entropion
  • Cataracts
  • Congenital eye defects such as Generalise progressive retinal atrophy (animals used for breeding should be screened)
  • Laryngeal paralysis
  • Ectopic ureters

If you have any questions about any of the above, please feel free to contact the staff to discuss them.

The Vets Says – Dry Eye


The medical term for Dry Eye is Keratoconjunctivitis sicca, usually abbreviated to KCS and is where insufficient tears are produced leaving the eye drier than is usual. It is also seen in cats, but is more common in dogs. Imagine getting grit in your eye & not having tears to help wash it away. Tears are not just water, but are actually quite complex in structure, and serve several functions.  They lubricate and flush the eye, provide nutrition and oxygen to the cornea, and also have a role in preventing bacterial infections of the eye.

Any dogs can be affected, but these breeds are generally more susceptible to it – Collies, Labradors, Bulldogs, Yorkies, Jack Russells, Westies, Lhasa Apso, Shi Tzu, Cocker & KKC Spaniels. We particularly see the problem in Westies.


Conjunctivitis & inflammation of the inner eyelids are the earliest symptoms. Although conjunctivitis tends to respond to antibiotic drips, the Dry Eye will usually reappear after that course of treatment ends. Mucous threads can appear on the surface of the eye or build up around the lower eyelid.
If left untreated the condition can lead inflammation of the cornea or front of the eye. At this point the eye will lose its shine and anything reflected in the eye will appear indistinct. The dog may feel discomfort & rub the eye with corneal ulcers often appearing. Over time, the cornea becomes scarred and pigmented and eventually lead to reduced vision or blindness – both of which are irreversible.


The commonest cause is a fault of the dogs immune system where it identifies the dogs own tear glands as foreign, and attempts to destroy them. This results in tear production being reduced or lost altogether.
Some dogs are born with defective tear glands. Viral infections such as Canine Distemper or Feline Herpesvirus can lead to Dry Eye or a hormone imbalance from an underactive thyroid gland.


There is a specific test for Dry Eye called the ‘Schirmer Tear Test’ and involves placing a strip of paper between the lower eyelid and the eyeball  for 1 minute and seeing how far a tear travels. Movement of more than 15mm is normal and under 10mm is abnormal.


There is currently no cure for Dry Eye, but it is a condition that can be effectively managed with medication or through the use of artificial tears used to wet the eye.

The medication used is Cyclosporine which is available in an ointment called Optimune. The ointment is usually applied twice daily & acts to prevent the immune system from destroying the tear glands. Where the condition is in an advanced stage & the tear glands have already been destroyed, this treatment is ineffective. In less severe cases though, a one month course of treatment is usually sufficient to increase tear production.

Artificial tears are slightly viscous drops that wet the eye and have to be applied at least once every two hours to be effective. Although cheaper, they require much greater involvement of the owner, which is not always possible with people’s busy schedules.

Surgical treatment can also be undertaken where the output of the salivary glands is moved to the eye. This surgery requires a specialist eye surgeon, is expensive and also has its own problems. As a result it is usually only ever a last resort after other treatment options have failed.


The outlook for the dog is dependant on the underlying cause and how long the dog has been affected. It is therefore important that owners check their dogs eyes on a regular basis and get them checked by a vet if they notice any mucus threads or apparent signs of conjunctivitis.

The Vets Says – Elbow Dysplasia


Elbow dysplasia is another developmental problem some dogs can be prone to. German Shepherds, Labrador Retreivers,Rottweilers and Bassett Hounds are some of the breeds we see most commonly with this condition.

Normal Elbow Anatomy
The elbow joint is formed where the 3 long bones of the foreleg meet; namely the humerus (runs from shoulder to elbow) and radius and ulna (run from elbow to carpus or wrist). All bone ends are covered in smooth articular cartilage and the joint is surrounded by a tough joint capsule. The synovial membrane lines the joint and produces the lubricating synovial fluid.
The ulna has a number of bony prominences on it.These include the anconeal process and the coronoid process.

Elbow dysplasia is an abnormal development of the elbow joint. Elbow dysplasia is a group of diseases that include osteochondrosis, fragmented coronoid process (FCP) and united anconeal process(UAP). Basically, some of the normal bony prominences that develop in the elbow are diseased.  There is strong evidence of a hereditary component in the German Shepherd dog and FCP and UAP are particularly common. As with hip dysplasia Xrays of potential breeding stock is recommended to screen for the disease. This appears to be done very infrequently despite the fact that like hip dysplasia mildly affected dogs can appear normal most of the time.

Dogs with elbow dysplasia show signs of front leg lameness. This may be in one or both legs as the disease often affects both elbows. Often there are signs of stiffness after rest. The lameness often gets worse with exercise. Often a relatively minor trauma to the elbow can flare up clinical signs.

On examination the vet may feel thickening of the elbow joints and pain on movement. Assessment of foreleg lameness can be very difficult if both legs are affected.
Xrays are the next step. They usually need to be done under general anaesthetic as perfectly positioned xrays are needed to recognise characteristic changes that are often very subtle.
Even then, a definite diagnosis may not be possible from xrays. Often the only changes visible are those caused by arthritis that usually occurs in dysplastic elbows very early on in the disease. Immature dogs with evidence of elbow arthritis often have elbow dysplasia.
Sometimes arthroscopy (looking directly into the joint with a special piece of equipment) is needed to diagnose elbow dysplasia. With this equipment the cartilage surfaces and bony prominences can be directly viewed.

The major part of the decision making process in treating elbow dysplasia is whether to operate or not. Due to the abnormal development of the joint and so abnormal forces going through the bones osteoarthritis is an envitable sequel to elbow dysplasia. The decision is whether osteoarthritic change will happen faster with or without surgery.
Medical treatment is aimed at managing the secondary osteoarthritis.Often surgery is needed. Surgical removal of diseased bone and cartilage usually results in improvement in the lameness. This may be done via the arthroscope or by opening the joint up surgically. Arthroscopy (sometimes called keyhole surgery) is less traumatic than opening the joint up completely but it is more difficult to view all the areas of concern. Ultimately it is the surgeon’s choice.

Despite surgery, arthritis will tend to continue and ongoing medical treatment is likely.

Elbow dysplasia is a common and serious disease affecting many dogs. Radiographic screening programmes are becoming more widely available to detect affected dogs. Dogs affected with elbow dysplasia should not be bred from.


Chocolate and dogs don’t mix

Everyone loves a treat. And more often than not, a treat will include chocolate in some form or another. Chocolate is a luxury that we discover as children and we continue to enjoy throughout our lives. And as any dog owner will attest, man’s best friend loves a treat too.

Whether it is a reward as part of a training regime or you just want to spoil your pet, you can be sure that it will be cheerfully accepted. But while many dog owners treat their pet like another member of the family, unfortunately chocolate is one human treat that shouldn’t be shared with them. But why is this? Brace yourselves, here comes the scientific bit… Chocolate contains Theobromine, a chemical compound found in the cacao plant, which produces the seeds used to make chocolate. It is not present in sufficient amounts to cause any harm to humans (unless a significant quantity of chocolate is consumed) but unfortunately this is not the case for our canine friends. Domestic animals such as dogs metabolize Theobromine much more slowly than humans, which means it takes longer for their bodies to break it down. It attacks a dog’s central nervous system and heart muscle, leading to Theobromine poisoning which can be fatal for dogs.

The amounts of chocolate differ depending on the size of dog but as little as eight or nine ounces of chocolate can cause distress. Initial symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhoea and restlessness with more serious cases involving seizures, respiratory problems and cardiac problems and at worst, death. The bigger the dog, the greater amount of chocolate it takes to induce symptoms which can last for up to three days. The strength of the symptoms also depends on the type of chocolate ingested. White chocolate contains the least amount of Theobromine while dark chocolate and baking chocolate contain the highest amount.

Fortunately, Theobromine poisoning can be treated by a vet, although obviously it is important to get your dog to the surgery as soon as possible. Medical procedures can include inducing vomiting (as long as the pet arrives within two hours of ingesting the chocolate) as well as the administration of various medications to treat seizures and heart conditions and other symptoms.

However all is not lost if your dog develops a taste for chocolate as there are a wide range of imitation chocolate products on the market for dogs. They are not easy to come by but can be found online. So to sum up, it is probably safest to avoid feeding your dog chocolate at all. At least you now know that if your pooch does accidentally eat a bit by mistake, it won’t necessarily be life threatening. However if you are in doubt, do not take any risks and make sure you bring your pet to the local veterinary surgery. Just like with any member of the family, better safe than sorry.